The Vapors had a big hit in the eighties with their song “Turning Japanese.” What happens when an entrepreneur from Japan goes the other way and adapts to the local culture? Jigs Arquiza finds out.
“MAAYONG udto (Good day)!” the soft-spoken Japanese gentleman says in fluent Cebuano as he approaches our table. A youthful-looking 34, Naoki Ono introduces himself. “In Japan, it would be Ono Naoki, because last names come first,” he explains.
Originally from Shizuoka province, where the beautiful Mt. Fuji is found, Naoki began touring Southeast Asia in 1998-1999 with the hopes of starting a tourism venture. After visiting countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, he set his sights on the Philippines, opting for Cebu as his base of operations. Though at first finding it a bit difficult to start his business, Naoki was able to do it with the assistance of a few Filipinos who saw him as a new friend rather than someone whom they could profit from.
AquaMarine Ocean Tours in Cebu Beach Club, which features the Seawalker underwater strolls, was the result not only of his efforts, but also of his friendship with the locals. He speaks with conviction, “Cebuanos are actually buotan (good and kind) when you get to know them better. It’s now easy for me to run the business because I have good partners.” His studies at Tokai University where he took up Marine Sciences also helped him become familiar with the ways of the sea, something he deems important to his company. Naoki shares that he would sometimes spend months at a time at sea in the course of his studies. “Mora ko’g seaman (I was like a seaman),” he says jokingly.
A ten-year resident of Cebu, Naoki has pretty much adapted to Cebuano ways. His Cebuano, while Japanese-accented, is quite impressive, “dili na ko ma-libak (I cannot be made fun of anymore)!” he exclaims. Naoki also declares, “I’m enjoying the Philippines, dili man jud tugnaw diri (because it’s not cold here)!” but confesses that he does go back to Japan occasionally to visit his parents and his oto-oto, or younger brother.
Because he spends most of his time in Cebu, however, he just maintains close ties with the Japanese community, often entertaining friends at his other business venture, Goku Izakaya, a Japanese restaurant along Paseo Saturnino in Banilad. “Our tempura is ten to twelve inches long!” Naoki exclaims proudly.
A sports-minded individual, Naoki admits to a fondness for baseball and softball, boxing and mountaineering. While at university, he belonged to the kendo team and traveled all over Japan to compete. “You could also say I’m a motorcycle lover.” he adds.
When asked how he lived his life, Naoki affirms, in a Yoda-like manner, “I just think, ‘do it’ or ‘do not’. Usually, ‘do it’ man akong ma-decide, kay we will never know what will happen until we try. Try lang jud,” Naoki declares with finality.