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A machine copy of the photo of the Zamboanga Provincial Capitol (now the City Hall) by Uchida
Kenji Uchida in military uniform
KENJI UCHIDA (1889-1945?)
by ICELLE GLORIA B. ESTRADA
Icelle Estrada works as a mayor’s executive assistant in the Zamboanga City government.
Kenji Uchida came to Zamboanga from Kobe, Japan. He arrived in Zamboanga in 1906 at the tender age of 17. Not much is known about the family he left behind in Kobe. What is known is that he was working as an assistant to an American who had an interest in Zamboanga.
Uchida was known for his photographs and his photo studio. He was believed to be the first person to operate a photo shop in Zamboanga. His first studio was located in front of the City Hall. (then the Provincial Capitol). The studio occupied a part of the Barrios Building that was the former site of the Bank and the Compania Maritima. The Barrios Building still stands today with original architecture intact (at least on the façade) and houses the Manila Plaza Furniture.
Uchida maintained the studio together another Japanese named Koyama who owned the Aurora Studio along Calle Madrid (now Valderosa St.), which was the enclave of the rich and the center for business, military and civic activities. Calle Madrid boasted classy clubs, plush town houses, and expensive shops that catered to the upper class, selling goods from all over the world.
When Calle Guardia Nacional became the town’s business hub Uchida transferred his shop to a location near the Mindanao Bakery. He operated the shop until he left for Davao in 1939.
As a professional photographer, Uchida produced photographs that showed an artistic eye and a high standard of technical quality. To ensure quality, he imported his chemicals from England and subscribed to international magazines and books on photography. He did individual portraits, family shots, landscapes, architectural shots, documentation photography and other types of photography.
One rare photo of the "Provincial Capitol" (today’s City Hall) is good example of his work. Uchida signed his prints with the words “Photo by Uchida” in reverse white. I was fortunate to find a copy of the photograph at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., U.S.A.
Uchida’s granddaughter, Mrs. Fe Uchida Natividad, remembered her grandfather as a highly intelligent, multilingual man who was a wide reader. He spoke English, Spanish, Chabacano and Tagalog in addition to his native Niponggo. During his early years in Zamboanga, he worked with several institutions and important personalities as an interpreter and translator. He served as a translator in the Court of Zamboanga under the employ of Don Pablo Lorenzo.
In one of the fondas (fairs) held near the Jardin del Chino (today the Puericulture Center) on La Purisima St. Uchida met a fetching girl named Agripina Ignacio. They married in 1912 and had 10 children.
Aside from being a professional photographer and a translator, Uchida was a farmer at heart. If he was not busy with work in the pueblo, he would retreat to his farm with his family. He encouraged his children to help out at the farm. A very industrious man, he planted banana, cassava and vegetables and liked to do his planting during full moon nights to the consternation of superstitious Filipinos who believed it was not proper to work after dark. Kenji would tell his disapproving neighbors, "It is better to plant in the evening, than to go hungry in the daytime."
The Uchidas invested in real estate and bought farm lands in Dumagsa in Ayala, Pamucutan, and Cadalagan in San Ramon.
He was a good father and husband – and a good provider for his big family. His son Agustin related that Kenji was a loving father though not very demonstrative of his feelings. Agustin said although his father was a strict man, he never experienced any spanking in his hands.
Felipe, a younger son, recalled that when he went to visit his father in Cotabato during the war, his father gave him a bag that contained 10,000 pesos in Japanese-printed money for his mother, two rakes, two hoes and two scythes. It was the last time Felipe saw his father.
In 1939, realizing that war was imminent, Uchida had divested himself of all his interests in the photography business and sold all his equipment to Koyama. He transferred all his real estate holdings to the name of his eldest daughter, Clotilde Uchida Cabrera, a nurse. Then he left for Davao, where he was later joined by his wife and their youngest son, Dionisio.
In Davao, Uchida worked for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce as a translator and interpreter to Gen. Morimoto of the Japanese Imperial Army.
Davao then, was a Japanese enclave where many Japanese owned farms and plantations. Davao was called "Davao Kuo" as a Japanese settlement and had the largest number of Japanese migrants in the Far East at that time.
While in Davao, Uchida was also assigned as a Niponggo teacher in the Japanese Academy, aside being a liaison officer representing the Japanese community of San Pedro, Davao.
Before the end of the war, Uchida encouraged his wife and the children who were with them in Davao to return to Zamboanga. He feared for their safety, not knowing what kind of sanctuary Davao could offer for the family of a Japanese when the American forces arrived.
Sons Roberto and Felipe were in Zamboanga and maintained their farms in Ayala and San Ramon, while Agustin had enlisted himself with the Philippine Constabulary in Davao. While in Davao, he had close contact with his father.
After Davao, Uchida was transferred to Cotabato as a liaison officer and was always on travel as he would spend three months in Manila, Davao, Cebu, and in transit, he would spend vacations in Zamboanga.
By 1944 Agustin had beentransferred to Zamboanga and was stationed in Tugbungan, at the local constabulary headquarters, which was located at the present site of the residence of the Climacos.
When the Americans arrived to liberate Zamboanga on March 10, 1945, Roberto and Felipe Uchida were arrested as collaborators of the enemy. They were suspected of working for the infamous Japanese lackey Miguel Moreno. They were thrown into prison. Agustin surrendered to the Americans and by fate met his two brothers in prison. Agustin was released through the intercession of an American military police master sergeant named Gacken. The two other Uchidas remained bechind bars and were later moved to Manila as prisoners of war. They were later freed by the People's Court under President Laurel’s amnesty program.
While in Manila, they met Dato Blama, a Japanese collaborator, who gave them some information about their father. But the family never got to see Kenji Uchida again. There was no confirmation of his fate. He was listed as Missing in Action.
Today we remember Kenji Uchida through his photographs, the artifacts that are his legacy to his adopted hometown.