Imperial couple meets with well-wishers


POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A rainbow shower tree planted nearly 50 years ago drew Japanese Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, to Kapiolani Park yesterday, where he was greeted by schoolchildren, former Gov. George Ariyoshi and recipients of the Order of the Rising Sun.

“;I think it was a tremendous honor for His Royal Highness to come here, and is an opportunity for us to reconnect with the royal family,”; said Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who had greeted the emperor earlier at Hickam Air Force Base.

“;The fact that he came to Kapiolani Park to visit this tree that he planted years ago is a real tribute to us,”; Hannemann said. “;I'm very pleased that the tree is growing into a very vibrant tree; I think it's a symbol of the relationship that we enjoy with Japan.”;

The emperor and empress met some of the 50 students from Rainbow Gakusen, who welcomed them by waving small American and Japanese flags.

Sixth-grader Ichitaro Manabe said the emperor “;asked me if I could speak Japanese,”; adding, “;I'm originally from Tokyo, and I see him all the time on TV. It was nice to finally see him in person.”;

Ariyoshi said, “;I am also grateful for the kind of person that he is. He goes out and meets people; I saw it happening with the young people here, and it made me very happy to see that kind of thing taking place.”;

Some well-wishers arrived several hours early to see the imperial couple.

One of them, 92-year-old Kaimuki resident Yoriko Miyamoto, came with her son and daughter-in-law about four hours before the imperial couple arrived.

“;I wanted to bring my mom because she is getting old already,”; said Yoriko's son, Roy Miyamoto. “;I thought this may be the last time, so I figure we'd bring her to see them.”;

Yoriko Miyamoto said through a translator that she wanted to “;see how tall the tree has grown”; since Akihito planted it as crown prince in 1960 in celebration of 100 years of Japanese-U.S. ties.

The Hawaii visit, Akihito's first in 15 years, is part of an effort to strengthen Japan's relations with the United States by making a conciliatory move and paying tribute to American veterans, including those buried at Punchbowl cemetery who died fighting against his nation in World War II.

Akihito, 75, was 11 when the war ended and his father surrendered to the United States and its allies in 1945.

One of the attendees yesterday was Hawaii resident Dr. George Suzuki, who went to Hiroshima in the mid-1950s to study the effects of radiation on the survivors of the atomic bomb.

“;It was quite an honor,”; said Suzuki of the encounter with the emperor.

;[Preview]    Japanese Royals Greet Hawaii Residents at Kapiolani Park

The emperor and empress have a number of events on their agenda for the next few days, but their only free public event took place shortly after they arrived yesterday afternoon.

Watch ]


Suzuki said Akihito asked him how the survivors were doing. Suzuki said he told Akihito that after close to 64 years, there seems to be little genetic transference of radiation damage to succeeding generations.

Lonny Carlile, a University of Hawaii associate professor for the Center for Japanese Studies, said it is significant that in general the visit has been treated without a lot of harshness “;over historical memory issues.”;

“;This is a sign that they are not that big of an issue between the two countries,”; Carlile said.

Hawaii, the first state to elect a U.S. senator and governor of Japanese ancestry, has served as a bridge to the East, bolstered by programs at the University of Hawaii and the East-West Center.

A side benefit of Akihito's visit was the improvement of the area around the shower tree, with new benches and a freshly mowed lawn, according to Waikiki resident Rosemary Hume.

“;The park has never looked so great,”; she said. “;It took an emperor to get new benches and the grass cut short.”;