Digging into anything and everything that makes the CNMI tick beyond politics...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tinian Blow Hole

Thursday, August 23, 2012

VA official touts progress in providing benefits to veterans

DESPITE the challenges that the CNMI and the rest of the Pacific Islands are facing in availing themselves of health care benefits for  veterans, progress has been noted, according to Dr. James E. Hastings, director of the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System.
Tracey Betts, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Honolulu Regional Office, updates veterans about the benefits they’re entitled to. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol
Tracey Betts, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Honolulu Regional Office, updates veterans about the benefits they’re entitled to. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol

He flew in yesterday from Hawaii for the first veterans appreciation and outreach program on island.
He said he is very pleased with the progress in providing benefits to the veterans in Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa and the CNMI.
Hastings has been serving  veterans for over 50 years and visiting the CNMI for the past six years to ensure the delivery of healthcare to the veterans here.
“We are on the right track to develop significant standards on how veterans should be taken care of,” he said.
Veterans Affairs, he added, was able to address two new concerns — the special needs of women veterans and the homeless.
Hastings noted that 15 percent of the armed forces are women.
Homelessness is another issue that the VA office is addressing, he said.
“Our goal is to end homelessness of veterans in the next three years — one tough assignment but we are making progress,” Hastings said.
In Hawaii, Hastings said about 40 percent of the homeless veterans have been housed and resources have been made available to give shelter to veterans on the streets and help them get back on track with their lives.
Hastings said the VA outreach has changed and evolved in many ways for the past 20 years.
“We have developed VA clinics in and gone out to smaller areas with lesser populations,” he added.
U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, in his message, said the VA clinic on Saipan is just  the first step to increase the base level of medical care for the veterans in the CNMI.
Acting Gov. Eloy S. Inos said the government recognizes the efforts of the VA clinic and the benefits provided to local veterans.
Tracey Betts, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration of the Honolulu regional office, said services have been improving for the veterans in the CNMI.
The veterans appreciation and outreach event was held yesterday at the MH2 Building in Puerto Rico.
(Published at the Marianas Variety)

Environmental group invites community to 5th PIC Palooza

THE Mariana Islands Nature Alliance is requesting members of the community to join the 5th Palooza at the Pacific Islands Club on Saturday, Aug. 25.
MINA executive director Sam Sablan, the guest speaker at the Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday, said  they are happy to be the recipient of this year’s Palooza, a fundraising event that start at 7 p.m. at the PIC Charley’s Bar. This year, it will carry the theme “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“We are asking for your support for this fundraising event to help with our ongoing community projects in protecting the environment, and having fun at the same time,” Sablan said.
MINA is a non-profit organization that depends on donations for its education and outreach costs, accounting and other operational expenses.
Sablan said they rely on the generosity of businesses so they can implement programs that promote environmental stewardship.
PIC has helped raise funds for other organizations through it annual Palooza event in the past years, including Karidat, Beautify CNMI, Guma Esperansa and PAWS.
For this year, entrance costs $25 per person and it includes an eat-all you can buffet and drink-all-you-can soda, wine and beer.
Live entertainment will be provided by the PIC Clubmates, as well as fun games and exciting raffle prizes for lucky ticket holders.
For more information about the PIC Palooza, call 237-5101 or 5148.
(First published at the Marianas Variety

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Online Pagan petition now has over 3,000 signatures

