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NAHA, Okinawa — A canoe that is crossing the Pacific from Hawaii is on its way to Japan, making its first stop on Okinawa sometime next week.

Among the many people eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hokule’a, a double-hulled sailing canoe, are students of Bob Hope Primary and Stearley Heights Elementary schools on Kadena Air Base. Four second-grade classes, two from each school, have been in contact with the crew aboard the canoe, which crossed the Pacific without instruments.

Hokule’a, which means “star of gladness,” left Hawaii in January and is due to arrive sometime between April 24 and 28, depending on weather, at the Itoman fishing port on southern Okinawa. A welcoming ceremony is slated to begin at 3 p.m. on the day of arrival, and afterward the canoe will be on display for the public.

The canoe’s visit to Japan is to honor Hawaii’s historical ties with the country, which many immigrants to Hawaii left in the 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

In 1975, the society built Hokule’a, a replica of a Polynesian voyaging canoe from 600 years ago, when the Hawaiian Islands were settled. Since its maiden voyage to Tahiti in 1976, Hokule’a has sailed to many Pacific islands as well as to Alaska and Seattle.

After visiting Okinawa, Hokule’a will stop at Kumamoto, Nagasaki, Fukuoka, Yamaguchi and Hiroshima, the ancestral lands of many of the immigrants to Hawaii. It will then journey to Uwajima, where the crew will pay homage to families of those who died in a collision between Uwajima-based fishery training boat Ehime Maru and the Honolulu-based submarine USS Greeneville in 2001.

The last stop is Yokohama, and then the canoe will return to Hawaii.

“Hokule’a is the pride of the people of Hawaii,” said Gwen Fred, a second-grade teacher at Bob Hope Primary School. A third-generation Japanese-American from Hawaii, Fred said the canoe’s visit to Okinawa gave her an opportunity to learn more about her heritage.

“As I studied more about the Hokule’a, I became more fascinated about how they are able to live on a canoe days and weeks, and how they are able to find their way in the middle of ocean,” she said.

She decided to participate with her class in the canoe’s education program. Her students track the voyage of Hokule’a daily and learn how seafarers used nature as a navigation tool, she said.

“For instance, they could tell which way was to land from the direction birds fly,” she said.

Yoshiro Matsumoto, 75, a retired school principal from Itoman and master of the sabani, an Okinawan fishing canoe, applauded the feat of his fellow seafarers at a recent press conference announcing the canoe’s visit.

“You must grasp and understand every change and sign of nature — the ocean and the earth — including clouds, winds, rain, waves and birds,” he said. “Otherwise sailing is not possible.

“It is the ability to communicate with nature, something that that modern people have lost in this computer age,” he said.

To check on the progress of the Hokule’a voyage, visit: http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/ welcome.html.

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