Officers and members of the Micronesia Repatriation Association from Okinawa, Japan, called on Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang yesterday. That may be the group’s final courtesy call on the Saipan mayor since the group plans to stop its annual visit to the CNMI this year—its 50th since making the annual pilgrimage to the CNMI.
Apatang himself assured the officers and members of MRA that Saipan “is your second home and you are a part of us.”
“We welcome you back…and for the last five years that I have been mayor, it has been a pleasure meeting your group every year,” he added.
The MRA was created as an association of Okinawans who were born and used to live in the CNMI. Majority of them were born and raised here until World War II changed the course of their lives. After the war, they and their families were flown back to Okinawa. Many of MRA’s current members are descendants of the former Saipan residents.
Apatang acknowledged that shared history yesterday. “The history here is yours as well and we want to thank you for coming back every year and praying for those that have left us during the war 75 years ago. For our part, we will continue to pray for you too,” he said.
The first MRA trip was held in 1968. This year marks their 50th year of traveling to Saipan and also their last.
According to Hiroko Tajima of Pacific Development Inc., the tour company that handles the logistics of the annual trip, most of the MRA’s members are in their 70s and 80s and traveling has become burdensome. “Having no direct flights from Japan also doesn’t help. Now they have to travel to at least two places before reaching Saipan and also when they go back to Okinawa,” she said.
One of MRA’s members, 87-year-old Kensei Kamiunten, was born and raised in San Roque. He and his family moved to Okinawa after the war when he was 12 years old. “To me, Saipan is my first home and Okinawa is my second. That is why I keep coming back,” he said.
“I appreciate how the residents of Saipan always prepare for our visit. …This visit would be our last but I would still try to come back, not as an organization but as a personal visit to see Saipan, as I would like to continue the relationship between Saipan and Okinawa,” Kamiunten added.
Apatang urged the MRA to turn over the tour to the younger generation as his office would like to maintain the strong relationship between Saipan and Okinawa. “This is a valuable relationship that we want to carry on,” he added.