First American Graves in Hakodate, First Japanese Graves in Honolulu

cemetery-foreigner-100mIn 1854, while Commodore Matthew C. Perry‘s U.S. Navy squadron was surveying the future treaty port of Hakodate on Hokkaido in 1854, two sailors aboard the USS Vandalia died. Seaman James C. Wolfe died on 25 May and Seaman G. W. Remick died on 27 May 1854. Both were interred in a seaside plot in what later became the city’s Foreign Cemetery, now a tourist attraction.

In 1860, as a result of Perry’s efforts in Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate dispatched its first embassy to the United States aboard the Kanrin Maru, a Dutch-built ship skippered by Katsu Kaishū. Also aboard was Fukuzawa Yukichi, perhaps Japan’s most effective early Westernizer.

The Kanrin Maru stopped at Honolulu on its return voyage to Japan, and so did many other ships of the fledgeling Imperial Japanese Navy after the Meiji Restoration of imperial rule in 1868. Many of the earliest Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i in 1868 and 1886 were interred in Makiki Cemetery, which thus came to include the first Japanese cemetery in Hawai‘i. In 1876, (Apprentice?) Seaman Second Class (二等若水夫 nitou waka suifu ‘2-class young waterman’) Arakawa Matajuro (荒川又十郎) of HIMS Tsukuba (筑波) died and was buried in what became the first Japanese Navy cemetery outside Japan. Twelve more enlisted men from the ironclad Ryūjō (龍驤) were buried in 1883. By 1899, seventeen IJN sailors were buried there.

The most interesting gravestone is that of Midshipman K. Hara of HIMS Takachiho (大日本軍艦高千穂), who died on 8 April 1894. (‘Midshipman’ translates 海軍少尉候補生 kaigun shōi kōhosei ‘navy ensign cadet’.) Hara’s is the only marker engraved in both English and Japanese. The former gives his year of death as 1894, while the latter says he died in Kigen 2554, exactly 660 years later. The Kigen (紀元 ‘record-origin’) calendar dates from 660 BC, when the Japanese empire’s mythical founder, Emperor Jimmu, is said to have begun his reign. Kigensetsu (紀元節 ‘record-origin-season’), 11 February, became a national Shinto holiday and festival season in 1872, during the early years of Emperor Meiji’s reign, but was abolished after World War II, then re-established in 1966.

The British-built, Naniwa-class cruiser Takachiho is also an interesting story. It is named for the town of Takachiho (in Miyazaki Prefecture), where Emperor Jimmu’s brothers are supposed to have come from; where his progenitor and Japan’s creator deity, the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, is said to have spent time in a cave, hiding her light, before being lured back out; and to which Amaterasu later dispatched her grandson Ninigi to plant rice and found Japan’s imperial line. In the much more recent and less mythical past, the cruiser Takachiho had visited Honolulu in 1893, to protect its Japanese citizens and to show concern about the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Makiki Cemetery lies on the outer slopes of Punchbowl Crater, which later became the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, housing the remains of thousands of members of the U.S. military, many of whom died fighting against Japan during the Pacific War (1941–45). It may seem ironical to have an Imperial Japanese Navy cemetery just below Punchbowl, but the Makiki Japanese cemetery marks a much longer period—a sesquicentennial—of productive cooperation between the United States and Japan.

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Filed under Japan, language, migration, military, U.S.

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