Japan's royals renew an enduring friendship
Today, after 15 years, Hawai'i welcomes back Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.
The visit represents a rare opportunity for Hawai'i: to honor Japan's imperial couple and celebrate our enduring relationship with their country.
The royal couple's popularity in Hawai'i is an indication of the deep influence of Japan on our culture, our politics and our economic fortunes.
Their two-day itinerary reflects the importance of all three in maintaining Hawai'i's close relationship with Japan.
It's a bond we celebrate and continually work to strengthen.
Naturally, it's hoped that the royal couple's visit will encourage more visitors from Japan to follow suit. The slumping global economy has caused a sharp downturn in visitor arrivals, including Japanese tourists. Swine flu fears were blamed in part for a 15.5 percent drop in visitors from Japan in May.
But there are hopeful signs of a turnaround later this year, tourism officials say, as the Japanese rediscover Hawai'i after experimenting with closer, less expensive destinations.
Our longstanding and familiar ties should help jump-start the marketing effort, already under way.
But the symbolism of the visit reveals deeper roots.
The imperial couple will visit Kapi'olani Park and the shower tree that then-Crown Prince Akihito planted 49 years ago.
They will pay tribute to the war dead at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but not Pearl Harbor. Some have fairly questioned this omission — although Akihito, as a prince, did pay his respects at Pearl Harbor in 1960.
The visit will also include greetings from paniolo at the Big Island's Parker Ranch.
But the highlight will be a Waikiki banquet to mark the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, which has exchanged dozens of scholars between Hawai'i and Japan — strengthening intellectual ties on everything from tropical agriculture to the arts.
It's fitting that the foundation, established in 1959 to commemorate the royal couple's wedding, serves a uniting purpose — a close, enduring relationship between Hawai'i and Japan.