Two Sister Cities Celebrate Peace with Fireworks

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by YOUNGJIN KIM
The Nagaoka Matsuri is one of the largest firework festivals in Japan. [Wikimedia user 113icecream Japanese Fireworks]

Earlier this month, the Honolulu Festival held its famous fireworks ceremony with fireworks donated by its Japanese sister city of Nagaoka. The Honolulu Festival, held every August, is a cultural event that promotes harmony and cooperation. With an overarching theme of “Pacific Harmony,” the Honolulu Festival showcases cultural performances from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines to raise awareness of diverse Pacific cultures. Nagaoka, a Japanese city in Niigata Prefecture, is famous for its August “matsuri” (festival). The Nagaoka Matsuri is an annual two-day festival in August that began in 1946, a year after WWII. The festival, which was originally created to commemorate the lives lost during the American air raid of August 1, 1945, and to pray for a peaceful future, now ranks as one of the largest fireworks festivals in Japan. Prior to the Honolulu Festival, festival organizers from Hawai‘i visited the Nagaoka Matsuri, which happened a week earlier than its Hawaiian counterpart, with hopes to expand it in Hawai‘i.

Although Honolulu and Nagaoka are thousands of miles apart, painful WWII memories connect the two cities; Nagaoka is the birth place of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the naval commander who directed the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941. In the closing days of the war, Nagaoka was a target of heavy bombing that obliterated 80% of the city center and caused thousands of civilian casualties. The American naval base at Pearl Harbor is near Honolulu. The surprise attack terrorized and tremendously disrupted the daily operations of the Honolulu community. The two cities with a shared suffering became sister cities in March 2012 to overcome the WWII past for a harmonious future together. Celebrating the 70th anniversary of post-WWII peace, Honolulu and Nagaoka jointly held a commemoration ceremony and fireworks at Ford Island, Hawai‘i in 2015.

Japan and Hawai‘i share deep cultural connections as well; Japanese-Americans make up 13.56% of the Hawai‘i population. The Hawaiian Japanese-American community is home to numerous notable Japanese-Americans including Daniel K, Inouye, a WWII veteran who later served as the state’s first congressional representative and the first Japanese-American to serve in Congress. In May, the state renamed its Honolulu International Airport to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in commemoration of his life-long service to the state. In commercial sectors, the two communities work closely as well; the recent Japan Economic Summit held in Hawai‘i inaugurated the two partners’ collaboration in business, tourism, and energy.

Located at the midpoint between the United States and Japan, Hawai‘i has become a forerunner in bettering US-Japan relations and the greater US-Pacific relations over the years. The East-West Center is also located in Honolulu at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Youngjin Kim is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington.