About 11 years ago, just before moving from Yamagata (I assure you, it’s in the map…look it up), I was able to contact a few Tsukuba-based Filipino students and researchers who were members of the Filipino Association of Students in Tsukuba, more commonly known as FAST. Coming from a place where there were no other Filipino students, I was overwhelmed by the warm response from the people I have yet to meet. One of them warmly welcomed me to the community, and proudly told me that FAST was one of the most active Filipino organizations in Japan. Finally! After three long years of being stuck in the mountains where my only interaction was with books, Japanese students and lifeless machines (not necessarily in that order), I could finally be part of a Filipino community…in Japan! I could weep in joy.
A few days after I settled in Tsukuba, together with three other newcomers (all fresh from Manila) I was warmly welcomed in an “official” party by FAST members. If memory serves me right, there were at least 20 people who attended. Perhaps that is just a small number to many, but to me that was a lot! The venue was a small function room at Ichinoya, one of the dormitories in Tsukuba University. There were so many new faces, I could barely remember their names (and besides, I was too giddy with excitement). I was very, very, overwhelmed upon being met by so many Filipinos in just one setting. I remember thinking to myself, these people were so lucky! I couldn’t help but compare how lonely I was in Yamagata, so much so that I even had to go to Sendai to join the other Pinoy students there.
True to description, FAST was indeed one of the (if not the) most active Filipino organizations in Japan. Aside from the monthly birthday parties where people meet to socialize, there were big activities as well, like the annual Tsukuba Festival, Independence Day, Gakuensai, excursions, etc. The Tsukuba Festival, as it turned out, was a real fiesta and involved a lot of preparation and planning. Aside from managing a booth where Filipino food and other delicacies were sold, FAST also actively participated in the program by presenting no less than four (!) original folk dances. Tinikling was a mainstay, although once in a while elaborate dances like Singkil were also performed. More than a chance to showcase our natural talent for dancing, it was a perfect opportunity to let our presence be audibly felt by the rest of the Tsukuba community. It’s like shouting, “Hey! We are Filipinos and we are proud to be here!” I’m not sure if our presence in the program was instrumental in making more customers notice our booth (and hence boost sales), but I think the main point of the whole exercise was to involve as many people as possible. The activity was meant to bring the members closer together by working towards a common goal. The audience would see the final product, the dance, which is usually over in less than 5 minutes. But the members, who practiced day and night for weeks, would remember fondly the hours shared with one another, the tawanan and kantiyawan, even the baon shared during the practices. But most of all, everybody would fondly appreciate the feeling of being part of something big.
Of course I got actively involved too. I got caught up in the euphoria and enthusiasm shared by the members. It was infectious, and it felt great. I was happy to be part of a group that strove to make a difference in the lives of students and researchers alike in Tsukuba. It felt like we were aiming for something bigger than ourselves, and somehow I believed that it could be great. For a while I believed in the endless possibilities that we could achieve as a group, as long as we put our hearts and minds to it. I am sure that many of the sempais shared those sentiments as well.
Fast forward 11 years. Sad to say, what has remained of FAST is but a whimper of its “glorious” past. I hate to sound like the sempai who only cares to look at the past and sees only the good things. There were good times and bad times in equal measure. But then it is quite true: gone are the people who “cared,” and gone are most of the activities.
Part of the reason is that now there are less students and researchers coming in compared to previous years. There are less people to pass the torch on to, so to speak. Part of the reason is that non-student members, particularly those who have been here for a long time, just do not seem to be interested anymore. As we say in Filipino, “Nagkasawaan na.” Been there, done that. In retrospect it would have been great to initiate new activities so as to break the monotony, to introduce something “fresh” that will appeal to the sempais and kohais alike. But it seems that nobody is willing to initiate those activities.
Ten years ago, it would have been hard to believe it, but FAST’s time has indeed passed.
As someone who has been actively engaged in the organization for years, it is saddening to witness how it has dwindled down to its present state. But I guess that it’s just following its natural course, as it is invariably shaped and guided by its constituents. The blame is on us. I’m to be blamed as much as the next person is. I guess I could try, but nothing zaps energy more than apathy and indifference. Most people are content to organize their own activities within their own circle of friends. I think most people would be happy to just do social networking online instead of actually going out there and organizing activities that would involve everyone else, regardless of their age, religion, or profession. It just takes too much work, and people are too busy checking out the latest gossip on their FB wall anyway.
That’s not to say that FAST is dead. Luckily, there is still a core of students who are doing their best to sustain the org. The activities are not as frequent nor as grandly prepared as before. But as long as there are incoming students, I hope for their sake that FAST will last for as long as possible.