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Japanese Student Nanako Speaks Out in Support of Poverty-Stricken Filipino Boxers

Mar 17, 2016
Eiji Yoshikawa

As I visit schools, I come across a number of pure hearts. Nanako, a student in southern Japan, was thirteen when I first met her and is now fifteen. There have been struggles at home and at school, and I tried to help her grow as a person by using those negatives in a positively way.

In July, 2015, she signed up for the local English Speech Contest. She won the first prefectural competition in early September, after practicing the speech day and night, and then won again a few weeks later on the regional level. Her parents, who had been telling her to stay in town, get a job, and get married, etc., changed dramatically as they came to see how she spoke so confidently in front of an audience.

“Nanako, don’t stay here. Go out to the bigger world to learn more,” her father said to her.

She then spoke at the national contest in Tokyo in November. I had said to her before all this new fame, “Win or lose, we don’t care. We care about people who never get any attention. The most important job is to tell people about them.”

Here is the script of her three-minute speech, which has become her mission:

Working on Dreams: The Story of Filipino Boxers

Nanako, speaking out in support of poverty-stricken Filipino boxersA sausage is one of the favorite foods of kids.

Have you ever made sixty slices out of a fifteen centimeter sausage, so that twenty people can eat for three days? One sausage for twenty people for three days. Twenty-five thousand people die every day, due to hunger and malnutrition. That is more than one thousand people per hour.

This is a story about very poor boxers in the Philippines. About eight years ago, Mr. Jun, who is now fifty-two years old, met a group of orphaned boxers in Lipa City, a small town three hours from Manila by bus. The boxers were lying on the concrete floor all the time when Jun first met them, because they had no food to eat.

Jun is six feet, two inches tall, and was a basketball player, but had no experience in boxing, He also had no money, but his philosophy was to help others. His parents suffered so much, beyond anyone’s imagination, during World War II when the Japanese took their land. In spite of their extreme experiences, his parents taught Jun not to hate anyone, but to love instead.

Jun become the boxers’ manager, so they could finally eat at least three times a week. Three times a “week,” not a “day.” Jun named their gym “Kambal Kamao Boxing Gym.” “Kambal Kamao” in Tagalog means “twin fists.” They have nothing but two fists to survive. Jun is not only the poorest boxing manager in the world but also is the most kindhearted, because he cannot watch fights. He is just too kind and cannot see how people can punch each other. Also, by helping the boxers, he got even poorer than before.

How do I know him so well? My friends and I spoke to him on the phone, my friends met him when he came to Tokyo, and we exchanged emails, cards, and letters.

We first learned about their adversity from a documentary film titled Rumble in the Jungle, made in 2013, directed by Kagawa’s own “Eiji-san.” We meet Eiji often, and he told us many interesting background stories such as:

  1. In the Philippines, 70% of the citizens live below the poverty line. It’s organized that way on purpose by the rich. Their policies represent what’s happening in the rest of the world.
  2. Sportsmen need to help people. Winning games and fights is just a personal pleasure, and it’s useless to other people. Don't ignore problems. We are responsible to help.
  3. Boxers from developing countries are very poor, and many of them are girls, fighting to survive. Boxing is a tough sport, but their fight outside of the ring every day is much tougher.

Because of the screening of the documentary movie, donations were made and Jun and his boxers could build a boxing gym, but strong typhoons blew it away twice. When the heavy floods came, the boxers didn’t save their own gym or their belongings, but instead saved local people who were being swept away by the powerful water.

During each typhoon, the boxers lost everything, and our donations are also gone. But we won't give up on them. We will never stop supporting them because we are all the same family on the same planet.

We were shocked to see in the movie how much suffering and sacrifice they are going through. Jun and the boxers’ families who live together in the boxing gym were also shocked to receive untiring support coming from Japan, the same county that once landed in their country with guns and cannons.

Right before Christmas two years ago, we found out that Jun and the boxers had never received any Christmas presents in their whole lives when Jun said, “Christmas is only for rich people.”

It broke our hearts. We put together greeting cards, presents, stationary, and DVDs that we made on our own, filled with singing and dancing, and sent the surprise boxes for two years in a row (so far).

What moved us was the fact that the orphaned boxers gave the gifts away to children in the area who had never received presents, and then sent us the photos of the happy, little children. These hardworking boxers are really kind to others, and we are learning so much from them.

When Jun met Eiji, the film director, after one of the big typhoons, he gave Eiji a thank-you letter, written in his own blood.

“Thank you. We love you,” the letter read.

“Why blood?” Eiji asked.

Jun cried and said, “We have nothing we can give back to you and your friends but the true appreciation from the bottom of my heart.”

Jun says that they are inspired by us in Japan. What they don’t realize is that they are an inspiration to us. They woke us up, and gave us an opportunity to learn and live as global citizens.

Everyone grows together, and that is the essence of changing the world.

We must change the world—and we will.

Note from Eiji:

I told Jun in the Philippines about Nanako’s speech, and he emailed me back as follows:

Sir Eiji,

Up to this time, I keep on thinking why Nanako chooses our survival as the theme in her competition, what transpired her to do so, when in fact we were just a name to her, she doesn't know us, but what she did is really a big message to us, that somehow and somewhere, someone recognizes what we do.

The entire family, just like what you said, are speechless and overwhelmed by Nanako’s gesture, which really give us more motivation to go and work harder.

In December, 2015, as part of the Christmas presents for Jun’s team, Nanako recorded the same speech with my video camera and we sent the DVD to the Philippines. It was the most powerful speech I’ve ever heard, and our friends in the Philippines are watching it over and over.

Eiji Yoshikawa is a retired Pro Boxer who majored inFrench literature and did his thesis on Jean Cocteau and Cinematography. He founded the "Peacemakers", Japan's first neighborhood watch, and spends much of his time visiting schools and communities teaching children about non-violence. In 2004, Japan Inc. Magazine called him the "Compassionate Pugilist". We are proud to offer "Letters from the Compassionate Pugilist" as our first guestcolumnist. Contact Eiji at or via email.

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