The bus tour leaves in the early hours of the morning, and by 6:30 a.m., this group of Japanese visitors are on their way to the most popular tourist attraction in the state: Pearl Harbor.
“Of course Pearl Harbor is important for history for both countries," said Kozo Fukuyama, a Japanese tour guide. "That’s why they come.”
Fukuyama is with Island Makana Tours, a tour operator that caters to Japanese visitors in Hawaii. Every morning, these tours bring about two dozen guests to the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Although entrance to the park is free, this guided tour costs $150 a person. It includes a trip to the USS Battleship Missouri Memorial, the Pacific Aviation Museum and finally a boat ride out to the USS Arizona Memorial.
This year, Dec. 7 marks the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Later in December, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to Hawaii, becoming the first Japanese leader since the end of World War II to visit the site. But these sites have long attracted Japanese tourists.
Fukuyama said some Japanese tourists, especially from an older generation, have an emotional response. Others barely know the history.
“Some young guys, they don’t know," he said. "But the old peoples, some have pain. It’s very different, generation gaps.”
Nanako Masaki, who is in her 60s, knew she wanted to see the memorial.
“Being Japanese, Pearl Harbor was the first event in World War II," said Masaki. "So I wanted to visit.”
The National Park Service doesn’t keep any official records on how many of Pearl Harbor’s 1.5 million annual visitors are from Japan. But Japanese language headset rentals and brochures are heavily used.
What brought Hideo Hiraguri here was the opportunity to see history. The Tokyo resident is visiting Hawaii for the first time and mostly learned about the attack from American movies. But the experience became more real for him after taking a boat ride to see the Arizona Memorial.
“It breaks my heart to know that there was a war and the ship sank," said Hiraguri. "People were buried in the ship and they suffered.”
After a long day, Hideo and the rest of the group head back to the tour bus. The guide Fukuyama cues up a CD as it heads to Waikīkī. It’s the historic speech from Japanese Emperor Hirohito announcing the surrender of Japan.