Another historical stop I made during my tour around the village of Garapan on the island Saipan was to Sugar King Park. The park is easy to spot since it is located across the street from the Northern Mariana Islands and History and Culture Museum:
The park is run by the CNMI Japan Cultural Center which was founded in 2009 to revitalize the park with a $600,000 grant:
The park was created as a place to reflect on the history of Saipan during its Imperial Japanese administration from 1914 to 1944. The main figure in Saipan’s history during this time was Haruji Matsue. He was the Japanese entrepreneur who started the sugar cane industry on Saipan in the 1920’s.
His success led him to be called the “Sugar King” and this statue was constructed in his honor in 1934:
Matsue was born in Fukushima prefecture in 1876 and after graduation from the Tokyo Institute of Technology he studied at Louisiana State University. After graduation he worked at the Suplex Sugar Refining Company in Philadelphia where he learned about sugar cube production. In 1907 he returned to Japan to work in the sugar industry where he bought cubed sugar to Japan for the first time. From 1915 to 1921 he worked for the Niitaka Sugar Refining Company on Taiwan which due to Matsue’s efforts became a greatly successful sugar company. In 1921 Matsue traveled to Saipan to investigate if sugar could be grown there as well. Prior sugar cane farms had failed on the islands, but Matsue was confident he could succeed in the Mariana Islands where others had failed. He secured funding from the Japanese government and started the South Seas Development Company. One of the major innovations that he brought to Saipan to make the sugar industry profitable was to build a railroad to transport sugar cane from the fields to the mill. The steam engine from this railroad can still be seen today at the park:
The engine was restored in 2013 by crew members of the USS Momsen which visited the island. They did a great job fixing the engine and today it is considered one of the most photographed historical items on the island:
Here is a picture of the inside of the engine where the boiler is located:
Here is an example of one of the flatbed railcars that the sugar cane would have been hauled on:
The creation of the railway was extremely expensive and nearly bankrupted Matsue, however he preserved and by the 1930’s had created a profitable sugar industry on Saipan. The success of this industry led to it spreading to the nearby islands of Tinian and Rota. The sugar industry on Tinian would become so successful that it ended surpassing the one on Saipan. Matsue’s commercial success in the Mariana Islands would continue until World War II where he was forced to return to Japan and the Imperial Japanese military took control of the islands. During the American invasion of Saipan the sugar mill and most of the buildings on Saipan were destroyed thus ending Saipan’s vibrant industrial era. Amazingly the statue of Matsue survived the war though bullet holes can be seen all around the statue.
I found this sugar cane history of Saipan to be quite fascinating and seeing the steam engine at the park did get me thinking that creating a tourist train on Saipan today in commemoration of the old sugar cane railway would be a pretty cool idea. Much like the Puffing Billy Railway I rode in Australia’s Dandenong Range, the train would be more than a tourist attraction because it could also take tourists to key locations around the island as a form of transportation. It would be expensive to build, but I think such a railway would become extremely popular and one of the iconic things to do for any tourist visiting Saipan.
Besides exploring Saipan’s sugar cane past, the park is also home to the Japanese Katori Jinja shrine:
This shrine was originally built in 1911, but was destroyed during the Battle of Saipan in 1944. The shrine was rebuilt in 1985 where it continues to stand today:
Behind the main shrine building there is a stairway that leads to this small shrine:
Just passed the stairway there is a sidewalk that leads to a short Pai Pai Hill Nature Trail:
The trail starts by following a stairway up the small hill behind the Katori Jinja shrine:
The trail leads to the top of the small hill where I could see that much of the trees were still recovering from being stripped of their leaves by Typhoon Soudelor in August 2015:
I also noticed another temple below the hill:
I walked down the hill towards the temple. Here is the view looking back up at the hill from the temple:
This hexagonal shaped temple is called the Saipan International House of Prayer. It was built in 1990 as a place of prayer from the families of the Japanese soldiers who died in the Battle of Saipan during World War II.
After visiting the House of Prayer I walked back over to the parking lot completing my visit of the park. In total I spent about an hour at the park taking in the sights, reading all the signs and walking around the nature trail. I enjoyed my visit to the park, but I could understand how people not interested in the history of Saipan could find the park boring. For those that do like history I definitely recommend a visit to this park.