TOKYO, Japan – She came from a poor family in Tarlac who never got the chance of going to school. Now she’s running a 135-branch Karaoke and internet cafe chain business in Japan and married to a wealthy Japanese.
Abby Watabe’s life is a classic rags-to-riches story and a modern fairy tale.
Her mother was a laundry woman and her father worked as a carpenter in Tarlac. She was the youngest among seven children and poverty deprived her of a decent education.
Nevertheless, her dream of having a shot at a better life never diminished and was made possible after she worked as an entertainer in Japan, to earn money for her family.
Around 2005, she met a Japanese man in an elevator, who later told her he owned buildings and some businesses. Initially doubting his intentions, and thinking he only wanted to impress her, Abby at first didn’t believe the man.
She didn’t know he was really a rich man until they were married.
“I married him without knowing he had money,” Abby recalls.
Shortly after they were married, Abby’s husband asked her to quit her job at the night club — the same place where he used to visit her everyday.
He convinced her to enroll in a Japanese school, with her husband paying for everything. In time, she learned many things from her husband, such as managing their businesses and helping other people.
“My husband did not just love me, he loved the whole Philippines,” Abby said.
Her husband wanted every Filipino to be treated with respect and dignity by everyone, so he persuaded her to work in their business with sincerity, dedication and hard work.
Out of love for her and her compatriots, around 300 to 400 Filipinos would be invited during each of their business openings, with all of them treated well to an all-you-can eat buffets.
Abby always believed in the goodness of Filipinos, despite some who are notorious for being lazy, easy-go-lucky and tardy; bad traits that Japanese society abhors.
But she would often tell Japanese acquaintances that Filipinos only need the opportunity to prove themselves, and show the better side of them. Because of this, Filipinos are treated better by her staff.
“Because they know I am Filipino,” she related.
When the news of typhoon Yolanda’s massive destruction reached them, her husband was quick to give all-out support to victims and survivors. They placed donation boxes in the 135 branches of their businesses and prompted her to send relief goods and build classrooms in Tarlac, her hometown.
“He said nobody must look down on other people because they would not be poor forever,” Abby said. “Give other people a chance. Whatever your situation in life, be good to other people because you don’t know that the person in front of you might become richer than you.”
Despite living in luxury and finally achieving her dreams, Abby never stopped. She continued exploring other fields and improving herself by studying personality development, etiquette, and learning every job in her business so she would know what her every employee feels.
She mused: “I thought happiness was material things – Hermeses bags, but once you have them, happiness is temporary. My joy is different when I am able to help others.”