THE online petition that opposes using the island of Pagan as a dumpsite for Japan’s tsunami debris already has 3,161 signatures from supporters from Hawaii, Australia, the CNMI, Guam and the states.
The controversial proposal has apparently been abandoned already, but supporters of the petition are still aiming for 10,000 signatures.
The supporters of the petition said the remote volcanic island should be preserved to conserve its wilderness habitat for future generations.
They said Pagan is “sacred” and should not be desecrated with toxic debris.
“Land and soil to the people are precious and people have to protect their paradise,” they added.
They said the CNMI should “avoid the tragedy of Pagan falling into ruin” and that “no island should be turned into a dumpsite.”
The Facebook group “No to Dumping Trash on Pagan”  has already 4,446 members.
It states that Pagan has one of the best top soils in the Mariana chain and it should be used for agricultural purposes.
According to the petition, which is addressed to the commonwealth’s leaders,  the “uniqueness of the CNMI and its culture should be celebrated and protected, not desecrated with a wealthy country’s garbage.”
By signing the online petition, an individual shows that he/she supports protecting Pagan against the potential environmental impacts of leeching chemicals, loose debris, and sedimentation of the reefs and surrounding waters.
To sign the online petition or get more information, go to http://www.change.org/petitions/don-t-turn-pagan-island-into-a-garbage-dump or  http://savepaganisland.org.
To read comments and share your views or interact with other supporters, join the “No to Dumping Trash on Pagan” group on Facebook.
(First published at the Marianas Variety)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Macaraig will be a guest in premiere episode of ‘Usapang Pinoy Saipan’

PHILIPPINE Consul General Medardo Macaraig will be the first guest in the premiere episode of “Usapang Pinoy Saipan,” a talk and entertainment show for all Filipinos that will be launched in the second week of September.
The show is produced by Digital Motion under  production manager Edwin Sta. Theresa, and  will be hosted by Anna Mae Adaza and Michelle Villaraza.
Sta. Theresa said “Usapang Pinoy Saipan” will cover issues and concerns of Filipino guest workers not only on Saipan but the entire CNMI.
“The first episode is ready for airing with Consul General Macaraig as our guest,” Sta. Theresa said. The second episode will feature Overseas Workers Welfare Administration representative Julie Fabian.
“The talk show aims to give Filipinos an avenue to air their views about pressing matters like their status in the CNMI, and other concerns,” Sta. Theresa said.
He said the program also hopes to give inspiration and hope to Filipino workers facing an uncertain future.
Sta. Theresa said they have been working on the talk show for the past months.
“We encourage Filipinos here to give us feedback and send us suggestions  for upcoming episodes by logging on to our Facebook page (Usapang Pinoy Saipan),” Sta. Theresa said.
After the first few episodes, they are planning to go live so people can interact and call in to submit questions and suggestions.
“We are inviting you to watch the show as soon as it goes on air — and participate in the program to help our fellow Filipino workers,” Sta. Theresa said.
“Usapang Pinoy Saipan” will be aired from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Sundays on Channel 14, the Weather Channel. (First published at the Marianas Variety)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Marianas Made opens at Thursday street market

First published at the Marianas Variety
THE community is invited to check out Marianas Made, a new consignment store displaying locally made products at the Garapan Fishing Base street market tonight.
localproductDebra Kay, owner of Marianas Made, said the store “will specialize in locally made art and crafts as well as packaged specialty foods.”
Vendors have answered her call for products that were screened in Garapan on Tuesday afternoon. These included coconut oil, recycled goods, banuelos, necklaces and fashion jewelry from seashells and beads.
Kay said she came up with the idea of a consignment store because she saw the need for a place for vendors to showcase their products made in the Mariana islands.
The store will be a cross between an art gallery and a cultural gift shop, and will carry an assortment of prints, note cards, small stone and wood sculptures, beadwork, jewelry, candles, woven mats, coconut art, ceramics, wood carvings and music — all made in the Marianas.
“We will be displaying the products at the Thursday street market for the time being, until we find a suitable location for a permanent store,” Kay said.
She is encouraging other vendors and manufacturers of local products to contact her and have their products displayed at Marianas Made on a consignment basis.
She said Marianas Made will provide vendors a chance to introduce and sell their products and for consumers to buy them.
“It will be like a one-stop shop to create a link between vendors and buyers of local products,” Kay said.
In 2009, the Made in the Marianas festival was held at the CNMI Museum of Culture & History compound where entrepreneurs manufacturing local products showed up and sold local products to spectators including local wine, artwork, fashion jewelry, beads products, ceramics, preserved foods, and more.
For more information about Marianas Made, call 287-0772 or e-mail changebuilding@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

