Akihito visits captivate Hawaii residents


POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Crown Prince Akihito first arrived in Hawaii aboard the cruise liner SS President Wilson in 1953 at the age of 19 to a frenzy of media attention.

“;Akihito's quiet little tour rated more photographs—and photographers—than the historic visits of Gen. MacArthur, President Truman—or Clark Gable,”; the Star-Bulletin effused at the time.

That was the first of six Hawaii trips by Akihito that have been a mixture of duty and fun. He was last here 15 years ago and is scheduled to return Tuesday for three days.

Throughout his 14-hour-visit in 1953, reporters and photographers followed Akihito's every move as he and his official party traveled from the ship to several news conferences and various locations, including the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, the Waikiki Aquarium, and the Japanese Consulate. Akihito left in the evening for Canada on his way to England, where he attended the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II.

“;This is the first time that I have been able to visit a tropical island,”; said Akihito in a prepared statement after the visit. “;I am leaving with very pleasant memories, and am looking forward to the time when I shall come back to this Paradise of the Pacific.”;

Akihito returned to the “;Paradise of the Pacific”; for a day in October, seven years later, with Crown Princess Michiko to formally dedicate the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship—created by the Japan-America Society of Hawaii to commemorate his marriage the year before.

It was during this visit that Akihito made his second visit to Punchbowl, where he honored American soldiers killed during World War II.

In 1964 and 1967, Akihito and Michiko visited again, meeting with local politicians and dignitaries, especially from the Japanese community. The Japanese Consulate and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce sponsored events in his honor, which were attended by throngs of people all hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal couple.

However, it would be 27 years before the imperial couple returned again to Hawaii as a last stop on a 16-day, 14-city tour of the United States.

By that time, Akihito and Michiko had ascended to the throne as emperor and empress. Many were also anxious to witness Akihito's historic visit to Punchbowl, the first emperor to honor U.S. soldiers who fought in the war against Japan.

Speaking through an interpreter, onlooker Misao Umeda said in a 1994 Star-Bulletin article that she “;wanted to see the emperor because the only time she can see him is when he is on television.”;

The royal couple's visit was a pivotal moment for 89-year-old Hanako Furukawa, who wept when she met them. Furukawa, a former schoolmate of the late Emperor Hirohito, had a stroke the year before that affected her speech and kept her in a wheelchair.

“;We thought maybe it was her last chance to see him,”; her son, Hiro Furukawa, of Palolo Valley, said. “;She can't speak much, but was very excited to come here.”;