Japan Prime Minister Visits Kakaako Memorial

Yoshihiko Noda Honors Ehime Maru Victims, Volunteers

 UPDATED 2:33 AM HST Nov 12, 2011
HONOLULU -

Many leaders were intent on strengthening economic ties between countries around the Pacific during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. But Japan's leader also took the time to strengthen ties with Hawaii; ties that were built after a deadly accident took place here a decade ago.

After arriving at the Ehime Maru memorial, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda bowed his head for a moment of silence. He then placed a wreath at the site where nine crew members of the Japanese training ship are remembered.

"The prime minister coming to the memorial here really shows the Japanese and American relationship is so important," said Ray Sekiya, a member of the Hawaii Fukuoka Kenjin Kai, a group that cares for the Kakaako memorial.

That relationship became strained in February of 2001 when the USS Greenville, a Navy submarine, demonstrated an emergency maneuver, surfaced beneath the Ehime Maru and sank the ship.

During his visit, Noda learned about the history of the Kakaako memorial and the volunteers who care for it every week.

"I wanted to let him know that there are groups here that take their time on the weekends to clean the memorial on behalf of the those who were lost," said Japanese-America Society of Hawaii president Edwin Hawkins.

Noda personally greeted and thanked the volunteers for their efforts. Just some of the efforts that have helped to strengthen ties between the two countries.

"They want to show the people of Japan and Hawaii and the rest of the world that this accident caused us to reach out and create better relations between us and Japan," said Ken Saiki, the director of the Ehime Maru Association.

The prime minister was only at the Kakaako site for about 10 minutes, but took time to see the three Mandarin orange trees which were planted on the 10th anniversary of the deadly accident.

Those who care for the memorial said it not only marks a tragic event in the past but also has created an important bridge for the future.

"It's a lesson to all of us, as terrible as things are, we need to think about the future, about the children and what we leave for those who come behind us," said Hawkins.

This is the first time a sitting Japanese Prime Minister has visited the memorial. While the stop meant a lot to the volunteers in Hawaii, there is hope the visit will also help ease the pain of families of the victims. Photos of the prime minister's visit will be sent to those families in back in Japan.

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