After four years as consul-general of Japan in Auckland, the bustling business capital of New Zealand, 58-year-old Takamichi Okabe landed in Portland in September to start a similar assignment here in Oregon.
Q Welcome to Oregon. Thoughts so far?
A I can understand why there are so many people attracted to Oregon because of the lifestyle here. To my excitement, just some weeks ago, Japanese-American people here kindly invited my wife and me to go matsutake mushroom hunting at the foot of Mt. Hood. Unfortunately I could not find a single matsutake, but my heart was filled with happiness and gratitude to them.
Q What is your primary focus?
A Our main duties are wide ranging, and include political, economic, cultural and consular matters. In short, our offices are a mini embassy rather than a mere consulate office, and our ultimate goal is to make the relationship between Japan and this state much closer in every aspect.
Q Who have you been working with so far?
A The state government and the Portland city government are quite serious about developing bilateral ties with Japan. We are closely collaborating with these governments for better ties with Japan. In mid October, the mayor of Portland and his team headed for Japan seeking a new area of investment and collaborative relationships. We are prepared to collaborate with anybody who is seeking better ties with Japan. I wish to meet people — anyone who wants to see me. I want to learn from as many people in this state as I can. That is my job.
Q What are the strong points of Oregon and Japan’s business relationship?
A Oregon has become an important export base of agricultural products like grains to Japan. Many major Japanese trading houses own gigantic grain elevators in this state. Since the 1980s, Japanese IT-related companies have made forays into the U.S. market and established manufacturing bases here. Some companies succeeded, and some others withdrew after intense competition with American IT companies.
Q Any emerging areas?
A The new focus is on clean and green industries. Japanese eco-businesses, like solar panels or EV [electric vehicle] makers are attracted to this state, thanks to the strong and innovative initiatives of the state and the municipal governments. I am happy to know that Oregon is one of the most advanced states in the whole U.S. in terms of ecological awareness. These are exactly the fields Japanese industry has a strong competitive edge in and can contribute to the future U.S. economy. We think it’s important for our office to play a catalytic role to encourage such mutually beneficial trends.