‘Geocaching’ may be NMI’s newest tourist attraction

(First published at the Marianas Variety)
HAVE you ever heard of the word “geocaching”? Marianas Trekking, Saipan’s adventure company says it may attract more tourists to the CNMI.
The Barracuda team composed of children who joined the Eco Camp poses at the entrance of Suicide Cliff before going on a geocaching adventure. Contributed photo
The Barracuda team composed of children who joined the Eco Camp poses at the entrance of Suicide Cliff before going on a geocaching adventure. Contributed photo

Geocaching, according to Marianas Trekking general manager Elly Stoilova, is a fun high-tech treasure hunt game in which participants use GPS to discover hidden caches.
“This game is a great motivation to get outdoors with family and friends and discover new places, as usually the caches are hidden in beautiful locations such as sightseeing spots or educational sites like those related to history, architecture, and more,” Stoilova said.
She said she has been doing research on how geocaching can boost tourism.
Stoilova said  geocaching is very popular in Japan, Korea and Guam. There are 8,424 hidden caches in Japan, 5,502 in Korea, 640 on Guam, 4 on Saipan, 3 on Tinian and 4 on Rota.
“There are close to 2 million caches hidden around the world  (1,851,666) and the total registered participants in this high-tech treasure hunting game have already reached over 5 million worldwide,” Stoilova said.
She said Marianas Trekking introduced geocaching last July 1 at Eco Camp.
Stoilova  earlier searched online for some new activities that would be interesting for children.
“I found ‘geocaching’ listed as activity in several camps and I was intrigued to learn more about it. As soon as I registered online and learned more, I was hooked to this fun idea,” Stoilova said.
She said her team, the Barracudas, searched for one of the only four hidden treasures on Saipan near Suicide Cliff and found it.
“It was our first geocaching and we were so excited about! I revisited the place where the cache is hidden and added a few bo-jo-bo dolls there for off-island visitors to take,” Stoilova said.
Stoilova said in geocaching, those who find the caches do not take them but just log that they have found them. This way each geocache can attract many hunters for years. She said  occasionally people leave tradable items there, which can be taken if replaced with other items of the same value.
One can find items in the cache that can be trackable.
“These items have their own unique number and a purpose to travel around the world, to which geocachers can contribute,” she said.
Stoilova cited as example the cache near Suicide Cliff where there is a trackable lucky clover and the goal is to visit a brewery in Dublin, Ireland, and to take picture there that shall be shared with the clover owner. She added that the family that sent this trackable around the world lives in Orange, Michigan. The trackable has travelled already over 12,000 kms.
Stoilova said that geocaching is not only for tourists but for locals too.
“Geocaching is for everyone. Tourists involved in the game will be happy to add to their logs to more caches in exotic destinations or places they haven’t been before while traveling for business or leisure. Local families can enjoy this activity as a fun outdoor activity for the entire family,” Stoilova said.
She said  she has been watching the Saipan caches and from the logs so far she saw that those finding them are Saipan tourists who have visited the island as tourists and for business purpose.
Behind the fun the treasure hunting can give to the participants, Stoilova said geocaching promotes eco-tourism and outdoor activities, educate people about nature and give them a reason to travel, explore and be happier.
Impact on Tourism
Stoilova said  geocaching is a new niche market and the CNMI is ideal for it: beautiful nature, caves, beaches, trail in the jungles, amazing sightseeing and historic spots.
“Having caches hidden in all these areas would be the next step. There are serious hunters out there looking for new places to visit. There are geocachers in Guam, Japan and Korea and I would be great to create more reasons for them to visit Saipan, Tinian and Rota,” Stoilova said.
She is planning to place a few new caches in the next months and cannot wait to see who will be the one to find them. She is also looking at presenting geocaching to the Marianas Visitors Authority if they will be interested to support geocaching tours and challenges.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sunset collection

Sharing some of my favorite sunset images. 
These are mostly Saipan and Tinian images but I've thrown in a few sunset images from Palau.
Please sit back and enjoy!  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wish upon a pair of Bojobo dolls

