Officials push for Saipan-Okinawa sister-city ties

THE Saipan mayor’s office, the Micronesia Repatriation Association of Okinawa and Okinawa Prefecture officials will look into a possible sister-city relationship between the two jurisdictions.

On Thursday, Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang met with the visiting members of the Micronesia Repatriation Association of Okinawa led chairman Kensei Kamiunten and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly chairman Yonekichi Shinzato at the mayor’s office.

Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang and his special assistant Henry Hofschneider pose for a photo with members of the Micronesia Repatriation Association of Okinawa led by its chairman Kensie Kamiunten and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly chairman Yonekichi Shinzato.  Photo by Junhan B. TodiñoSaipan Mayor David M. Apatang and his special assistant Henry Hofschneider pose for a photo with members of the Micronesia Repatriation Association of Okinawa led by its chairman Kensie Kamiunten and Okinawa Prefecture Assembly chairman Yonekichi Shinzato. Photo by Junhan B. Todiño

“I need your help to pass on to the younger generation your tradition,” the mayor told the group’s members who were on Saipan to hold their 50th annual memorial ceremony.

Apatang said he was saddened to know it will be the last Saipan visit of the senior members of the delegation members.

But he said he is hoping that the younger generation will continue their elders’ annual pilgrimage to Saipan and Tinian.

Masanori Takahashi, president for operations of Pacific Development Inc., which facilitates MRA’s annual visit, said Okinawa Prefecture Gov. Yasuhiro Tamaki has expressed interest in further strengthening the relationship between Saipan and Okinawa.

PDI managing director Gordon Marciano noted that it was also the first time for the Okinawa governor to visit Saipan.

The MRA group first visited Saipan and Tinian in 1968, but some of its members, who are former residents of the NMI, can no longer join the annual pilgrimage due to their advanced age.

MRA chairman Kensei Kamiunten, 87, said he was born and raised on Saipan. After World War II, he and his family left the island. He was 12 years old at the time.

“Saipan is my first home,” he said as he thanked the CNMI government and the local community for maintaining the Tower of Okinawa in Marpi.

This year is his last visit to the Saipan with the group but he said he will try to return to Saipan on his personal capacity.

“We hope to continue our relationship with the NMI and share our dedication to the younger generation,” he said.

About 250 people, including the MRA delegation members, CNMI government officials and other community members, attended in memorial ceremony on Tuesday at Marpi while over 150 participated in the ceremony on Tinian on Wednesday.

Shijun Asato, a historian, said the relationship between the NMI and Okinawa should be “treasured” and continued by Okinawa’s younger generation through annual visits to Saipan and Tinian.