Japanese royalty in Hawaii to mark 150 years since immigration to islands

Japanese royalty in Hawaii to mark 150 years since immigration to islands
The prince and princess of Japan visit a memorial to victims of the Ehime Maru disaster. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
The prince and princess of Japan visit a memorial to victims of the Ehime Maru disaster. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The prince and princess of Japan are in Hawaii this week to mark the 150th anniversary of Japanese immigration to the islands.

The royal guests, Prince Akishino, the second son of Japanese Emperor Akihito, and his wife Princess Kiko, will be in town through Friday.

During their trip, they will be visiting several sites on Oahu including the National Cemetery of the Pacific, the Ehime Maru Memorial at Kakaako Waterfront Park, and Iolani Palace, among other venues.

On their trip Monday to the National Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl, they honored the lives of those lost in World War II.

Monday evening, the royal couple attended the opening of the Bishop Museums newest exhibit honoring the Gannenmono -- Hawaii's first Japanese plantation workers.

"It's quite an honor that they're coming to experience this. The legacy of the gannenmono here in Hawaii is such an important one. They blazed the trail for the immigration that was to come in the 1880's," said Scott Lawrimore, the exhibit's designer.

Close to 200 descendants of the gannenmono cheered and waved Japanese flags as the prince and princess arrived at the museum.

"Hawaii and Japan have always had this relationship for many many years and generations and I think what this does is it shows that these ties are still very strong," said President and CEO of Bishop Museum Melanie Ide.

For Delia Parker Ulima, whose great grandfather was a gannenmono, says its very special to have the royal couple honor her ancestors.

"I'm just so proud to be here and to be a part of this event today. It speaks to the fact that here in Hawaii, especially, we have such a rich history and ancestry, and it unites and combines all of us. For me and my ohana and extended ohana, we are meeting family we didn't know before. And now we can see them in the community and know they are our blood relatives," Ulima said.

"I always wanted to know why Tokujiro left Japan to come to Hawaii. Today, I know why. Because if he didn't, we wouldn't be here, all of us," said another descendant, Gwendellyn Yamamoto Sanchez.

On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige will be hosting a dinner at Washington Place for the royal couple.

Prince Akishino is also expected to deliver a speech encouraging closer relations between Hawaii and Japan.

This is the first time the couple has visited Hawaii — and the United States — together.

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