shower on the
Community members take
their prayers and blossoms
to the site of the tragedy
By Treena Shapiro
Community members filled seven coconut leaf baskets with flowers and brought dozens of leis to Maunalua Bay for blessing yesterday before the blossoms were carried by the Hokule'a to be dropped where nine missing people were last seen before a submarine tore through the hull of their ship.
'I cannot stay home'
Families view items
Six family members of the victims attended the ceremony, which included chanting and prayers in Hawaiian and English, with translation to Japanese.
Also in attendance were Minoru Shibuya, consul general of Japan, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and the mayors of both Honolulu and Uwajima City, home to the crew of the sunken fishing trawler Ehime Maru.
"This is not a funeral," said master of ceremonies Poka Laenui. "This is a ceremony to ask the traditional gods of Hawaii to care for those who are still unrecovered from the sea."
Many of the approximately 150 people in attendance wrote prayers for peace and healing on a large sign which read: "To the victims of the Ehime Maru Incident. From the shores of Maunalua, Hawai'i."
Uwajima Mayor Hirohisa Ishibashi called the ceremony an opportunity to move forward, adding in Japanese, "Of course, I wished so hard that this was a bad dream, but now I think we need to accept it is just a fact that happened."
While thanking the Navy and Coast Guard for their assistance in the recovery mission, Ishibashi also called for more openness about what caused the tragedy to occur and the plans to prevent such accidents in the future.
"I have confidence in the American people that they are able to do this for us," he said.
Emotions heightened during the ceremony when musician Jake Shimabukuro acknowledged with words the need for families to see evidence of the fates of their fathers and sons, then played an original, heart-wrenching ukulele instrumental that brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience with its pounding violence and beauty.
The messages and music moved the family members.
Kazuo and Mikie Nakata, parents of missing Uwajima High School teacher Jun Nakata, pulled out handkerchiefs to wipe away tears while others sat solemnly as the tears fell.
As the family members placed their own leis on a table for blessing, Kazuo Nakata bent to pick up a fallen blossom, to ensure it was blessed with the others.
The ceremony on land was followed by another on the training canoe Hokule'a that included a laying of flowers on the water and a purification ceremony that called for sprinkling on the ocean water mixed with Hawaiian salt for healing.
Aboard Hokule'a were master navigators Nainoa Thompson and Bruce Blankenfeld and, as a symbolic gesture, an elder who was a fishing teacher and a student approximately the same age as the teen-agers who had been on the Ehime Maru.
Family members rode in a large tour boat that came as close to the canoe as possible in the rough seas as at least 100 leis were tossed into the ocean.
Standing at the bow, Kazuo Nakata kept a handkerchief to her face as she watched the leis float on the ocean.
When Hiju Ashikaga was driving home Feb. 9, she heard a 4 p.m. news report that a Japanese high school fishing trawler had been sunk by a U.S. submarine.
I cannot stay
home ... I know
they needed me
By Treena Shapiro
Ashikaga, a Japanese language teacher at Salt Lake Elementary School, said she knew exactly what she needed to do. She grabbed a purse and headed to the Coast Guard station at Sand Island, where the 26 men and teens rescued from the Ehime Maru were brought to shore.
"I cannot stay home," she remembered. "I know they needed me." She was concerned that two hours had passed since the sinking.
She was so sure the rescued crew, particularly the 16- and 17-year-old boys, needed "a woman's hand" that when denied access to the base, Ashikaga borrowed a Red Cross badge to sneak in. For days, she stayed with the survivors to make sure basic needs were met: T-shirts and underwear, toothbrushes, combs, shaving lotion, eyeglasses, even trips to the hospital.
The Navy was quick to honor her requests, Ashikaga said. "We are human beings, heart to heart. We understand each other."
At a healing ceremony at Maunalua Bay yesterday in remembrance of the nine still missing, Ashikaga wondered where all the people who came to support the families had been 23 days ago.
She said she was the only community member to rush to help the survivors, though it was easy to figure out what they'd need. "They just came out of the water. They don't have clothes. We know that." she said.
The ceremony was "really nice," Ashikaga said. However, "I wish people were more concerned in different ways," she added. "I want to see them before."
But the families appreciated the support, Ashikaga said, and she thinks they are beginning to come to terms with the tragedy. "You have to accept, little by little. That's how both sides came to peace," she said. "I can see their faces. It's very different. I think they are accepting."
Family members of the missing from the Ehime Maru took an hour Saturday searching through personal effects plucked from the ocean in hopes of finding items belonging to their loved ones.
"They looked rather disappointed," said Michiaki Yokote, chief of Ehime prefecture's board of education, according to his interpreter.
The relatives could not identify the owner of any of the items, including a black shoe, several rubber boots, a pencil holder, a baseball cap, a T-shirt, videotapes, a photograph of the Ehime, a khaki shirt and a knit cap. The items will be sent to Uwajima Fisheries High School.
The Navy gave the items to the Japanese consulate on Friday. Six family members who arrived from Japan the next morning viewed them at the Ala Moana Hotel that afternoon.
The mothers in the group eagerly looked over the oil-soaked items.
The fathers stood back against the wall, said an Ehime prefecture staff member. One mother took pictures.
Of the dozens of items, two belonged to Ehime survivors. A hard hat was marked with the name "Miya," and a tackle box was labeled "S. Atuta" for S. Atsuta.
A yellow towel bore a name no one could identify.