Over three decades after she landed in Japan, Former Filipina entertainer Mayang Bernabe, also known as Mari Nihei, is now an epitome of entrepreneurial success.
A native of Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, Bernabe was raised in a poor family. But according to her mother Carmelita Bernabe, poverty did not stop the young Bernabe from dreaming. In fact, she would even use her extra time to sell goods to help her family.
“Nag-aaral ‘yon, nagtitinda. Mabait ‘yan. Siya lang naman ang tumutulong sa akin,” she said in the program “Rated K.”
Mel Ciriaco, one of Bernabe’s closest friends and former classmates, recalled how her friend persisted despite being poor.
“Napakatatag ng aking kaklase na ‘yan si kabayang Mayang. Dahil kahit napakahirap ng buhay nila, hindi siya talaga nawawalan ng pag-asa.”
True enough, the young and ambitious Bernabe has dreams that she can achieve miles away from the country. In 1979, the 16-year-old girl arrived in Japan to work as a cultural dancer.
In the ’80s, the Japanese government opened its doors to Filipino cultural entertainers. This opportunity gave hope to thousands of Filipino women who wanted to showcase their singing and dancing talents.
Bernabe was one of the young Filipina entertainers who were sent by talent agency Bellstar Promotion. At that time, she did not have fears; she had dreams.
According to Bernabe, the Japanese respected them and looked up to their talents.
“Binigyan kami ng importansya ng mga Hapon. Para kaming mga manika na talagang pinapalakpakan, para kaming mga tunay na artista,” she recalled.
Shortly after she settled in Japan, Bernabe fell in love and married a Japanese. According to her, it was a happy marriage, until one day life tested her faith.
Bernabe’s then 5-year-old son was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. Her world fell apart when the doctors revealed that her son had no more than 3 months to live.
But with fervent prayers and strong faith, a miracle happened. Bernabe’s son was cured from cancer. She treated the miracle as a message from the heaven, telling her to dedicate her life to charity works.
From then on, Bernabe swore that she would do whatever she can to help Filipinos, especially her “kababayans.”
She started off by supporting the Philippine Red Cross in its blood-letting activities. She also donated computers, wheelchairs, and hearing aids, among others.
According to Bernabe, generosity must not only be during Christmas, but all-year-round, especially in times of calamities and disasters.
Sharing her blessings was costly for Bernabe. But blessings returned tenfold.
“Tumanggap na ako ng Japanese national. Tapos itong kapaligiran namin, tinayuan ng apat na building. So, nagkaroon kami ng sariling tatlong condominium. Tapos sarili ko na itong sushi bar na ito,” she said.
According to Rated K, Bernabe is currently the only Filipina who owns such sushi bar in Tokyo.
Bernabe is very keen on ensuring the quality of the food she serves at the restaurant. In fact, she personally goes to the Tsukiji fish market to buy fresh ingredients for her sushi and sashimi.
At the market, she also invites locals to visit her restaurant and taste their food.
If Bernabe has one secret when it comes to maintaining a successful business, it would be “pakikisama.”
“Ang sikreto unang una pakikisama. Dapat tapat kang maglingkod. Tiyaga at sipag. Magdiskubre ka ng magdiskubre huwag kang hihinto sa pagdi-dikubre ng iba pang bagay. Pag-aralan lahat ng kung ano pang puwedeng gawin.”
Source: ABS-CBN News Images: Facebook (Mari Nihei)