JAPAN - Eleven years ago when Filipina Sally Kumagai married a Japanese factory worker in Minamisanriku, an hour's drive from Ishinomaki, she was not prepared for the treatment she was about to receive. Her sister-in-law greeted her with hostility. "She gave me a very antagonistic look from head to toe, like a tiger, not accepting me into the family," recalled Mrs Kumagai, a 40-year-old mother of two girls aged seven and nine.
Her sister-in-law would telephone every day to ask about her whereabouts and activities, and spread stories that the foreign bride was a spendthrift.
"I don't think they would have done it to me if I was a Japanese wife," said Mrs Kumagai, who struggled to gain acceptance.
Neighbours shunned her and people on the street avoided her because of her poor grasp of Japanese. She was fluent only in English and Tagalog at the time.
She was not the only one to be treated this way. There are some 50 Filipinas married to Japanese men living in Minamisanriku and nearby Ishinomaki. Most found it hard to fit in because of the differences in culture, said Mrs Amelia Sasaki, 61, a leader in the Filipino community there.
The tsunami of 2011 changed all that, said Mrs Sasaki, who married a Japanese and has lived in Japan for more than 30 years. "The Japanese people were losing hope.
They had no jobs, no earnings and everything was destroyed. The town was paralysed. It was the Filipino wives who went to the evacuation centres to get something to eat and wear, trying to make ends meet." And because of their actions, the Filipinas began gaining respect and acceptance, she said.
"Before the tsunami, the Filipinas would complain to me that they are treated like maids," she added. "When it came to important decisions in the household, they were excluded because they were foreigners."