Kuni Miyake, in his Feb. 11 opinion piece, “Japan and the former Kingdom of Hawaii,” did what he calls a “quick study” of the history of Hawaii. Finding out that King David Kalakaua had undertaken an unprecedented world tour in 1881 and had met with Emperor Meiji, he shoehorned the extraordinary event into a tale of “strategic importance.”
The king and the emperor were two very human inhabitants of two very different worlds. Kalakaua proposed an alliance between Japan and Hawaii, offering up his niece as bride for a Japanese prince. He believed the marriage would establish a bond between two vulnerable island nations.
Miyake makes heavy weather of the alliance that did not occur. He speculates that “if Japan had annexed Hawaii, a war between Japan and the U.S. over the Pacific Ocean might have broken out much earlier, ending with a U.S. victory over Japan.” Maybe or, more likely, maybe not.
When thinking about the Hawaiian kingdom and Meiji Japan, we should remember a pressing issue they both faced: how to signal to arrogant Western powers that they, too, were modern. And deserved respect.
In Honolulu, Miyake could have gone to Iolani Palace, which was built for Kalakaua in 1882. In 1883, the Japanese government completed Rokumeikan. Both structures were fancy portals designed to impress and entertain Western dignitaries.
Rokumeikan no longer stands in Tokyo as an embarrassing reminder of social insecurity and extravagance, but in Honolulu Miyake could have toured its equally extravagant counterpart.
This year’s Tokyo Olympics is another extravagant, budget-busting exercise in signaling.
History doesn’t repeat itself, Miyake has reminded us, but it does occasionally rhyme. Sometimes quite jarringly.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.