Japan Consul Koji Hino reassured the CNMI that the country’s ties with its former colony remains strong even as visitor arrivals from Japan have shrunk the past several years.
“Unfortunately, numbers of Japanese tourists have significantly decreased since Japan Airlines stopped its regular flights to Saipan. However, considering our long history of friendly relations, we should not let our ties weaken. I personally have confidence that we can continue to strengthen our ties in the future given the physical closeness of our islands,” he said Tuesday night during the Japan Consular Office’s reception for Emperor Akihito’s 80th birthday celebration at the Hafadai Beach Hotel.
Hino said there remains a soft spot for the islands among the Japanese people. “Saipan is not as commercially developed as Guam and Hawaii but what attracts many foreign visitors and Japanese people who live here is the friendliness of the local people and the natural beauty and peacefulness of Saipan. Since I started working here, I have attended many peace memorial services held by various kinds of Japanese organizations to pay tribute to and mourn the war dead. However, many young Japanese tourists don’t know that war was fought here and many lost their lives. They just consider Saipan as a place to visit and enjoy.”
2005 imperial visit
Hino recalled the imperial couple’s visit to the CNMI eight years ago.
“As you may recall, in the year 2005 Their Majesties visited Saipan on their own request to pay tribute to the war dead and to pray for world peace. I wish to thank you for the warm hospitality extended to them during their stay here. Before coming to Saipan in 2005 His Majesty the Emperor remarked: ‘It is our hope that as we walk onwards, all of us always keep in mind that Japan today is founded on the sacrifices of these many people.’”
Gov. Eloy S. Inos also recalled the imperial visit during his turn on the podium.
“Eight years later, the CNMI is still so grateful and indebted for the historic visit by Emperor Akihito and his wife, Empress Michiko, to Saipan on June 27 and 28, 2005. Today, as governor, I am truly pleased to once again convey the highest appreciation of the government and people of the CNMI to the imperial family for choosing to come here to pay tribute to the casualties of World War II.”
Inos said the couple’s visit was historic as it marked the first ever journey outside Japan by members of the imperial family to pray for the war dead.
“It was also the first time the Emperor paid tribute at a monument specifically dedicated to Koreans killed in World War II,” he added.
He wished Emperor Akihito a joyous 80th birthday. “This is an honorable celebration for an honorable and truly respected imperial leader. I join the people of the CNMI in wishing Emperor Akihito the best of health and greater success for many years to come!”
The CNMI Legislature presented Hino and the Consular Office of Japan on Saipan with a resolution thanking Japan for its many contributions to the CNMI.
Just before cocktails, Hino invited Inos, Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, Senate President Ralph Torres, and Saipan Mayor Donald Flores to help crack open a barrel of Japanese sake.
It was no ordinary sake either. Hino said the Japanese sake they will be enjoying that evening is “kitaya,” which was recently declared the champion sake at an international wine competition this year and was shipped especially from Japan for this occasion.
Emperor Akihito was born on Dec. 23, 1933.