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Consul General enjoys his position on Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-08-21

The United States of America supports its citizens living abroad through a number of embassies and consulates located around the world. Here in Japan, the United States Embassy in Tokyo governs five consulates, which are located in Sapporo, Osaka, Nagoya, Fukuoka, and Okinawa. Although each of the Consulate's area of importance may vary from political to economical, they all serve similar functions.

Consul General, Robert S. Luke, who arrived at his post in August of last year, has the job of keeping everything running smooth here in Okinawa. His job encompasses a wide range of areas, with the consulate in Okinawa being the only full service consulate in Japan. "Some of the consular services we provide for all United States citizens include; issuing passports, preparing immigrant visas for spouses, birth registrations, and helping United States citizens who get into trouble. We also process non-immigrant visas for Japanese nationals going to the U.S.," he explained. Among one of the more difficult tasks he must confront on a daily basis, is dealing with the United States Military Base issue. "I will sometimes meet with the Governor to get his views on the SACO agreement, or speak to him about a specific incident relating to the bases. I also will provide political advice to military commanders," said Luke. "Okinawa is a very important place for the United States Government and for the security relationship with Japan. The bases here are critical. In that sense, the job is extremely important and challenging."

Upon getting both the local perspective and military viewpoints, Luke must then try to keep the communication lines open between both sides. The job can often be difficult at times, especially considering the political tension surrounding the base issue.

The Consul General must also oversee the commercial function of the United States Consulate. "We also promote American products, and organize promotional events with Tokyo," he said. The Consulate helps to coordinate buyer's trips to the United States for trade representatives. They also hold public conferences and lectures throughout the year, inviting guest speakers to talk about a variety of topics.

Luke started working for the State Department in 1982. Prior coming to Okinawa, he spent three years at the U.S. Embassy in Germany. Before that, he worked for two years at the U.S. Embassy in China, and then received a post for three years at the U.S. Consul General in Osaka. His international experiences have helped him to learn four different languages. In all three locations he mostly specialized in economics and trade, which makes his job here on Okinawa somewhat of a new experience for the native of New Jersey. He commented on the transition of going to a more politically active situation by saying, "I like being in a position that allows me to have a role in an area that is very vital to our national interest, and also having an input on issues concerning Okinawa."

Consul General Luke spends most of his time outside of his Urasoe office, giving speeches, attending various local events, and meeting with many government officials. His schedule is often filled with appointments, but he has taken the time to get the local feel of the island. Luke has even visited some of the outer islands of Okinawa Prefecture, and has met with U.S. citizens there to get their views on certain issues. He is an avid scuba diver, and enjoys meeting the local people. "I like it here. It's a great place to live. It's very different from what I saw in the mainland," he said.

He believes the recent spread of terrorism will affect the focus of the State Department's work, which has already undergone many new changes after the end of the cold war. "It will affect us down the road as we re-evaluate security," said Luke. He also mentioned the many advances in technology as another factor directly influencing the way U.S. overseas missions operate. "There now is the "CNN factor". Washington can get information and news on occurring events around the world faster than any embassy or consulate can get the information out. It has changed the focus on our work, and we put more stress on analysis."

Having another two years left at his position as Consul General here on Okinawa, Luke must try to keep the waters calm for everyone. In the mean time, the Consulate will keep on performing its daily tasks. "We are here for you. Please view us that way and make use of us," he said referring to the many Americans living here in Japan.

Anyone with a question concerning their passport or any other related matter, can contact the US. Consulate at 876-4211.

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