Japanese emperor honors war dead
By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko paid homage to America's veterans under rainy skies at Punchbowl cemetery yesterday morning, then wrapped up their second day in Honolulu at a 1,500-person banquet for a scholarship named in honor of Akihito 40 years ago.
Akihito and Michiko also had lunch with Gov. Linda Lingle at Washington Place.
The royal couple conclude their three-day Hawai'i stay today with a half-day visit to the Big Island before flying home to Tokyo tonight.
"This was an honor for Hawai'i, not just for the national cemetery," said Gene Castagnetti, director of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, of the morning ceremony. "I'm just humbled to be a part of this historic occasion.
"Having the oldest hereditary monarchy join us for the second time is an honor and it shows that they're comfortable at this venue."
The royal couple had also visited the historic cemetery in 1994 during their previous visit to Hawai'i.
With Castagnetti and his wife holding umbrellas to keep Akihito and Michiko dry, the couple presented a chrysanthemum wreath to honor those interred at the cemetery.
"The rain was the only thing not under our control," Castagnetti quipped.
Last night, Akihito and Michiko were the guests of honor at a banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation.
The scholarship was established in 1959 to commemorate the wedding of then-Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko. The scholarship is awarded annually to two Japanese graduate students in Japan for study at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, and to two American graduate students from UH-Manoa for study in Japan.
About 1,500 people, including 130 current and former scholarship recipients, attended the event.
The Ralph Chikato Honda Award, given to one Japanese and one American scholar who are achieving excellence in their fields and contributing toward U.S.-Japan relations, was to be given to two people:
Retired UH professor and scholarship foundation trustee Sharon Minichiello was to receive the CPASF Distinguished Service Award.
The emperor and empress were scheduled to personally meet with the scholars immediately after the banquet.
The emperor and empress arrived in Honolulu Tuesday afternoon after an 11-day tour of Canada.
Akihito and Michiko arrived at Punchbowl cemetery yesterday morning amid the boom of cannon fire and increasingly heavy showers.
More than 50,000 service men and women are interred at the cemetery, including about 13,000 who died in World War II.
The couple arrived just after 10 a.m. to a three-cannon salute that roused dozens of birds from the long corridor of Chinese banyan trees leading to the monument.
The emperor and empress were greeted by Lingle, Adm. Timothy Keating of the U.S. Pacific Command and Castagnetti, as well as Marines from Headquarters Battalion and the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific.
The emperor and empress stood solemnly for "Kimigayo" (the Japanese national anthem) and "The Star-Spangled Banner," unmoved by a sudden downpour while umbrellas were summoned.
"When it started raining, it was absolutely beautiful," said Cpl. Westley Miller of Headquarters Battalion. "That moment just reminded me what all of this is about — the sacrifices that these people here made.
"When I joined the Marines four years ago, I thought I'd see combat but there is also a lot of beauty in the world, and this reminded me of that."
The rain gained intensity as the ceremony closed with a 21-gun salute, a joint flyover by U.S. Navy and Japan Self-Defense Forces aircraft, and the playing of taps.
For Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai'i president and director Lenny Yajima Andrew, attending yesterday's wreath-laying ceremony was the latest in a series of pinch-me moments.
Yajima Andrew, a former Cherry Blossom Festival queen, first met Empress Michiko in 1986 at a private reception in conjunction with the 34th Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, then again when the royal couple visited Hawai'i in 1994. She renewed the acquaintance on Tuesday when she attended Akihito and Michiko's appearance at Kapi'olani Park in Waikiki.
In addition to the Punchbowl ceremony, Yajima Andrew also attended last night's banquet.
"I feel so lucky," Yajima Andrew said. "I'm very impressed with them. They really seem to be for the people."