LEGEND has it that these little dolls resided in the woods and used to peep out from Bo Jo Bo vines in the village of San Roque, Saipan  hundreds of years ago.
Now, fashioned into dolls from coconut husk and fiber, the Bojobo dolls populate the stores in pairs to make any visit to Saipan, Tinian and Rota complete.
Bojobo dolls are always sold in pairs, a male and a female, sporting a variety of skirt colors are available in various sizes which you could conveniently hang in your car, room, with your keys or anywhere you want to.
Believed to bring good luck in love, money, prosperity and make other wishes come true, the Bojobo dolls have become one of the most-sought and must-not-leave-CNMI-without-it gift item.
From Saipan, Tinian and Rota, the Bojobo dolls have spread out to all parts of the world where tourists come from to serve as a souvenir and remind them that they that they had been to the CNMI.
“Faith can move mountains, and all you have to do is follow the instructions. Entwine the dolls according to what you wish for, hang them in a place where you can see them often and believe in your wish,” a tourist told the Variety in Garapan one day.
“There’s no harm in believing, and besides, the dolls are perfect gift items and decorations,” the tourist added.
If entwined correctly, the Bojobo dolls are believed to bring you luck in love, money and wealth, marriage, fortune, strength, happiness, long life, children, prosperity, friendship and peace.
Bojobo dolls can be bought from $4 and up from all department stores, souvenir shops and hotel gift shops on Saipan, Tinian and Rota, during the street market in Garapan every Thursday, and from online stores.
Grab a pair of these dolls which has become a significant symbol of a visit to the CNMI.
Instructions on how to tie the Bojobo dolls are attached when you purchase the dolls
1. PEACE. Leave us as is
2. FRIENDSHIP. Cross his left hand and her right hand together.
3. LOVE. Cross his left hand and her right hand together. Cross his right hand and her left hand together.
4. MARRIAGE.    Cross his left hand and her right hand together. Cross his left and right hand together. Cross her left and right hand together.
5. PROSPERITY. Cross the left and right hand together.
6. HEALTH. Cross the left and right hand together.
7. STRENGTH. Cross his left and right hand together. Cross her left and right hand together.
8. FORTUNE. Cross his left and right hand together. Cross her left and right leg together.
9. WEALTH. Cross his left and right hand together. Cross her left & right leg together. Cross her left and right hand together.
10. HAPPINESS. Cross his left and right hand over her body.
11. LONG LIFE. Cross her left and right hand together. Cross his left and right hand over her body.
12. CHILDREN. Cross his left and right hand over her body. Cross her left and right hand over his body.
First published HERE

To catch a dream

IF you’ve been at the souvenir shops around the island, you probably have seen these attractive round things with colored feathers and a web of colored yarn or twine crisscrossing in web-like patterns all over the ring like a trap with a small hole at the center.
If you haven’t seen a dream catcher before, you will think that they are just one of those regular door decorations ideal for souvenir or a gift.
Dream catchers  are usually hung in the doorways. They look like a huge mischievous spider’s web, colorful feathers fluttering as they spin with the wind.
But I learned that there is more behind each dream catcher.
Dream catchers, also known as dream nets, are believed to snare your bad dreams and get them entangled in the sinewy threads while the good dreams slip through the center hole.
These were hanged above the cradle of the babies in the ancient Native American Chippewa tradition.
Go online and you will find several fascinating versions of the legend of the dream catcher.
The traditional dream catcher was intended to trap the negative and bad dreams in the web while allowing the good dreams to slip through the hole, slide down into the feathers and straight to where you were sleeping. You tend to forget the bad dreams with the rising of the sun.
Some enterprising artists in the islands came up with a new design. Instead of the tangled web with a hole in the center, they placed a corkboard material and painted it with scenic views of the islands. Saipan, Tinian and Rota are printed on one side.
I bought a medium-sized dream catcher a year ago and it’s still hanging from a nail in my bedroom wall. I later learned that you should give a dream catcher space to freely spin around, contrary to what I earlier did, but mine was the localized version of the dream catcher, with an attractive painting of huge waves and an island scene.
Though the idea of trapping the bad dreams in the tangled web is gone, the revised version is still a hit among tourists as gift or souvenir items.
“It doesn’t matter whether you believe in them (dream catchers) or not, but they look lovely hanging from the doors and even on cars,” one tourist said.
Dream catchers come in various sizes, costing from $4 and up, depending on the size and they are available in all main stores such as Joeten , Star Sands Plaza, and all other shops where souvenirs are sold on island.
(This article was first published HERE)

