On Jan. 6, with more than 500 in attendance, Kaua‘i Community College, along with the County of Kaua‘i, Kaua‘i Japanese Cultural Society, Kaua‘i Buddhist Council and the United Japanese Society of Kaua‘i, hosted 111 Nippon Maru cadets at an island wide luau, according to a KCC news release last week.

Lei and flowers adorned tables and a whole pig was smoked, cured and baked in the college’s Lo‘i by the college’s Culinary Arts Program faculty and students for the festivities. Being on Kaua‘i again was extra special for these 13 cadets, as just last year they attended the college as students through a program that is part of an ongoing exchange of maritime knowledge between Hawai‘i and Japan.

Under Captain Tomoku Oku, Nippon Maru — known by many as the “tall ship” for its high masts and full sails — glided into Nawiliwili Harbor and was greeted by hundreds. The ship serves as a base for a maritime program to help students become competent seamen, officers and engineers for Japan’s maritime industry. During its 54 years of service, 12,000 cadets have trained on the ship and sailed 45 times around the globe. Training involves a one-year intensive course of study, which culminates in a sail to Hawai‘i.

The timing of the visit was perfect, as Captain Oku promised to return to Kaua‘i when the Namahoe, Kaua‘i’s Polynesian voyaging canoe, was put into water. Oku, a former cadet who trained on the ship, was instrumental in developing a strong partnership with the Polynesian voyaging community. In 2007, he was assigned to assist the Hokule‘a  navigate the Japanese waters and was then introduced to Polynesian seafaring techniques. Since then, he has applied these technique to his teachings.

Today, Kaua‘i Community College, thanks to Oku’s unique Polynesian wayfinding exposure, now has a solid memorandum of agreement with the National Institute of Technology: Toyama College, Oshima College, Hiroshima College, Toba College and Yuge College. Annually, these colleges bring students to KCC to focus on three weeks of intensive study of English, the culture and history of Hawai‘i, how Polynesians navigate, and actual hands-on experience in the construction of a Polynesian canoe, the Namahoe.

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