Japan's navy salutes old graves
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By Mary Vorsino
The oldest Japanese naval gravesite outside of Japan is in Makiki.
That might be a surprise to residents, but it's common knowledge in the Japanese navy, which for at least 36 years has made it a point to stop at Makiki Cemetery to pay respects, lay a wreath and observe a moment of silence for 16 sailors who died in the 1800s during their long voyages from Japan to Hawai'i.
More than 100 Japanese naval officers and sailors gathered at the cemetery yesterday morning for the annual ceremony, all sporting starched white uniforms. After a band played the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the Japanese anthem, two sailors laid a wreath at a large memorial for the sailors, erected in 1971 with help from Hawai'i residents and the Japanese government, which has since provided a $500 annual stipend to Hawaii Mejii Kai to help maintain the site.
The 16 Japanese Imperial Navy sailors at the cemetery died between 1860 and 1890, most likely aboard their ships from diseases or accidents, said Hawaii Mejii Kai President Kenneth Saiki.
"So few people know this as a Japanese naval cemetery," Saiki said. "The ceremony just hits me here," Saiki added, patting his heart. "It's really impressive to me that after 130 years that Japanese maritime defense units still come by to pay respects to their fallen comrades."
Rear Adm. Yasushi Matsushita, commander of the Japanese naval training mission, presided over the ceremony. Afterward, he said the tradition is about honoring the past and those who came before.
"These are our navy sailors," he said, through a translator. "They are our predecessors."
The sailors also paid their respects and laid wreaths yesterday at the Arizona Memorial and the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.
Matsushita oversees a fleet of three training ships, with 737 crew members. The ships got to Pearl Harbor on Wednesday and plan to leave tomorrow.
Their Hawai'i stop is the first in a five-month international mission. They will head to San Diego from Pearl Harbor, and make it to 10 other countries, including Chile, Australia and Korea, before returning to Japan. Over the course of their trip, meant as hands-on training for 178 newly commissioned officers, they will travel more than 30,000 nautical miles.
Matsushita said the training takes place annually, mostly for the benefit of new officers.
Ceremony every year at Makiki Cemetery honors fellow sailors who died during voyages to Hawai'i in the 1800s
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