The Japanese song about Muntinlupa by Hamako Watanabe

August 7, 2018
Undated photo of Japanese POW in Munti

A few days ago, I wrote about the Onoda deal between Marcos and Japan. This brought to mind the Japanese POWs that were incarcerated in Muntinlupa. Some of these men were executed, while others were kept as prisoners for years until they were repatriated.

Two death row Japanese WWII prisoners, Gintaro Shirota and Masayuso Ito, made a lasting contribution to Japanese popular culture. Their poem, “The Night Goes on in Muntinlupa” (あゝモンテンルパの夜は更けて) became a popular song. It was performed by the iconic Japanese singer Hamako Watanabe (渡邊はま子).

Watanabe, visited the Philippines in 1952 to appeal for Japanese prisoners release. At the time of her visit there were still 180 left languishing in prisons. She wore her intricate kimonos in the tropics according to accounts.

Shirota and Ito were later pardoned by President Quirino.

Watanabe to her countrymen was a compassionate crusader for Japanese POWs. She was their voice and her song kept their hopes alive.

Album cover. Yes, that’s Bilibid’s facade.

To this day, Japanese visitors, young and old, makes the long voyage to a small Japanese garden in Muntinlupa. There, they would be heard singing Watanabe’s song.

One of the Filipino inmate, tasked to oversee the Japanese garden, during my visit told me about the song called “Muntinlupa”.I would have never found out about the song if it were not for this man.

He said he’s moved by how they would travel far, sing a song (Watabe’s “Night goes on…”) and still shed tears after all these years.

The first blog I wrote about the song had a YouTube link that appears to have been withdrawn.

For those interested, I found another YouTube clip (see below).

This one’s from a popular Japanese drama Senjō no Melody (戦場のメロディ Melody of battlefield 2009). The television series was about the life and times of Hamako Watanabe.

The moving scene below is Watanabe visiting the prisoners to perform her hit “The Night Goes on in  Muntinlupa”.

Some comments from YouTube visitors: “The power of singing is amazing. This song was attributed to all of Muntinlupa’s death row prisoners from Japan.” Another comment, “thanks to the President,” referring to magnanimous act of President Quirino pardoning the prisoners.

The song hasn’t been completely forgotten. It lives on.

Today, even younger Japanese can be heard singing Watanabe’s song. Its popularity has surged once more when “Senjō no Melody” was aired in 2009.

Below is a YouTube clip of one them. The performer is cute little girl who has a large following in Japan, Aki Azuma. Her rendition brings a contemporary appeal to Watanabe’s classic.

Related links:

The Japanese Shrine in Muntinlupa (2008)

Japanese Memorial Garden in Muntinlupa and other WWII stories (2015)


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