Isles prepare imperial welcome


POSTED: Monday, July 13, 2009

Paniolos and a master hula teacher will be among those welcoming the Japanese emperor and empress to Hawaii this week.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko are touring the islands for the first time in 15 years on their way home from a trip to Canada. They are due to arrive tomorrow for a three-day stay on Oahu and the Big Island.

Hawaii has hosted the imperial couple several times over the past five decades. Their most recent visit was in 1994.

Wayne Ishihara, president of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce, said the visit will help strengthen the already firm bond between Japan and the Japanese community in Hawaii.

“;They're all very excited. They're really wanting to get a glimpse of the emperor and empress of Japan,”; Ishihara said.

Most people will not get to see 75-year-old Akihito and his 74-year-old wife, however. They will have only a few public appearances, and U.S. Secret Service agents and police will keep the public at a distance. But many motorists are likely to feel their presence. Road closures are expected as the couple's motorcade travels throughout Honolulu.

On the Big Island Thursday, paniolos, or Hawaiian cowboys, will put on a show for the couple at Parker Ranch on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. The ranch is one of nation's largest and oldest.

Kumu hula Kekuhi Keali'ikanaka'olehaililani is also due to greet the emperor and empress with a Hawaiian chant she composed in their honor. It is called “;Welcoming the Rising Sun.”;

Hula dancers will also perform for the couple when they arrive at Kona International Airport on the Big Island.

The main event for the imperial couple—and the primary reason for their visit—will be a dinner banquet Wednesday celebrating the 50th anniversary of a scholarship commemorating the couple's wedding in 1959.

More than 50 scholars who have benefited from the scholarship will attend the celebration and meet the couple at a Waikiki reception.

The menu will feature mahimahi and other local fare at the couple's request, said Ed Hawkins, president of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation.

“;We were going to have celebrations anyway,”; Hawkins said, “;but it adds so much more to the celebration itself”; to have the couple here.

The scholarship, which stills uses the crown-prince title the emperor had when it was created, was founded by Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. It is the only scholarship bearing Akihito's name.

It is awarded annually to students from Japan for study at the University of Hawaii and to UH students for study in Japan. The couple generally meets the scholarship's recipients at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo each year.

Also on Wednesday the emperor and empress are due to lay a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl and have lunch with Gov. Linda Lingle.

On their first day in the islands, they will revisit the spot where they planted a tree at Kapiolani Park in Waikiki in 1960. Almost 50 years later the sapling is now a robust tree offering shade to those who use the popular public park.