Luxe Duty Free: Saipan’s newest shopping option

THE economic crisis is not an excuse to forego simple joys that will make one feel beautiful, according to a businesswoman who recently opened a luxury shop in Garapan.
Beauty consultant Hou Na promotes the Tony Moly products of Luxe Duty Free in Garapan. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol
Beauty consultant Hou Na promotes the Tony Moly products of Luxe Duty Free in Garapan. Photo by Raquel C. Bagnol
Braving the gloomy economic situation, Luxe general manager Diane Lee (Hye Sook) opened  Luxe Duty Free Shop beside Shenanigan’s in Garapan to try to lift the spirits of the people, especially the women and help them to look beautiful and feel cheerful without having to spend much.
Lee, who has been living on island for the past 24 years and is operating two other businesses, said she had to think many times before finally deciding to open Luxe a couple of weeks ago.
“The economy here is bad, but I want tourists and locals to have more shopping options. When I look at the people, I want to help make them beautiful by offering high quality products at affordable prices,” Lee said.
All the bags, shoes, jewelry, watches and other designer items are from the U.S. and Europe while the cosmetic lines are from Korea.
Luxe Duty Free carry complete lines of skin care products and cosmetics from Tony Moly, a popular cosmetics brand for all age groups in Japan and Korea.
The Tony Moly brand has a wide variety of perfumes, skin care, lip care, cleansing, massage and pack, makeup, hair and body, men’s care and accessories that give solution to troubled skin care.
“Our cosmetics are safe to use for all skin types, and we have a trained and licensed beauty consultant who can help recommend what is best for each customer,” Lee said.

 She added that one would be enticed and proud to carry their products which are housed in creative and attractive containers. Lipsticks are not all in regular tubes but rather in attractive cases shaped like apples, oranges, lemons, and more.
“Don’t be scared by the name Luxe (short for luxury) because you will find lipsticks, lip gloss, skin creams, and other high quality cosmetics and accessories starting at $10,” Lee said.
She is saddened to see individuals who do not take care of their skin and are not fashion-conscious.
“I know times are hard, but we can still be beautiful and fashionable. I love the people here. It is where my two daughters grew up and became successful and making all feel good and beautiful is my way of giving back to the community,” Lee said.
Luxe Duty Free offers free makeup consultation and free makeup to anyone without obliging them to buy.
“Being exposed to the harsh rays of the sun every day, the people here need to take care of their faces and skin and we have the products to meet that need,” Lee said.
Luxe Duty Free provides shoppers a relaxing experience with its ambiance complete with Korean music playing in the background.
Check out Luxe Duty Free’s display shelves for designer bags and purses like Coach, Fendi, Liu-Jo, Ensoen, Serapian, Bellemarie and more, shoes, watches, jewelry, accessories and locally produced items like virgin oil, noni juice, coffee and other merchandise.
Luxe Duty Free is open from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Monday to Saturday. Major credit cards are accepted. For inquiries, call 233-2525, 233-4747 or email dianeklee@pticom.com.

