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Nagoya landlord-envoy keeps Pacific island state in public eye

Chunichi Shimbun

Passengers on the Tokaido Shinkansen can see the office sign for the state of Ngeremlengui in the Republic of Palau as the train rolls through Nagoya.

The office is officially recognized by Ngeremlengui, a small state that has a population of barely more than 300. It is unusual for a state agency to be situated in the middle of Nagoya, since most foreign representatives prefer Tokyo.

The office is in a multitenant building along a main road in the Toyoda district in Minami Ward. The other tenants include bars and pubs.

“Unfortunately, the office is currently not in operation. Only these two signboards are left,” said the owner, Kazutoshi Kobayashi, who also heads the office.

Kobayashi, 66, has always been interested in supporting developing countries. During his first visit to the South Pacific island in February 2001, he encountered elderly residents who could speak Japanese.

Palau was under Japanese occupation until the end of the war, and the residents still use Japanese words in their daily lives. For example, the people use “daitoryo” instead of president and “benjyo” instead of toilet or bathroom.

Kobayashi was surprised to find that he could get by just by speaking Japanese. “I would like more Japanese to know about Palau,” he said.

He met Ngeremlengui Gov. John Skebong and volunteered to help bring more Japanese tourists to the island. Kobayashi’s proposal was approved by the state legislature and an office, which became the main cultural center between Japan and Palau, was established in spring 2001 with Kobayashi in charge.

For a while, the office was active in rounding up donations of unused ambulances and old karaoke sets from all over Japan, but after the economy seized up during the 2008 global financial crisis, many of Kobayashi’s tenants closed up shop and sent his income plummeting.

The government of Ngeremlengui had borne part of the rent until then, but it soon found it difficult to continue as tourism dropped. Given the lack of capital funding, the office had no choice but to suspend operations.

Even so, Kobayashi decided to keep the signs in place. He said a representative of the country who loved bullet trains was amazed to see that a sign for his country was mounted in a place viewable by the passengers.

In July, the office started to see inquiries resume from passersby who had either seen the signs or were interested in visiting Palau.

“I hope this is a sign of the economy improving from ‘Abenomics,’ ” Kobayashi added wistfully, in reference to the policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

He is also hoping to hold events to introduce Palau as a travel destination or organize an exchange program for children.

For more information, contact the Japanese office of the State of Ngeremlengui of the Republic of Palau at 052-691-5288.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 3.