IIST Industrial Tour in Okinawa
5 to 7 October, 2011
5 to 7 October, 2011
Minister/ Deputy Head of Mission
Embassy of the Republic of Austria
The Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST) held an industrial tour on 5-7 October 2011 in Okinawa for diplomats stationed in Tokyo with an introduction to Okinawa Prefecture’s economy and culture. Here is the impression of the tour contributed by Dr. Thomas Loidl from the Embassy of Austria in Japan.
Even before I was posted to Tokyo, Okinawa and the Ryukyu archipelago have captured my imagination. The string of subtropical islands links mainland Japan to South-East Asia and China and for most of its history the island archipelago had to seek a balance between powerful neighboring states.
Over hundreds of years the old Okinawa kingdom controlled its own far ranging overseas commerce and the people of Okinawa developed a distinct culture. Today Okinawa Prefecture lags behind mainland Japan in wealth and development. Due to its geographical location it is of strategic importance to Japan and the whole region.
Travelling independently, our group of 11 diplomats ? among them Ambassadors from Asia and Europe ? met at Naha airport with the organizers of IIST.
Our tour started with courtesy calls on the Director General of the Okinawa General Bureau and the Vice Governor of Okinawa Prefecture. Both visits introduced us to the administrative system of Okinawa and gave us an overview of the achievements and challenges of the Cabinet Office and the local authorities to further develop Okinawa.
The remainder of the afternoon was dedicated to a visit of the installations of the cargo hub of All Nippon Airways at the airport in Naha City. The idea to concentrate the Japanese cargo operations at a destination that is closest to airports in neighboring cities such as Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul or Taipei made sense to me. As all of the cargo flights are operated in the early morning the hub was unfortunately empty at the time of our visit. I understood that the hub was created only two years ago.
The day ended with an official reception and I am sure all of us not only enjoyed the local delicacies but also our attempts to master local dances.
Our second day started with visits of a special free trade zone in Uruma city, a technological research center for die & mold technology and the Okinawa Health Biotechnology Research and Development Center.
In order to attract new Japanese and also foreign businesses a preferential tax system applies in the free trade zone. The focus is on established manufacturing technologies like die & mold technology as well as on new and promising industries such as biotechnology and health related manufacturing including pharmaceuticals.
Like many tropical islands the ecosystem of the main island of Okinawa is a fragile one.
Rapid population growth, economic development and rising numbers of tourists burden the environment and particularly the fresh-water resources. The seawater desalination plant in Chatan which we visited in the afternoon was built to overcome the traditional fresh-water scarcity and to meet the increasing demand for fresh water in Okinawa. It was interesting to see how Japan tackles the environmental challenges of an island ecosystem with advanced technological solutions.
The next visit on our second day was at a research institution that once up and running should develop into a center of excellence in promising new research areas and thereby contribute to further develop the Prefecture.
The impressive campus of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) is located in an area of outstanding natural beauty and the OIST graduate university is about to become a reality this autumn.
With the creation of OIST Japan has dedicated considerable financial means and intellectual resources in order to implement its development goals for Okinawa and also to position itself as a lead country in promising new research areas.
For me there were more reasons to be interested in OIST. Austrian researchers are part of the faculty of OIST and my own Government has established a comparable institution outside Vienna based on a similar concept with similar objectives. Talking to the president-elect of OIST I was therefore not surprised to hear that there are many links and connections between the two institutions.
The second day of the tour finished with a visit of Bankoku Shinryokan. The G-8 summit in 2000 which contributed to raise the international profile of Okinawa was held in this location.
Our last day of the tour approached fast and was dedicated to the visit of a local wellness center - very suitable in a Prefecture with the highest life expectancy in Japan - as well as a complex near the airport of Naha City that focuses on medical tourism ? mainly from China - and concentrates on high-end cancer prevention.
Between these two visits we travelled a considerable distance on the island and also climbed up a hill to Shurijo Castle Park along one of the few remaining old alleys of Naha City. Although Shuri castle was reconstructed only recently the visit was the best opportunity of the tour to get a glimpse of old Okinawa. This important cultural heritage site rounded off our two and a half days on the main island of Okinawa very well.
Looking back on the industrial tour from the office in Tokyo I am grateful to the organizers for the opportunity to visit Okinawa. From an economic perspective the visit of the various installations confirmed my opinion of Japan as a leading country not only in established manufacturing industries but also in newly developing sectors like biotechnology, clean energy and the life sciences.
While travelling by bus on the main island I could observe the vast tracts of land dedicated to military installations and I can now better understand the special role of the island and also the problems related to this role. From a cultural perspective the tour offered a valuable opportunity to travel outside the capital and to come into contact with locals outside the diplomatic circles of Tokyo.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank IIST and in particular our hosts for the efficient and perfect organization of our tour. Special thanks also go to our very well informed and entertaining interpreter who introduced us to the peculiarities of the people of Okinawa and their culture.
Three days are never enough to get a full picture ? not of such a diverse and interesting region like Okinawa. But the tour offered a very interesting glimpse and instilled a wish in me to come back and experience more.
(original article : English)
• OKINAWA Industrial Tour (FY2011)
• IIST e-Magazine No.0201-0819 Supporting Okinawa Through Two Programs
• IIST e-Magazine No.0201-0818 Okinawa Revitalization Efforts Promoting the ‘Bankoku-Iryo-Shinryo’ Initiative