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Okinawa lacks the foundation for promoting internationalization

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-05-18

"The 21st Century Cosmopolitan City Formation Project" by the Prefectural Government and other talk of making Okinawa a more international resort area has many Government Officials excited about future investment projects. The Prefecture would like to head into the new millennium by making Okinawa more receptive to international trade and investment, while expanding its tourist industry to other markets in Asia.

This all sounds great on paper, but there are many common sense issues necessary for internationalization that have been completely ignored by the Government. It is therefore understandable to worry about the Prefecture's ability to lead Okinawa in the direction of a "true" cosmopolitan resort island.

Expanding tourism to overseas markets must first be attacked with the most basic concept to any international resort destination - language. If Okinawa is to promote itself as an international and cosmopolitan island, then it first must expand its number of English speaking workers in the tourist industry. There is also a lack of information in English for foreign visitors. Most museums, theme parks, and other sightseeing locations have no explanations written in English or any other foreign language. This is very hard to imagine for a place that wishes to have itself seen as a model for other Asian tourist destinations to follow, not to mention the fact that the fastest growing markets for international tourists are Taiwan and Korea, but yet there is absolutely no employees at most of the major resorts that can speak the language of those countries. There are also no special commissions to deal with the special needs of foreign tourists, nor is there any training for employees to become more service orientated towards foreigners.

Public transportation exists on a very minimal level, making it necessary to own a car and contribute to the growing problem of traffic. Tourists must sit on a bus for up to two hours to reach the resort area from the airport. The Government spent huge amounts of money on an expressway that no one uses, but it refuses to lower the cost for usage. Instead, the main street running through Onna-son, where most resorts are located, is choked with engine fumes and noise. Loud trucks barrel down the road sometimes four to five in a row through most of the day, making the island seem like a far cry from the tropical get-away its advertised as. Okinawa is not going to become a major hub of anything if it can not move its workers from one place to another efficiently and easily, nor will tourists enjoy themselves if they must spend hours sitting in traffic.

The Prefecture has been trying to promote more investment and attract companies to do business in Okinawa, so creating frustration for foreign visitors coming to the island for business would not be very sensible, but this is the case for many . Attaining a Japanese driver license is a perfect example of one difficulty a foreigner faces here. The process includes taking your license to the Division of Motor Vehicles in Naha, only to be told after a long wait to come back with an official translation of your license and other official documents. The translation costs money, and you lose a day' s wages. Bringing all the proper documentation back does not end the application process. A written test must be taken, which means another day off from work. You then must take a driving test, which you are practically guaranteed to fail at least three to four times. Each time you take the test you are charged a fee, and you lose another day's wages. There are many foreigners that have failed several times, despite having driven in their own countries for ten years or more. Does this seem logical for an island that calls itself internationalized? One day at the Division of Motor Vehicles is enough to make anyone want to go straight back home.

Red tape and bureaucracy also deter many entrepreneurs from starting businesses here. Long waits for permits, only to find another document is required, only make other Asian countries seem more attractive for foreign investment.

More international schools, better research facilities, and other institutions to deal with specific problems foreigners may have are needed, but they have yet to appear in any substantial numbers. The public must also be educated in what the word "international" means, and more support groups to facilitate communication between locals and foreigners is necessary.

If the Okinawan Government is going to spend so much time and money on preparing many colorful pamphlets and thick, hard-to-read plans for development, then it should also take the time to leave their air conditioned offices, meet some foreigners, and ask them how to create a more cosmopolitan city, I'm sure people will have plenty to say.

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