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[Reprinted Article] The Voice of the Ambassador to Micronesia

[Reprinted Article] The Voice of the Ambassador to Micronesia Author: Japanese Ambassador to Micronesia, Ryoichi Horie

This year marks thirty years of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Federated States of Micronesia. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on both countries’ history and present. The Micronesian region lies directly north of the equator, to the west of the International Date Line, along with five independent nations and American-governed Guam and Mariana Islands. Among these, the FSM, Palau, Marshall Islands, and North Mariana Islands were under Japanese territory for a total of thirty years, before and during the Pacific War. After the war, FSM, Palau, and the Marshall Islands came under American governance and each made a compact with America called a “Compact of Free Association”.

The remnants of Japanese rule include not only former battle sites, but also dietary habits and language. Rice, soy sauce, sashimi are enjoyed by Micronesians to this day. They use many Japanese words such as “jidosha”, “denki” to this day. Japanese immigrants started migrating in the 1890’s; the previous president of FSM, Emanuel Mori is the great-grandson of Koben Mori, a Japanese businessman who emigrated from Koichi prefecture to FSM. Around 20 percent of Micronesians are Japanese descendants.

Micronesians are extremely pro-Japanese, and many point to the good points during Japanese rule. During that time, FSM was a mandated territory and Japan introduced its first public education system, paving way for economic development. On the other hand, right before and after the end of WWII many inhabitants suffered hardships. There are countless cases of Japanese men married to Micronesian women who were forced to leave their families and return back to Japan after losing the war. However, an open-minded matrilineal society took the children in and continued to take care of them, giving them opportunity to take part in society. The number of Japanese descendants who have and are currently taking part in the Micronesian political and economic arenas are too numerous to mention.

Every year the Japanese government invites young Micronesians to Japan, and after returning home asks them to mail in their thoughts and observations about their visit. One letter from a female university student still stands out to me today. “I heard from my grandparents about the atrocities the Japanese committed during the colonial rule, and thought of Japan as a frightening place. However, after visiting Japan I came to like the country. I felt deep emotion for the reconstruction efforts in Hiroshima after the drop of the atomic bomb”. Reading letters such as these enforces my belief that communicating with the younger generations is imperative.

The Federated States of Micronesia gained independence in 1986 and signed a compact with the United States entrusting FSM’s national defense and security to the U.S.A. Palau and the Marshall Islands made a similar move as well. The participation in the peacekeeping of the South Pacific is especially vital to the area. It is even more so important in order to maintain the “Free and Open India and Pacific Strategy”.

The most important challenge facing Micronesia at the moment is the state of its national finances. Under the newly revised compact with America, FSM is receiving a hefty amount of economic support (approximately 35% of its national revenue) from the States; however, that aid will end in 2023. In order to help FSM work toward an independent national economic management, Japan also must continue its development assistance program.

Since 1997, Japan has held summit meetings in the Pacific Island area every three years. The 8th summit was held this past May in Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture. The leaders declared that in the next three years they would see to the cultivation of human resource development, and see to the person-to-person exchanges of over 5,000 people. I am looking forward to the upkeep of the “Free and Open India and Pacific Strategy” which includes Micronesia, as well as the increase in communication between younger generations.

(Originally published in Japanese on July 20th 2018 in the Yomiuri Newspaper’s OP-ED. Translated by APIC.)


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