HAVANA – The two vessels of the Japanese Navy’s Training Squadron arrived in Havana on Thursday as part of an official visit to strengthen bilateral relations, which have reached a noteworthy high point over the past three years.
The Kashima, 143 meters (469 feet) long, and the destroyer Harusame, 151 meters (495 feet) long, were hailed with a 21-gun salute upon their return to the Cuban capital after a three-year absence.
The salvos were conducted by the battery at the old colonial San Carlos de la Cabaña fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay.
The 600 Japanese crewmen on board the two vessels were welcomed on land by Cuban authorities, including Capt. Jose Luis Souto, the head of the island’s navy, as well as Tokyo’s envoy to Havana, Masaru Watanabe.
“It’s an honor for us to visit Havana,” said the squadron commander, Rear Adm. Koji Manabe, during a meeting and brief tour of the Kashima provided to reporters.
Manabe said that they will pay a courtesy call to the Cuban naval headquarters and the two ships’ crews will participate in assorted activities including a joint demonstration of kendo with Cuban athletes and a performance by the squadron’s band, which will play traditional Japanese instruments.
They will also visit the Granma Naval Academy, where they will meet with Cuban naval officers and cadets.
“This visit is a symbol of the excellent relations between the countries,” Watanabe said, adding that over the past three years relations between Cuba and Japan have “developed noticeably.”
He also noted that in 2016 more than 400 Japanese firms visited the communist island seeking business opportunities and Tokyo is participating in financial aid projects there valued at about $10 million in health, agriculture and the environment.