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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:58 a.m., Thursday, June 27, 2002

Ehime Maru memorial draws Japan tourists

By Shayna Coleon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Some bowed their heads and closed their eyes, others pressed their hands to their lips and read the sad details about the accident. One woman broke down and cried.
Japanese visitors pray at the Ehime Maru memorial. Some tour drivers said their companies have added the memorial to their daily routes, and others say they visit because the visitors request the stop.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

At the Ehime Maru memorial at Kaka'ako Waterfront Park, displays of emotion like this yesterday afternoon, have become a daily occurrence since the memorial was dedicated in February.

Since April, more than 500 Japanese tourists a week have been visiting the memorial bearing gifts and saying prayers as tokens of respect. Piles of flowers and lei – fresh orchids, tuberose, dried daisies – have been left on the memorial's nine sloping granite blocks. One group brought a string of blue and pink paper origami cranes.

The memorial honors the nine crew members who died Feb. 9, 2001, when their ship was rammed by the submarine USS Greeneville nine miles south of Diamond Head. It was dedicated on the first anniversary of the tragedy and includes an anchor and chain recovered from the Ehime Maru as well as engravings in Japanese and English.

Groups as small as four and as big as 25 come in buses and limousines every day for about 15 minutes.

"They want to share in the sad memory," said Hiro-yuki Doi, a tour guide with Osaka Art Travel who brought about 20 tourists to the monument as part of a city tour.

Some tour drivers said their companies have added the memorial to their daily routes, while other guides say they visit the memorial because the Japanese are requesting the stop.

Laurence Kometani, a KTI Hawai'i Transportation Inc. tour driver, said he took 14 people from the Shikoku Islands home to the crew of the Ehime Maru to the memorial on Tuesday.

"They said that they needed to come here before they can enjoy their time here," Kometani said as he sat in his bus yesterday, waiting for the visitors to return.

Japanese tourists read markings on the Ehime Maru memorial at Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park. A thousand origami cranes that grace the memorial were placed there last Saturday and are from Yamaguchi Prefecture Fisheries School.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

"It was important for them to see this spot first because they wanted to pay their respects," he said. "Once they went out there and took their picture by it and prayed, they came back to the bus and I could see they felt a lot better. They looked relieved."

The increase in visitors and the amount of flowers at the memorial have been so abundant in the past three months, that volunteers who clean the memorial each week are bringing the flowers to the Hawai'i Pilots Association so harbor pilots can take them out to sea, said Earl Okawa, president of the Japan-America Society.

Fay Leong, office manager at the Hawai'i Pilots Association said the harbor pilots volunteered to scatter the flowers in the ocean because many of the pilots were involved in the search for the missing crew members of the Ehime Maru.

"Sometimes, they come with several garbage bags full of flowers," Leong said. "The harbor pilot then goes with the pilot boat and brings it out to the spot, and scatters the flowers there."

OliOli, a JTB Hawai'i Inc. package tour, added the spot in April, and stops at the memorial three times a day, seven days a week, said driver Yoshi Shimada.

"Seeing the Ehime Maru memorial is a new experience for the Japanese because everyone from there knows the Ehime Maru story," Shimada said. "When they see it they say they have a mixed experience because they see the ocean, so wide, clean and beautiful. Then they see the memorial and think about the boat that sank because of the submarine."

Reach Shayna Coleon at scoleon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8004.