Gwen Battad Ishikawa
The Japan-America Society of Hawaii presented its Bridge Award to Kenneth “Ken” Saiki, director of the Ehime Maru Memorial Association, and the United Japanese Society of Hawaii at its annual general membership dinner on Sept. 24. The Bridge Award is presented to individuals and/or organizations that perpetuate JASH’s theme of “Building Bridges of Friendship.” JASH is committed to “promoting understanding and friendship between the people of Japan and the United States through the special and unique perspective of Hawai‘i.”
Ken Saiki was UJSH president in 2001 when the U.S. Navy submarine Greenville collided with the fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru off of the south shore of Oahu. As noted in the event’s program booklet, Saiki “mobilized the organization’s resources to help provide family support, interpreters and escorts for visiting officials in the aftermath of the accident.” Saiki and UJSH joined JASH and other organizations in a community-wide effort to raise funds for the victims’ families.
A year later, the Ehime Maru Memorial was erected at Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park. Volunteers from various organizations take turns cleaning and maintaining the memorial every week.
Saiki thanked the numerous volunteers who have helped to clean and maintain the memorial for the past 13 years. He also thanked past JASH presidents, Earl Okawa and Ed Hawkins, as well as current president, Lenny Yajima, who have “done much to nurture and maintain the bonds of friendship between Ehime and Hawai‘i, and I thank them for their unwavering support for my role.”
Saiki expressed his gratitude to government officials in Hawai‘i and especially those from Ehime and paid special tribute to his family.
“Without the understanding and cooperation of the people of Ehime, our relationship could not have grown to the point where now Hawai‘i and Ehime are sister-states, Honolulu and Uwajima are sister-cities, and many other bonds of friendship have been created,” he said.
”I thank my late parents, Kiyoto and Patsy Saiki, for helping light the way for me through their community service and helping to foster better relations between the U.S. and Japan. And, to my wife, Kumiko, mahalo for your support and understanding, and for helping with the cleaning chores at the memorial whenever a group has to cancel at the last minute,” Saiki said.
The other Bridge Award honoree was the United Japanese Society of Hawaii, represented by its president, Cyrus Tamashiro. Tamashiro wanted to keep the spotlight on Ken Saiki and his efforts and kept his comments to a minimum.
“I am here today representing UJSH leaders like Ken Saiki and members who have created a legacy of bringing people together to promote Japanese culture and international exchange. Our sempai (elders) continue to mentor and encourage younger members to preserve local and Japanese traditions,” Tamashiro said.
“The UJSH, JASH and our sister Nikkei organizations embrace the Japanese people
and Japanese culture and strive to promote international goodwill.
As individuals, we may have ancestors who come from different prefectures, states or nations, but we all work cooperatively to achieve common goals . . . and we all have great affection for Japan.”
Former Hawai‘i Gov. George Ariyoshi introduced Gov. David Ige, the evening’s keynote speaker.
“Tonight’s honorees exemplify the deep and abiding relationship the United States shares with Japan — a unique and significant relationship that has been on prominent display this year,” Ige said. “At a formal White House welcoming ceremony for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year, President Obama publicly recognized the enduring relationship. He said the two nations are ‘global partners that stand together for security and human dignity around the world’ and characterized the relationship as one of mutual respect and shared obligation. He said the two nations are ‘true partners and friends.’”
Ige went on to discuss Hawai‘i’s diverse culture.
“From the very early days, more than 160 years ago, immigrants from throughout Asia came to Hawai‘i to work on the plantations. Those deep roots have taught us to embrace diversity. And today, in fact in just the past two weeks, I have seen our community celebrate diversity in so many ways.”
He singled out Hawai‘i Pacific University, which USA Today named the top-ranked college for the most diverse student body — ahead of Stanford, Harvard, Columbia and Yale. HPU is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Ige also pointed to the East-West Center’s recent recognition of Polynesian Voyaging Society master navigator Nainoa Thompson for playing a leading role in building understanding across the Pacific and around the world.
“Not only does this kind of diversity define us; it also guides us — so much so that today we have strong bilateral relationships with Japan and other countries in Asia. I am committed to further deepening these ties.”
Ige then brought up four key areas — economy, energy, military and education — that “will strengthen the state’s position as it relates to our nation’s commitment to this rebalance in the Asia-Pacific region.”
In closing, the governor thanked the UJSH for its contributions to maintaining the friendly relations between the United States and Japan.
“ I congratulate and thank you for your ongoing efforts to develop, promote and strengthen goodwill, friendships, and understanding between the people of Japan and Hawai‘i, particularly between the sister-cities of Uwajima and Honolulu.
“The Japan-America Society of Hawaii and its members are an integral part of Hawai‘i’s cultural and economic framework. You play a significant role in deepening the bond between Japan and the United States.”