Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Anger engulfs village by the sea in Japan

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

In a Japanese fishing village where people gaze out to a seemingly endless sea, one town focused its anger yesterday on a faraway spot in the Pacific they saw on television screens - the place where their sons disappeared.

The day after a U.S. Navy submarine off Oahu ran into and sank a fishing boat from Uwajima Fisheries High School, a Japanese community waiting for word about nine of its missing began venting frustrations about how a sophisticated, nuclear-powered submarine could surface at precisely the wrong place.

"This accident shouldn’t have happened," said Kimie Nakamura, who works at the Uwajima Tourist Information Center on the west coast of Japan’s southern island of Shikoku, about 420 miles from Tokyo. "This modern submarine should have been able to tell there was a ship above it."

Others were more angry.

"Come on, it’s a nuclear submarine," said Fukushi Hamada, 63, of Uwajima. "They have to know what’s going on around them. My goodness, what carelessness!"

The accident made today’s front page of every major newspaper in Japan, and the headline of the Yomiuri newspaper, the largest-circulation daily, read: "Submarine Crew Fails to Launch Rescue Efforts," implying that the crew of the Greeneville stood by and watched as many of the helpless Japanese crew members drowned or floundered in the water.

Other newspapers, such as Sunday’s Mainichi newspaper, blared: "Mistake in Judgment or Negligence." An editorial in the Asahi newspaper was titled: "Incredible Accident." Koji Ishiwatari, publisher of the book "The World’s Warships," was quoted by the Mainichi as saying: "This cutting-edge submarine is designed to detect the enemy as soon as possible - there’s no way it could miss."

On the morning talk show "Sunday Project" on Japanese public television, commentators speculated that the submarine might have been showing off for 15 civilians on board.

On the Web site for Uwajima Fisheries High School, a page set up for prayers and condolences also had harsh words for Greeneville’s ousted skipper, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, calling him "The Worst Criminal of Them All," with links attached to his profile on the U.S. Navy site. Many of the more inflammatory messages were later removed from the board.

"This is an unthinkable accident, and people are mad about how this could ever have happened," said Masanori Mori, an administrator at Uwajima City Hall.

Many students, parents and townspeople in the community of 65,000 gravitated to the public fishing school, a three-story building on a gulf ringed by mountains. Many spent the night on campus to wait for news. Teachers, dabbing away tears, fielded a deluge of calls from concerned parents and the media.

The Ehime Shimbun, the local newspaper, described cheers going up at the school as families and friends recognized loved ones when television screens showed many of the faces of the 26 people rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard.

"There he is! There he is!" one person was quoted as saying, at the same time a mother in the room hid her head in tears. "He’s not there," the mother was quoted as saying. "My son is not on the list. What should I do? He’s not there."

For generations, Uwajima’s people have lived off the sea - from the pearls collected by divers to the big yellowfin tuna brought back by its fishermen. Both industries have fallen on hard times, but Uwajima still sends young men to sea in the formidable fishing fleets that journey far from Japan.

This voyage was to be a rite of passage for students at the high school, one of 47 maritime schools in Japan. The Uwajima school runs three two-month trips a year to Hawaii, where the students stop to sightsee while the ship refuels and prepares to head home. Thirty-three schools in Japan offer long-distance maritime excursions such as the one the Ehime Maru was on as a core part of the curriculum. About 20 have ships now in the Hawaii area.

Nightfall in Hawaii brought mounting dread for those still hoping the missing were alive. Nearly continuous TV updates noted that the United States was continuing its search with helicopters and boats equipped with searchlights.

"This is a tremendous shock for all of us," said Sataro Yamaguchi, 70, who has lived in the town for 20 years. "These were the progeny of fishing families who were supposed to carry on the family business. These were the young people who are our hopes to carry on the spirit and skills of Uwajima."

A weary Kei Kogane, who has taught fishing for 22 years, described his colleague, missing teacher Jun Nakata, 33, as "young, more like a big brother than a teacher to his students." The other teacher still at sea, Hiroshi Makizawa, 37, is "the quiet type, but has a strong sense of responsibility," he said.

"I knew the teacher Makizawa," said Jun Kuroda, 28, who works at the Uwajima Fish Market and attended the fisheries school. "He was young and diligent, and everyone trusted him. Who would have thought the trip would end this way?"

Kazuteru Segawa, 33, whose father, Hirotaka Segawa, 60, is among the missing, described his father as a loyal crewman.

"He must not have tried to escape until he was able to radio about the sinking ship," he said. "He probably tried to fulfill his responsibility. Right now, I just want him to be found alive."

Classmates of the four missing 17-year-old students also wished for the safe return of Toshiya Sakashima, Yusuke Terata, Katsuya Nomoto and Takeshi Mizuguchi.

"I saw him off saying, I’m looking forward to your stories from the ship,’ " said Yasuo Shimizu, 17, a friend of Toshiya. "I’m waiting for good news."

One possibility the waiting crowd held on to: The missing might be in one of seven other lifeboats the four-deck ship contained. The survivors were found aboard three of the ship’s 10 orange life rafts soon after the collision.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori delivered the word to the Uwajima high school that the U.S. Navy had taken responsibility for the accident and apologized.

But the incident will not help Japanese attitudes toward the U.S. military, which has 47,000 troops based in Japan, or ease friction over military exercises and servicemen’s behavior.

Just last week, the top Marine in Okinawa was forced to apologize for an e-mail he sent to subordinates describing local Japanese officials as "nuts" and "wimps."

"This is something that should not happen," said Kunio Takahashi, 55, who owns a small restaurant in Uwajima. "I think this will contribute to the declining reputation of the U.S. military."

Advertiser contributors Junji Ono, Yomiuri Shimbun and wire services contributed to this report.

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