Friday, August 3, 2012

5th Saipan Awaodori Festival: an affair to remember

THE beating of the drums rose to a deafening level and the crowd flocked closer to the stage to witness a showcase of color and skill at the height of the 5th Awaodori Festival on April 19.
Kids and adults craned their necks to watch how fast the dancers’ feet caught up with the beat but the members of the professional Tokyo Tensuiren Group from Koenji, Japan and the 45 members of the Saipan Awaodori team did not miss a single beat.
The unexpected construction undergoing at the Coral Tree Avenue in Garapan prompted organizers to move the Thursday market to the Fishing Base, and the new location gave the performers more elbow room to do their show.
For first timers, watching the Awaodori Dancers is a real treat. It’s like being given a glimpse of the biggest festival held every last Saturday and Sunday of August in Koenji. The drum beats will bring spectators to the narrow streets of Koenji and squeeze through hundreds of thousands of people from all parts of the world and watching thousands of Awaodori Festival dancers in their flashing and colorful costumes.
PDM Promoters Inc., is the organizer of the annual Saipan Awaodori Festival under its president Misako Kamata. Sonia Siwa of the PDM Promoters said that this year was special because members from three Awaodori groups flew in from Tokyo.
“We usually only have the dancers and musicians of the Tokyo Tensui-ren group but this year, we have representatives from Benkei-ren and Aoi Shin-ren groups and these are among the very famous groups in Japan. This is very good news. Hopefully this can encourage more groups from Japan to participate in the future Saipan Awaodori Festivals,” Siwa said.
From 5:30 p.m. all the way through 8:30 p.m. on Thursday last week, the joint Awaodori teams from Japan and Saipan impressed and stunned audiences along the streets of Garapan—all the way from Fiesta Resort & Spa lobby to the front of the Shenanigan Restaurant building, and heading toward Duty Free Shop Galleria for a short performance before capping the day’s festivities with a hit performance at the Fishing Base street market.
The group also performed during the opening of the Flame tree Festival at the Civic Park Center on Friday evening.
MVA recognition
Marianas Visitors Authority represented by Judy Torres presented a certificate of appreciation to the Tokyo Tensui-ren group for its continued support and promotion of the CNMI as a preferred travel destination during a break in their performance at the street market on Thursday.
Except for last year where PDM Promoters Inc had to cancel the festival in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March last year, the Tokyo Tensui-ren group had been coming here and performing for the past four festivals.
Major sponsors for the Awaodori Festival are DFS Galleria, Docomo Pacific, Tan Sui Lin Foundation and Kinpachi Restaurant. For more information, please call 234-6900.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The secret of the Singing Bowls

MY hand started to shake as I balanced myself to keep still. I was in an antique store and a 6.5-inch dull gold bowl was on my left palm. The store manager, a friend of mine handed me a piece of round wood which came with the bowl. I held the wood, which was called a striker, in my right hand.
Photo by Raquel C. BagnolUnder his  instruction, I began to rotate the striker on the sides of the bowl awkwardly, impatient to get feel that vibrating feel. I did
not feel anything except for added nervousness in case the bowl would fall and break.
I kept trying and learned the technique and very soon, I started to hear a soothing sound and feel a pleasant vibration from inside the bowl, going to my palm. I kept on rotating the striker and imagined myself inside a peaceful temple, deep in meditation. I imagined grassy meadows, flowing rivers, wide expanse of blue skies. Without meaning to, I got lost in thoughts and felt myself slowly slipping into a relaxed stance.
Coming back to reality, I looked at the set of Singing Bowls with new eyes. I’ve always taken them for granted as part of any antique displays and I never go near them or touch them.
playing the singing bowls
Digging a little into the history of Singing Bowls, I learned that these are classic instruments and meditation tools in Tibet but these are also known as Himalayan singing bowls.
If you haven’t seen or tried playing a Singing Bowl, drop by the Fu Dogs & Qi shop at the Marianas Business Plaza in Susupe.
Singing Bowls come in different sizes, shades of color and designs and they are priced based on their weight, size, and condition. It means that the bigger the Singing Bowl is, the higher the price.
My friend said that today, lots of people have Singing Bowls in their homes although not everybody believes in the spiritual traditions and religious practices.
People now are also using the Singing Bowl for meditation, trance-induction, relaxation, healthcare, and personal well-being.
When you are tired from a day’s work or just bored and needs to rewind, try playing a Singing Bowl and see what it will do to calm your soul.
This article was first published HERE

Mass cremation at the Marpi jungles

open cremation
Chosen as Story of the Week for JPG on September 22, 2011.
  First published at the Marianas Variety

