Photo of the talented, Jake Shimabukuro
‘Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro paid a musical tribute to the families of those who died aboard the Ehime Maru. Behind him is Earl Okawa, who co-chaired the commemoration events.

Sixteen years ago, the USS Greeneville, a nuclear-powered submarine practicing a high-speed surfacing maneuver off O‘ahu’s south shore, struck the Ehime Maru, an Uwajima Fisheries High School training ship from Ehime, Japan, puncturing a hole in its hull. Within minutes, the ship began to sink. The Feb. 9, 2001, tragedy took the lives of nine people, including four students. Killed instantly were students Takeshi Mizuguchi, Katsuya Nomoto, Toshiya Sakashima and Yusuke Terata; teachers Hiroshi Makizawa and Jun Nakata; and crewmembers Toshimichi Furuya, Hiroshi Nishida and Hirotaka Segawa. Mizuguchi’s body was never recovered.

The accident could have jeopardized, or at the very least, set back the good relations that had developed and flourished between Japan and the United States in the aftermath of World War II on a number of levels: diplomatic, economic and cultural, among others.

As the governments of Japan and the United States worked on a diplomatic level to help ease the unbearable grief of the family members, especially, Hawai‘i’s Japanese American community organized and swiftly established the Ehime Maru Fund to accept donations of sympathy and support. In November of 2001, the Ehime Prefectural Government requested that the nonprofit Ehime Maru Memorial Association — EMMA — be established by the state of Hawai‘i to coordinate the construction of a memorial. Then-Hawai‘i Gov. Ben Cayetano offered a site for the memorial at the state-owned Kaka‘ako Waterfront Park. The site overlooked O‘ahu’s south shore, where the ship had gone down.

Within a year of the accident, the monument had been completed and the family members of those who were killed in the tragedy came to Hawai‘i for the traditional Buddhist memorial observance.

EMMA was subsequently transferred to the nonprofit Japan-America Society of Hawaii, which is administers the project and manages the upkeep of the memorial with the assistance of a number of Japanese community organizations who take turns cleaning it. The ties between Hawai‘i and Ehime continued to grow. In 2003, then-Gov. Linda Lingle formalized a sister-state relationship between Ehime and Hawai‘i.


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