Population Day


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Japanese sexagenarian enjoying 'second childhood'
By ELLSON A. QUISMORIO
Photos by JACQUELINE HERNANDEZ
June 16, 2011
Manila Bulletin

SAN CARLOS CITY, Pangasinan, Philippines — He’s a stranger in a strange place, doing a strange thing. But somehow everything makes perfect sense to Japanese national and third grade “pupil” Etsuo Yamagata.

“I want to study English, Tagalog, and Pangasinense,” Etsuo said in stammering yet comprehensible English. He is 63 years old.

Belinda Yamagata, 57, Etsuo’s Filipino wife and long-time employee of a leading Japanese electronics company, helps prepare the student daily for his classes at Jose Macam Paningbatan Sr. Elementary School here in the town of San Juan.

As a routine, Belinda or “Belen” accompanies her husband to school every morning before going to the local market. Thursday was no different.

“Every day, we leave the house at 6:50 a.m. and walk to school together. We treat it as exercise,” she said.

After having kamote and coffee for breakfast, Etsuo emerges from their eye-catching pink house carrying a back pack, and clad in a white T-shirt, walking shorts and rubber shoes. “I also like pandesal,” he quipped.

As soon as he stepped out, three kids half the man’s height joined Etsuo in the 10-minute walk to Jose Macam. He would attract a few more pupils along the way.

Belen swore it was a familiar sight. “He’s very friendly to kids. He gives them candies and plays with them. The kids like him a lot.”

For the children here, this old, foreign student is a celebrity.

Etsuo used to be a city council member back home in Okazaki City in Japan. Here in Jose Macam, he acts and is treated like an ordinary Grade Three pupil, said school head Arlene Sabangan.

“The kids are already used to him. He does all the things that a usual Grade Three pupil does,” Sabangan said, while pointing out that the sexagenarian is being accommodated more like a sit-in rather than an enrolled student.

“He said that he would stop going to classes after learning Tagalog, English and Pangasinense,” the school head said. Etsuo seems to be taking his sweet time, though.

“Too much enjoy,” he said of his experiences in school. “But sometimes, Pangasinense I can’t understand,” Etsuo snickered.

Apparently, Etsuo had already sat through an entire year with Six-Graders at the nearby Baldog Elementary School. “Gusto niya pauli-ulit nag-aaral kasi nag-eenjoy siya (He wants to study over and over again because he enjoys it),” Belen said.

He picks up lessons quickly too, said Grade Three teacher Mary Jane Hermogeno, 28. Hermogeno teaches 54 pupils in class, including Etsuo.

Upon reaching the school grounds, Etsuo’s first order of business is to help out 53-year-old Jun Aquino in picking up stray garbage on the quadrangle. “Lagi siyang tumutulong sa akin sa umaga maski hindi ko tawagin (He always volunteers to help me in the morning).”

The foreigner, who looks more like a 40-year-old and moves around like a 14-year-old boy, then settles down to study with his classmate up until 4 p.m. Usually, he still has enough spunk in him to play football with the kids after class.

“He serves as an inspiration because at the age of 63, he’s still very eager to learn. Just imagine his age!” Sabangan said.

As a result, she said the kids who interact with Etsuo also become more eager to go to school. His enthusiasm is infectious.

JACQUELINE HERNANDEZ PHOTOGRAPHY