Japan’s maritime self-defense force stops in Unalaska for the third time since World War II
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force docked two large vessels in Dutch Harbor last week while on their international training cruise. Locals were invited to community gatherings where they could tour the ships, meet members and officers of the squadron, and learn about the force.
The City of Unalaska held a community ceremony at Memorial Park during the three-day visit to the Aleutian Island. Many spoke at the ceremony, like Unalaska’s Mayor Vince Tutiakoff. He said this recent visit is a historic moment for everyone.
“I want the young people to understand that, you know, we are a nation that works together with Japan today,” said Tutiakoff. “And they're our allies, and we support them.”
Japan bombed Unalaska in 1942, indicating the beginning of World War II in Alaska. And since then, Japanese ships have only docked on the island two times: once in the 1980s to honor the 50th anniversary of the bombing and once during COVID-19 two years ago.
“As we go forward into life, we have to let our people know, and younger people know, to never really forget what happened,” said Tutiakoff. “Honor those that have passed on and honor those who served our great country.”
Chris Price is the chief executive officer of the Qawalangin Tribe, who also spoke at the Memorial Park ceremony. Price reminded folks of the Unangan peoples’ experience during the Battle of Dutch Harbor and World War II. He shared how the Unangan people were forced to leave the Aleutian Islands when the Japanese bombed Unalaska and invaded two other islands, Kiska and Attu.
“It was a tragic moment in Unangan history and for the Unangan people. But today, here we are,” said Price. “From the Qawalangin Tribe, we thank you very much for being here.”
The Japanese squadron is on an annual international training cruise where they stop at ports of call throughout the world. Rear Admiral Yasushige Konno is a commander of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. He said, through a translator, that one purpose of the cruise is to practice Japan's vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP).
Japan introduced FOIP to the world a few years ago (2015-2016), asking countries on the Pacific and Indian Ocean coastlines to peacefully work together promoting freedom of maritime navigation and trade. Konno also said the cruise is about strengthening ties with ports of call as well.
“Our main objective as crews is to teach the basics of our newly commissioned officers because they will be the center of the force in the coming 10-20 years,” said Konno. “So, we’re creating the basics for the future of this organization.”
Many gifts were exchanged between the squadron, the City of Unalaska, the Ounalashka Corporation and the Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska during the Memorial Park ceremony. Throughout Japan’s Defense Force visit, community members were invited to tour Japan’s ships, to learn origami from members of the Japanese force and listen to live music from a band made up of Japanese officers.
The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force training cruise will be overseas until the end of October. Their next stop is Victoria, Canada.