6 Japanese swim to Taiwan to show quake gratitude

By the Associated Press | September 19, 2011 | 5:10 AM EDT

Japanese athletes swim the final stretch into the Suao harbor, northeastern Taiwan, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. Six Japanese swimmers completed a two-day, 150-kilometer swim from Japan’s Yonaguni Island to Taiwan to thank the island for its disaster aid after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

SUAO, Taiwan (AP) — Six Japanese men swam 95 miles (150 kilometers) through heavy winds and rough seas to reach the Taiwanese coast Monday in a show of gratitude to Taiwan for its help after the March earthquake and tsunami.

Wearing swimming caps imprinted with the flags of the two countries and emblazoned with the words "Thank you Taiwan and cheers for Japan," the swimmers reached the eastern Taiwanese port of Suao to an boisterous welcome.

They were accompanied on the last few meters (yards) of their swim by about 150 local people. They stepped onshore to thumping beats of drums played by elementary school children dressed as fishermen.

Taiwan dispatched rescuers and donated more than 20 billion yen ($260 million) for relief efforts after the March 11 twin disaster that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. It also crippled a nuclear power plant and led to the evacuation of 100,000 people from a radiation-impacted area.

The marathon swim, conducted in alternating relay legs over two days from the southern Japanese island of Yonaguni, is one of several gestures the Japanese people have made to thank Taiwan.

"I have been very touched by how fast Taiwan was in sending assistance," said Kazuya Suzuki, one of the swimmers and the organizer of the event. "I am very moved by Taiwan's warm feelings toward Japan."

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895-1945. While relations between the sides have remained warm even after Tokyo switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1972, Taiwan's assistance following the earthquake and tsunami has brought them to a new level of amity.

Japanese citizens have frequently bought advertisements in Taiwanese newspapers to show their appreciation for Taiwan's support, and several entertainers have traveled to Taiwan to thank fans for the help the island provided.

Last week, a Japanese nature reserve sent a pair of endangered red-crow cranes to Taiwan in a gesture of friendship.