Monday, July 3, 2017


(Family Photo)
Juan Blas Blanco

He was perhaps Japan's greatest success in its effort to form some people from Saipan in the Japanese mold.

He was sent to Japan to be educated there, and was even given a Japanese name. Kamiyama Seiichi. His Japanese language skills were superb, as were his knowledge of Japanese customs and the Japanese mindset. He lived with Japanese host families, one of them getting so close to him that he considered them his Japanese "father and mother." Some noted that his Japanese accent was a proper Tokyo one.


Juan was born in Saipan in 1923. His parents, like so many Saipan families, were originally from Guam.

His father was Juan Taitano Blanco, the son of Domingo de León Guerrero Blanco from Hågat and his wife Juana Manahane Taitano. They moved to Saipan at the end of the 19th century.

(Family Photo)
Domingo de León Guerrero Blanco, seated, and his wife Juana Manahane Taitano
Juan Taitano Blanco is the tall man standing. The two ladies are his sisters and the young ones are their children.

His mother was the former Antonia Blas, from Hagåtña.

(Family Photo)
Juan's parents : Juan Taitano Blanco and Antonia Blas


In 1934, twenty years after the Japanese took over the Northern Marianas, four representatives from Japanese universities paid a visit to Saipan's schools.  These representatives believed that a few Saipan students should be sent to Japan to continue their education. Juan was class president in the third grade, and was selected.

He was first sent to a school in Tokyo and then to another school in Shimizu City in Shizuoka Prefecture. As already mentioned, he stayed with Japanese host families. In Shimizu City, he had the good fortune of having his older sister living with him as she was studying midwifery in the same city.

Juan Blanco stands in class in Japan

Juan's time in Japan had a big effect on him. His experience was generally a positive one. Most of his teachers were good to him and, as mentioned earlier, he got on so well with one hosting couple that they became surrogate parents to him.


But Juan's father started to get concerned about his son being in faraway Japan when signs of international war loomed on the horizon. Japan was already engaged in full warfare in China. What would happen if war broke out between Japan and America? How could his family keep in contact with Juan if war in the Pacific made such communication difficult, if not impossible. Juan's father thus decided to bring Juan back to Saipan.

With his mainland Japanese education, Juan wouldn't have profited much being enrolled in the school for Chamorros and Carolinians. He was allowed the rare privilege of entering a school in Saipan normally reserved for Japanese students alone. Eventually he became the only Chamorro graduate of the Saipan Industrial School.

After graduating, there were two possible job opportunities. One was to work for the Japanese military on Saipan, and the other was to work for the largest commercial interest in Saipan at the time, the sugar company or the Nanyo Kohatsu Kabushiki Kaisha or NKK for short. It was here that Japan's racial divide showed. The military would have paid him lower wages for being non-Japanese. The NKK was willing to pay him the same wages as a Japanese in the position he was to fill. Juan opted therefore to work for the sugar company.


Juan was picked up by the Americans and put in the same stockade with the Japanese, not believing he was Chamorro! After two weeks, with the help of an American officer who spoke good Japanese, he was able to convince them that he was Chamorro and he was transferred to the Chamorro camp.

Juan did many and sundry things after the war, and all pretty successfully. He worked for the U.S. military, served in the Saipan Municipal Council and other political offices, was first branch manager of the Bank of America in Saipan, and was involved in other business ventures which brought him also to Guam at times, where he had many friends.


According to one of Juan's sons, Juan had one misgiving about life under Japanese rule in those days. No islander was ever supposed to excel over a Japanese in anything. When Juan rose to the top of the class or made it to the honor roll, the parents of a Japanese or Okinawan classmate complained, and Juan was deprived of his honors. If Juan beat a Japanese or Okinawan classmate in wrestling, there would be trouble.

"At least the Americans made us citizens," Juan's son said, quoting his deceased dad.

Still, it could not be denied that all his Japanese experience, much of it very positive, left a permanent mark on him. He kept in contact with numerous Japanese friends and was present at many Japanese events held in Saipan.

(Family Photo)

Juan Blanco
before his passing in 2014

* A note of thanks to Juan's sons John and Harry for information and photos

1 comment:

  1. I've always been very proud of Uncle John's, aka Tun Juan, for his accomplishments and positive outlook on life. He was always an inspiration to us all. One of the most prominent men in our CNMI history, Tun Juan, in his own quiet, but impactful demeanor, has left us so many positive legacies, despite life's challenges he and loved ones endured. Thank you for the great legacies and for all you did, Uncle John.