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ISO Gives New Voice to Foreign Residents

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-10-30

The "International Society of Okinawa" (ISO) was officially formed in May 1999 year by several foreign residents with the purpose of planning, or assisting in, volunteer or business activities geared towards promoting Okinawa. It currently has fifty members representing ten different countries, all of whom have a certain degree of expertise in different domains. The organization also supports groups which need assistance in planning international events.

Interim President Miguel De Jesus told Japan Update that many members had long felt it necessary to have such an organization that would voice out the concerns or suggestions of foreigners living on the island. "My original goal was to create a foreign assembly in Naha," said De Jesus. "I pay taxes, so I want my voice to be listened to."

The number of foreign residents living on Okinawa has been steadily growing over the years. All are required to pay taxes and follow the same laws as Japanese citizens, but they do not have the right to vote. The ISO provides a forum for exchange of ideas and offers the foreign community a potential chance to become involved in various policy decisions.

The ISO is currently working on becoming an official NGO. De Jesus expects that to be completed by next year. Although it will be a non-governmental organization, the organization intends to actively seek a direct line of communication with the Prefectural Government. The ISO hopes to become a major source of information that will eventually benefit some areas within the Prefecture.

One of the ISO’s current projects is that of helping the Prefecture prepare itself for next year's G-8 Summit. De Jesus explained that they intend to concentrate on three main areas. The first will be to create a web-site for people abroad seeking information about Okinawa. "Foreigners have a point of view that is different from that of the Japanese," he explained. The second will be to prepare printed information for all people connected with the Summit who will be arriving next year; and the third will be a Support Center.

The Support Center is being planned to provide updated information about Okinawa. "There is a lot of research that has already been done on the history and culture of Okinawa. This is important, but foreigners coming to the island will also want to know about what is happening on the island today," explained De Jesus. A call center is being proposed to assist foreigners to access information about the island instantly. "If someone wants to know where there is a soba restaurant in the area they are calling from, we'll be able to help them. We'll find volunteers who can speak the languages of all the countries represented during the Summit to make communication easy," said De Jesus.

With so many ISO members coming from different business backgrounds, the ISO will also be concentrating on a variety of commercial ventures. "We offer the talents that everyone has for the better of Okinawa," said De Jesus. Those talents will amount to resources that the ISO hopes foreign companies wishing to invest in Okinawa will actively seek. "We can provide internationalized-Japanese support. We understand Japan and how it works," commented De Jesus.

One of the main tasks the ISO has laying before them is to try and change the outside world's image of Okinawa from that of a military installation outpost to that of a potential market for business.

De Jesus stated that the group does not want people to think the ISO is there primarily for the Summit. The organization's agenda covers many different proposals concerning the environment, education, and human rights issues, just to name a few. "The issue of human rights has been discussed a lot at ISO meetings. We would like to have Okinawa become a center for human rights issues both here and around the world."

The ISO is open to all foreign residents and Japanese who agree with its mission. The group meets every first and third Wednesday at Okinawa Christian Jr. College. Those who can not attend meetings can still join by adding their comments and participating via the internet at iso.wwma.net.

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