From Japan to HPP: Puna keiki finds 37-year-old message in a bottle

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A message in a bottle found by Abbie Graham was written in several languages and apparently came from a school in Japan 37 years ago.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald From left, Aubrie and Abbie Graham on Tuesday hold up parts of a 37-year-old message that was found in a bottle from Japan on the rocks at the end of Makuu Drive in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

The idea of a casting a bottle with a message adrift in the ocean and hoping someone finds it has been a staple of literature for centuries, a plot device in movies for decades — and even a 1979 hit by the rock band The Police.

So when 9-year-old Abbie Graham of Keaau found an oddly shaped, mud-caked clear glass bottle with a rusty cap on a Father’s Day family beach outing at the end of Makuu Drive in Hawaiian Paradise Park, the adults were skeptical of what the girl seemed to know, instinctively.

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“The first thing Abbie said was, ‘We found a message in a bottle,’” Angie Graham, Abbie’s mother, told the Tribune-Herald Tuesday.

“I thought it was trash, and she thought it was treasure,” added Abbie’s father, John Graham.

Even Abbie’s 10-year-old sister, Aubrie, was dubious.

“I thought it was probably one of the kids that live there, they threw a bottle away,” Aubrie said, adding that a piece of paper “was just flopping in the bottle.”

Abbie, however, stuck to her guns — her belief the mysterious bottle contained contained treasure.

“It was stuck in the mud, and I grabbed it out, and I gave it to Dad. A couple days later, we opened it up, and it was from Japan,” Abbie said.

Because the cap was rusted to the bottle, the Grahams broke it open.

Inside was a note on once-white postcard stock, faded and partially eroded by time and possibly by ocean water breaching the bottle’s seal.

The note, written on an old-school typewriter, had a heading in all capital letters: THE OCEAN CURRENT INVESTIGATION. The note said the project was undertaken by the Chiba Prefectural Choshi High School Natural Science Club.

“This bottle was thrown into the sea off the coast of Choshi, Japan, in July 1984,” the note read, with the word “July” handwritten in ink over what appears to be a whited-out error. It sought acknowledgement that it had been found, and asked for the name and address of the finder, the date and place, and the longitude and latitude of the discovery.

There also was a Spanish version of the note, as well as one in Japanese.

The notes were in remarkable condition considering the distance they had traveled — over 4,000 miles as the albatross flies — and the fact the bottle had been set adrift almost 37 years prior to its discovery.

“It was damp inside because it stunk,” John Graham said about the vessel he described as shaped like a medicine bottle. “What did it smell like, Abbie?”

“Wet cat,” she replied.

Asked if they’d made contact with officials of the Japan school in the coastal town of about 60,000 people, John Graham replied, “We looked online, but the website is all in Japanese, so we couldn’t read anything.

“So we figured we’d just maybe laminate it and send it back to the school at the address they gave us. We figure the people who sent it have got to be 50, 55 years old by now.”

Graham, a retired detective from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona — his one-time boss is the controversial former sheriff, Joe Arpaio — and his wife, an educational psychologist, moved to the Big Island with their daughters two years ago.

That was OK with Abbie, whom her father described as a rock hound and explorer.

“She’s been getting bit by little fire ants just hiding and running through the jungle here a couple of years now,” he said.

Abbie said she’d like to be “an artist or a police officer” when she grows up, while Aubrie enjoys math and science, which could lead to a high-tech career.

John Graham said his younger daughter, though, is already showing promise as an archaeologist.

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“Even before the bottle was opened, she thought it was treasure. She’s our little Indiana Jones.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.