Newly appointed Consul Koji Hino vows to cultivate the friendly relations between Japan and the Northern Marianas as he takes the helm of the Consular Office of Japan on Saipan.
Hino, who arrived on island on March 8 with his wife Reiko, was formally introduced to the community in a ceremony last week. He replaces Tsutomu Higuchi who served in the same capacity for five years.
In an interview Monday, Hino said his major task besides promoting ties between the two jurisdictions is to be of assistance to Japanese nationals who travel to the CNMI for leisure or business.
While noting that the number of Japanese tourists has declined since the pullout of Japan Airlines, Hino assured that it will not reach zero given that the Commonwealth “is very near and much less expensive” compared to other U.S. destinations such as Hawaii or the mainland.
“Saipan is very close to Japan. In that sense, the Japanese can enjoy cheap travel. In that sense, I think we can expect more tourists in the future,” he told Saipan Tribune.
According to Hino, Saipan is “a very nice place” that is “mainly for tourists who are looking at spending their vacation golfing or doing other water activities such as swimming and snorkeling.
Although it is “theoretically possible” to see an influx of Japanese tourists on the islands, Hino said that would still depend on the economic situation of the East Asian country.
“The Japan economy can pick up or go down,” he said. “Our political system has been changed recently so we have to wait and see if the situation would improve and become better.”
When asked about any concerns regarding crimes perpetrated against tourists, Hino said the same problem exists everywhere around the world but cautioned Japanese nationals to be “very, very careful” with their valuables.
“Criminal people have become very clever,” said Hino, himself falling prey to pickpockets in Germany and Russia. He reminded tourists to take simple precautions like not placing money or other valuables in vulnerable places and being alert at all times.
Hino also underlined the need to prepare for any eventuality similar to what happened in Guam, an “unfortunate incident” wherein three Japanese tourists were killed when a young man rammed his car in a store in the island's tourist district and randomly stabbed bystanders.
Asked how long he will be here in the CNMI, Hino said a consul's term varies, although it is usually served for about two to three years. His predecessor, who had a five-year term, was a “very exceptional case.”
Hino hails from Kamakura City, a “very old” city south of Tokyo dubbed as “Samurai City” and is a popular tourist destination for its Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
Following his graduation from the Yokohama City University where he majored in international law, Hino began his career with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and became a specialist of the Russian language after studying it in Great Britain and the Moscow State University.
Throughout his 30 years as a diplomat, Hino was detailed in various locations throughout Asia and Europe, including Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia, and Hong Kong. His last consular assignment was in Mongolia where he stayed for over a year.
Having worked in big cities and cold climate, Hino said Saipan's tropical weather makes a big difference for him. He particularly likes how travel within the island is easier and faster.
A father of one, Hino said he loves the Russian culture for its novels and jazz music and misses going to theaters and opera houses.
The administration said in a statement that they are pleased to welcome Hino and look forward to working with him in the same spirit of collaboration and cooperation that Higuchi has shown.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider thanked Higuchi for his friendship and services during his five-year tour of duty in the Commonwealth, adding that he will be missed.
“During his assignment here, the administration had the opportunity to work closely with Consul Higuchi on matters that were important to the local Japanese community and tourists who visit our islands,” the statement added.