Japan trip pays off for Honolulu
By Mufi Hannemann
I had visited Japan several times before, but last week I flew there for the first time officially leading a delegation as the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu.
Nine months into my term, I chose Japan for the simple reason that it has traditionally been our most important foreign trading partner and holds promise for so much more, economically and technologically.
Three members of the Ho-nolulu City Council — Todd Apo, Rod Tam and Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz — joined me in a solid show of support that left an indelible impression on the Japanese about the city's emphasis on the economy. The trip also involved an unprecedented city-state collaboration, with major participation from the O'ahu Visitors Bureau, Hawai'i Tourism Authority, Hawai'i Convention Center Authority, the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, and the Hawai'i Film Industry Association.
I first went to Japan in the early 1980s, as a White House fellow on the staff of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. That experience ensured that we paid attention to protocol on this trip. I visited U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer and Tokyo's Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who sparkled when our conversation moved to Hawaiian music and culture.
In 1994, as the director of the state Department of Business and Economic Development, I went to Japan with a new initiative to attract more film, television and commercial production to the Islands.
Eleven years later, Japanese crews are shooting six times more often in Hawai'i than they did back then, bringing $10 million a year into our economy. I believe last week's trip will yield similar benefits and results.
One of our goals was to glean information about specific rail transit technologies that we might consider for Honolulu. We examined three systems: Sumitomo's "new transit" Yurikamome in the eastern Tokyo shorefront, Mitsui-Hitachi's Tama Monorail in Tokyo's western suburbs and Itochu's Linimo high-speed surface transport system, which was built in just three years to carry people between Nagoya and the just-completed Aichi World Exposition.
It was gratifying to learn that all three groups are very focused and eager to partner with us in developing a system to meet O'ahu's transit needs. All three of their projects were completed on time, within budget. And all three groups showed they have already done considerable spadework preparing possible proposals for a Honolulu system.
In preparation for this trip, with the assistance of my senior adviser Paul Yonamine and Japan adviser Tom Sakata — both of whom are volunteers — we created a theme: "Wow Honolulu!"
I believe we firmly established our message that Ho-nolulu is a far different place than it was just a few years ago. We touted new development taking place in Waikiki and Ko Olina.
Rail transit is coming online. The University of Hawai'i's John A. Burns School of Medicine has opened in Kaka'ako.
Hoku Scientific, whose president, Dustin Shindo, joined us in Japan, is pursuing fuel-cell research in Kapolei. Science and technology are taking their place alongside sun, sea and surf when Japanese leaders think of Honolulu.
I sat for interviews with reporters for six publications, including Tokyo Shimbun and Yomuri Weekly, that have a combined readership of 6 million. I also spent some time at the studios of InterFM, Tokyo's hip foreign-language radio station, chatting on the air with Vance K — Vance Kan — the former Hilo disc jockey who's been in Tokyo for several years now.
Vance and former O'ahu and Kaua'i DJ Kamasami Kong are among a number of local people living in Japan with firm ties to the Islands. Before we left, we got together with this group to establish Friends of Honolulu, who will serve as our eyes and ears and legs in Japan as we enter a new era of relations between Honolulu and the land of the Rising Sun.