Mayor hopes to rekindle ties in Japan
Hannemann hopes to survey ideas for how other municipalities solve transit problems
When Mayor Mufi Hannemann begins his visit to the Land of the Rising Sun today he will take on multiple roles -- leader, ambassador, student and, if the occasion calls for it, singer and dancer.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua is traveling with Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the Honolulu delegation and will be filing reports from Japan all week.
The visit to Japan will help promote tourism, lure Japanese film projects to the island and educate leaders on Japanese rail transportation.
Don't call the trip a junket, the mayor and others said before leaving, adding that the ties that are formed will reap economic, cultural and political rewards for Honolulu and the entire state.
"I would say judge me by my works," Hannemann said. "Our trip is an open book, an open agenda. I'm there to do serious work. But part of it too is to fellowship and socialize and have them get to know me better."
It's a role that the Harvard-educated former White House fellow and former head of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, whose wife is Japanese American, could be well suited for.
"What we need to do to make (Honolulu) an even better city is having a mayor that has the international breadth and experience to promote Honolulu. I've done it well in the past and I want to continue to parlay that strength on behalf of the city," Hannemann said.
"He's a fun-loving, large person and I think will relate well to the business of Japan," chuckled Rex Johnson, the president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
That's because the Japanese are big on relationships, said State Film Commissioner Donne Dawson.
"It's all about the maintaining the contacts with the folks. The trip is important from the standpoint of visibility," Dawson said. "It makes a huge difference to have a high-ranking government official there and supporting the (film) industry."
For Hawaii, the Japanese film industry consists primarily of commercials, print advertising, music videos, some television productions and smaller films, which translates into millions of dollars into Hawaii's economy.
"(The mayor) has a lot of experience -- he really gets it. He's really trying to solidify Honolulu's position. It's absolutely what he does for Honolulu is absolutely good for the state," Dawson said.
"Awareness is very big," said Paul Yonamine, Hannemann's unpaid senior adviser.
Yonamine said that much of Hannemann's time will be devoted to protocol, meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer, Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, and Japan tourism officials, including representatives from the Japanese Tourism Bureau, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Japan Association of Travel Agencies. He will also be interviewed by several media organizations in Japan.
"This can't help but help tourism," Johnson said.
Hannemann said he also wants to rekindle the sister city relationship Honolulu has with Tokyo, which he said had been dormant under his predecessor.
"There's been a natural kinship and bond," Hannemann said. "This is a special relationship that we should continue to nurture."
And the mayor -- who's known to pick up a karaoke microphone -- will likely do it his own style.
"I'm in a good position to promote Honolulu because if it takes a speech, I can do it. If it takes a song, I can sing it. If it takes a dance, I can dance it," Hannemann said.
Another major component of the mayor's trip is to meet with companies interested in building a rail system in Honolulu.
"I want to see what they've done to see if they have particular relevance to us," Hannemann said. "Japanese businesses have a history of being very frugal in their partnership in how they spend government dollars. They have a history of coming in on time, coming in on schedule."
Hannemann said these companies -- including Sumitomo, Mitsui, Hitachi and Itochu -- also have experience working on mainland rail projects.
"We will have learned as a result of this trip what Japan has to offer and we come back not only with knowledge but I think there also could be a possible potential partner," he said.
This comes as the city is preparing an analysis on what kind of mass transit to pursue and following the approval for the city to levy a .5 percent excise tax surcharge to fund the transit project. Rail appears to be a leading contender.
City Council Public Works Chairman Rod Tam will accompany the mayor throughout the trip while Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and Transportation Chairman Todd Apo will join the party later.
"I feel like I need to have some foundations in talking about some potential traffic solutions," Apo said.
Said Dela Cruz: "We're trying to find globally how other municipalities solve their problems, with not only transit but with what to do about Oahu's trash. The more knowledge we get, we can make a better informed decision."
"I'm taking this trip to do two things: One is to plant seeds that will bear fruit in the future but also I see direct immediate benefits," he said. "It's a new Oahu, a new Honolulu that I want to convey out there."
Highlights of Mayor's Trip to Japan
» Meet with J. Thomas Schieffer, U.S. ambassador to Japan
» Meeting with tourism organizations -- Japan Association of Travel Agencies & Japan Travel Bureau
» Interview with Tokyo Shimbun
» Meeting with Imperial Kajima Construction on Waste to Energy conversion and Recycling
» Meeting and rail tour -- Sumitomo Corp.
» Meeting with Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara
» Various Media Interviews
» Meetings with officials from Japan Airlines, Sony and tour of mobile phone giant NTT DoCoMo showroom
» Meeting with Mitsui and Hitachi. Monorail tour
» Japan Film Industry Luncheon
» Meeting with Itochu Corp. & Shinkansen (bullet train) ride from Tokyo to Nagoya.
» Return to Honolulu