THE silence of the damp morning air was broken by the crackling and hissing sound as dried pieces of wood caught fire from the lighted torches. Members of the Kuentai, a Japan-based non-profit organization whose goal is to return the remains of these dead soldiers to their homeland was starting the first ever mass cremation of the human remains of 575 Japanese soldiers who died in Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, during the bloody World War 2.
While the entire nation was recollecting the horrifying 9/11 events 10 years ago, the Japanese community in Saipan were also mourning for their soldiers who lost their lives.
But unlike that fateful day when their bodies were dumped and buried in a mass grave over 67 years ago, the skeletal remains that were recovered following months of excavation from different areas in Marpi were neatly piled and stacked on tin plates and placed on top of firewood.
Under the shade of a canopy, representatives of the Japanese community and local island officials honored the memory of the dead soldiers and offered flowers for the sacrifices that they gave. The atmosphere in the small clearing that was once an airport in Banadero, Marpi took on a surreal mood as the yellow and orange fires hungrily licked the firewood that would eventually reduce the pile of bones into ashes, the only remnants of the Japanese soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the battle.
Trying to overpower the strong smell of gasoline and the stench of burning bones, I went around in a blur, capturing the memories of the first open cremation I have ever witnessed on camera.
As the flames on each pile got hotter, the smoke got thicker and rose higher above the treetops surrounding the area. If you close your eyes you could almost see the souls of the dead soldiers rising up with the smoke from the bone piles.
547 sets of the soldiers' remains were unearthed from the mass grave the Kuentai group excavated in the village of Achugao, San Roque, Saipan, in May and June this year. 28 sets of skeletal remains have been excavated earlier and had been stored at the CNMI Historic Preservation Office and added to the latest number of human remains.
In a solemn ceremony, Yukio Tanabe, Envoy of the Japanese Government for the Recovery of the Remains in Saipan expressed his thanks to the members of the recovery mission, the CNMI government and the local people for the recovery of the remains of our soldiers on Saipan.
skeletal remains
Kuentai secretary general Usan Kurata said that the 575 recovered remains was like scratching the tip of the iceberg. Kurata said that there are still over 26,000 remains of Japanese soldiers on Saipan that they are hoping to excavate, cremate and give a proper burial in Japan.
The excavation and cremation raised quite a storm among locals, and especially from former U.S. soldiers who questioned the identity of the human remains, if all of the bones belonged to Japanese soldiers, safety concerns over holding an open air cremation, and other issues.
Kuentai said that the remains of Japanese soldiers cremated after proper identification procedures. The Kuentai Bereavement Group showed a 60-page report on the project done by archaeologists Randy A. Harper, Marilyn K. Swift and principal investigator Michael A. Fleming of the Swift and Harper Archaeological Resource Consulting where chronicles the processes they underwent before the excavations.
The report showed that three previous testing and data recovery programs were conducted in the area where the mass graves were located in Achugao, Tanapag in 1990, 1991 and 1995 and all the testing were in compliance with the U.S. 1935 Historic Sites Act, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the 1980 National Historic Preservation Act amendments as well as CNMI Public Laws 3-33 and 3-39 which pertain to the removal or treatment of human remains for historic preservation.
The archaeologists' report stated that the team dug a total of 77 trenches all over Marpi— 37 trenches from May 21-24 and 40 more trenches from June 27 to July 3 before the mass grave was finally located containing 547 sets of human remains. All the trench excavations were monitored by the archaeologists and the bones were identified to belong to Japanese soldiers.
The archaeologists also kept tallies of the number of skulls recovered and cross referenced with the total number of bones like femurs and tibias, to identify how many sets of human remains were recovered. The team retrieved a lot of items along with the skeletal remains from the mass graves including rifles or machine guns which the soldiers carried when they died, grenades, bayonets and knives, helmets, water canteens, a Japanese canister with medicine to counteract poison, belt buckles, buckets, wire, ribbed rebar, a mess cup, nails, metal braces, ammunition, ordnance, miscellaneous metals, and shrapnel.
The cremation was done at about 5 p.m. that day, and they had to wait till the ashes cooled enough to be placed in six different containers and flown off to Japan the next day.
I left the little clearing a couple of hours later, the memory of the hungry flames devouring the pile of the unknown soldiers' skeletons and the strong stench in the air etched into my memory forever. Some remnants of any bloody war could not just be blotted out easily.