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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 16, 2009

Japanese emperor honors war dead

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko bow after laying a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in tribute to America’s war dead. Behind the royal couple are cemetery director Gene Castagnetti and his wife, Nina Nguyen.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The emperor and empress arrive at Washington Place for an official state luncheon with Gov. Linda Lingle, who greeted the royal couple with lei.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko make their way to their seats for the scholarship banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

NORMAN SHAPIRO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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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 50 years ago.

In between, Akihito and Michiko also had lunch with Gov. Linda Lingle at Washington Place.

The emperor and empress arrived in Honolulu Tuesday afternoon after a 12-day tour of Canada.

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.

Akihito and Michiko were the guests of honor at last night's banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation.

They accepted gifts, admired hula dancers and musicians and met with the scholarship winners.

The event concluded with a toast by the emperor, who expressed his pleasure in the continued work of the foundation.

"Please join me in a toast," Akihito said in Japanese, "to wish the best for the future of the scholarship, for the continued development of this scholarship to meet the expectations of future students, and for the further strengthening of the friendly relations between Hawai'i and Japan."

The scholarship was established in 1959 by local Japanese-Americans 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 129 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 given to two people:

  • Carl Becker, a professor at Kyoto University's Kokoro Research Center and a research affiliate in the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies.

  • Ritsuko Kikusawa, associate professor of anthropology at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka and the Graduate University of Advanced Studies in Kanagawa.

    Retired UH professor and scholarship foundation trustee Sharon Minichiello was recognized with the CPASF Distinguished Service Award.

    The couple was ushered into the banquet room by members of the Royal Order of Kamehameha and led in prayer by Nalani Olds, who performed a piece composed by Queen Lili'uokalani.

    The evening included a musical performance by Olds and hula by Hula Halau Olana. Seated next to Lingle, the empress beamed at the young dancers as they performed before her.

    The royal couple was also presented with a milo wood bowl crafted in the shape of a chrysanthemum that was commissioned by Nobuko Zecha and presented by his wife, a former classmate of Akihito and Michiko, as well as a wooden replica of the voyaging canoe Hokule'a, presented by Nainoa Thompson.


    Judy Shamoto, 69, of Pearl City attended the banquet with her husband Masayoshi, who earlier this year received an Order of the Rising Sun medal from the emperor for his contributions to U.S.-Japanese relations through his teaching of Japanese music.

    Shamoto said her continued affinity for Japan and Japanese culture was fostered by her grandmother, who immigrated to Hawai'i from Japan to work on the plantations.

    "We're honored to be here," Judy Shamoto said. "Not many people get to come to something like this."

    Masayuki Higa, 85, of Kane'ohe, a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, called the evening "a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

    "I was born an American so I always felt I belong here," he said. "But in those days, we were also brought up in the Japanese tradition."

    After the formal dinner, Akihito and Michiko met with the assembled group of former scholarship recipients.

    Joni Koehn, who was able to study Japanese theater in Tokyo as one of the 1993-94 scholarship recipients, called last night's meeting with the emperor and empress "just amazing."

    "They just have a way of making you feel at ease," she said.

    Koehn said she carries the spirit of the scholarship in her work as a teacher of Japanese theatre. Every other year, she brings students from the United States to Japan.

    "I share my experiences and do a little teaching," she said. "I try to help them see things from the Japanese perspective."


    Earlier yesterday, Akihito and Michiko arrived at Punchbowl cemetery at late morning amid the boom of cannon fire and increasingly heavy showers.

    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 Punchbowl cemetery director Gene Castagnetti, as well as Marines from Headquarters Battalion and 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."

    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.

    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.

    "This was an honor for Hawai'i, not just for the national cemetery," Castagnetti said. "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."


    More than 50,000 service men and women are interred at the cemetery, including about 13,000 who died in World War II. The royal couple had also visited the historic cemetery in 1994 during their previous visit to Hawai'i.

    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."