EXCEPT for a lone individual who was reading a newspaper near the preserved sugar train, the Sugar King Park was deserted late one Friday afternoon when I dropped by to unwind for a few minutes.
Located across from the CNMI Museum in Garapan, the Sugar King Park is one of the tourist attractions on Saipan that gets a fair share of visitors, particularly Japanese.
You may have passed the park everyday and took its presence for granted but try to drop by sometime and allow its history to charm you.
The park is perfect to spend a lazy afternoon and relax on one of the comfortable benches under the shade of huge, moss-covered trees.
If you are up to it, you can explore the nature trail that winds through a forest and a hill just above the Katori Jinja shrine at the far end of the park. Following the trail takes about 20 minutes.
Remembering a documentary I’ve seen before, I tried to envision what Saipan looked like during the years when the sugar industry boomed and became the cash crop of the island.
One memento is left of that era — an old train that used to carry the sugarcane around the island. It is preserved and parked at the front of the park.
A few meters from where I was sitting, the towering statue of the Japanese sugar king Matsue Haruji stood like a sentinel, a solid reminder of his important contribution to the economic success of the island.
If you read the marker at the foot of the statue, you will learn how Matsue worked hard and persisted to transform the islands from a dense jungle into a production sugar cane plantation.
Matsue, who was born in Fukushima Prefecture in Japan in 1876, studied cube sugar production in Philadelphia and came back to Japan to apply his knowledge. When he succeeded, it started everything for him and he was convinced that the South Seas territories were ideally suited for sugar cane agriculture.
With thousands of workers, he initiated cleaning Saipan’s jungles and made way for planting sugarcane. He persisted until in 1930, he expanded to Tinian and eventually Rota.
Matsue died in 1954 at the age of 78, but his memory lives not only at the Sugar King Park but in these islands.
The sun was already beginning to set when I left the comfort of my bench to rejoin my buddies who were sweating out at the gym nearby.
(First published HERE)