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Family ties: Japan and Hawaii

The bond shared by the Rainbow State and the Land of the Rising Sun just got a little stronger.

“The relationship between Japan and Hawaii is more than business, it’s more than friendship. It really is about family,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said after he returned from Japan on Friday.

Ige said tourism from Japan to Hawaii brings in an annual 1.5 million visitors who spend about $2.5 billion a year, which results in $260 million in state tax revenue.

“While other destinations were losing visitors, Hawaii was able to maintain the number of visitors coming here,” Ige said.

Randall Francisco, specialist and film commissioner at the Office of Economic Development County of Kauai, said although the number of Japanese visitors to Kauai is small, it is still an important market for the island.

“During the recession from 2008, Japanese still came and although the numbers were not as large, still contributed to our economic recovery in visiting and visitor expenditure which added to economic and workforce stimulation,” he said.

After four previous months of declines, Japanese arrivals in Hawaii rose 1.9 percent to 98,240 visitors in April.

Japanese visitors make up less than 2 percent of Kauai’s visitors as of April of this year — or 7,388 out of 376,819 visitors, according to the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Sue Kanoho, Kauai Visitor Bureau executive director, said the bureau is looking forward to stronger relations and better partnerships with Japan during the governor’s term.

“The Japanese market has been very important to Hawaii for a very long time,” she said.

Kanoho said the bureau is working hard to improve Japanese visitor numbers.

“I think any kind of support the governor can do for Hawaii often benefits Kauai,” she said. “It’s important that he establish a relationship with the governor’s office and the Japanese dignitaries to show how important is the market to Hawaii. The way he did it so early on in his governorship shows how important it is.”

Ige had 19 meetings during his three-and-a-half-day trip, including meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, airlines, travel agents and government representatives.

“We wanted to make sure that those at the highest level in our Japanese partners are fully aware that the governor of the state of Hawaii thinks that relationship is important,” Ige said.

Ige said Japan wants to create more student exchange programs in Hawaii, as well as create concerts and events targeted at Japanese tourists in the run-up to the 2020 Olympics when access to venues in Japan will be limited.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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