Japan’s Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko Reflect on Their Hawai‘i Gannenmono Visit
Editor’s note: The following essay, written by Their Imperial Highnesses Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, was emailed to The Hawai‘i Herald and other news organizations by deputy consul general Takayuki Shinozawa of the Japanese Consulate in Honolulu. After returning to Japan, the couple penned their impressions of their weeklong visit to Hawai‘i to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Gannenmono’s arrival in the Islands — it was then translated into English. We are happy to share their reflections with you.
In this commemorative year of the 150th anniversary of the first group immigration to Hawai‘i by Japanese people in 1868, our visit to the state of Hawai‘i at the invitation of the state government was a most memorable and fruitful one. Although our visit happened to be at a difficult time for those affected by the Kïlauea volcano eruptions on the island of Hawai‘i, we wish to express our sincere appreciation to Governor Ige and everyone concerned who extended their warm welcome and kind hospitality to us.
The main purpose of this visit was to attend the opening ceremony of “The Gannenmono 150th Anniversary Commemoration and Symposium in Honolulu,” and “The Convention of Nikkei and Japanese Abroad,” which is held annually in Japan, but was specially held in Hawai‘i in this commemorative year. Both events were attended and celebrated by many people, which allowed us to reflect upon the relationships between Japan and Hawai‘i and our shared ties with the Nikkei communities in each different country, and provided great momentum toward further developing these relationships for decades to come.
Prior to these two major events, we visited exhibits at the Bishop Museum and the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i on Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i following the Gannenmono, the first Japanese overseas immigrants to arrive as a group in Hawai‘i. These visits enabled us to gain a deepened understanding through viewing the many valuable exhibits on the harsh working conditions in the sugar plantations, the register of names of the Gannenmono and their descendants, and on the wartime situation, and the displays of Japanese words and phrases cherished by the Japanese Americans, among others things. Before returning to Japan, we visited the Hawaii Okinawa Center, which is the only facility in Hawai‘i run by an individual prefectural association, and learned about the connection between Hawai‘i and Okinawa and had the opportunity to watch a Ryukyu dance performance. We were pleased to see that Okinawan culture has also been passed down through the generations in Hawai‘i.
Furthermore, we were also able to share some memorable heartwarming moments at the banquet hosted by Governor and Mrs. Ige, the luncheon hosted by Mayor Caldwell and Ms. Tanoue, and the private luncheon hosted by former Governor and Mrs. Ariyoshi, to which we were kindly invited.
During our five-day stay, we had many opportunities to meet and talk with Japanese Americans and those who have deep ties with Japan. At the Kuakini Health System, which was originally established over 100 years ago as a charitable hospital for Japanese immigrants, we had a peaceful time speaking with Japanese American seniors, the oldest being 100 years old. Several of them offered us kind words and a welcoming handshake that conveyed their human warmth.
We also talked with alumni of the scholarship program who went to Japan to study and those who came from Japan to Hawai‘i to study through The Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship, which was established to celebrate the marriage of Their Majesties, the Emperor and Empress of Japan. The scholarship recipients were appreciative of having been awarded the scholarship and some of them spoke about how this scholarship paved the way for further research. It gave us great pleasure to hear their stories.
We also spared time to speak with college students who are studying Japanese at the University of Hawai‘i. Most of the students were taking Japanese language as their second major. We were impressed with the fluent Japanese that most of them spoke and to learn that several of them had hopes to teach at schools in Japan in the future.
Neither of us has had the chance in the past to make more than an introductory visit to or brief stopovers in Hawai‘i, so we were fortunate this time to have been able to tour places that enabled us to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural diversity and indigenous wisdom of Hawai‘i.
At the Bishop Museum, we were able to view an extensive exhibit on the region of Austronesian languages, including Hawai‘i. The exhibits helped us visually to learn about some of the similarities and differences of the various areas within that region. At the Honolulu Museum of Art, we were able to see Hawaiian quilts that were made in the early 20th century. Also, at Känewai Cultural Garden and Lyon Arboretum, which are both affiliated with the University of Hawai‘i, we listened to explanations on the uses of plants and the indigenous knowledge of the native Hawaiian people. This opportunity offered us an insight into the knowledge and wisdom of the ancestors of the native Hawaiian people from their traditional ways of life.
At each of the places we visited, people extended a warm welcome to us with lei, oli chants, and hula performances, which warmheartedly conveyed both their pride in their own culture and their kind hospitality to us.
In Hawai‘i, there were many immigrants from prefectures such as Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kumamoto, Okinawa and Fukuoka, among others. During our stay, we were able to learn about the activities of the prefectural associations to which members are committed. Also, the state of Hawai‘i has various sister relationships at state, city and county levels and we believe that these ongoing active exchanges will continue to contribute greatly to the mutual understanding between Japan and Hawai‘i.
We are truly grateful for the warm welcome we received from many people during our visit. Also, we wish to express our appreciation to everyone concerned for their contribution to the thoughtful arrangements to ensure that our stay was so memorable. It is our sincere hope that this 150th anniversary will lay a foundation to strengthen further the friendship between Japan and Hawai‘i and between Japan and the United States of America.
— Their Imperial Highnesses, Prince Akishino
and Princess Kiko