“Ethiopia has great tourism potential”, Peter T. Fujiyama

Peter T.Fujiyama, a Japanese national, is an ex-Ethiopian Airlines employee and now a representative of Japan to the Association of Africa Economy and Development. He was a representative of Ethiopian Airlines in Tokyo for a very long time and has long ties with the country.

At the moment he is promoting Ethiopia’s tourism potential. Haile Mulu of The Reporter spoke to him about the tourism industry and some of his recollections from his days at Ethiopian Airlines. Excerpts:


Can you tell me about your attachment with Ethiopia?

My connection with Ethiopia started when I was a 29-year-old man. I had the opportunity to work as the Ethiopian Airlines representative in Tokyo, Japan. Prior to that I didn‘t know Ethiopia at all. When I started working for the Airline I got the chance to visit the country. It was during the reign of Emperor Haile-Selassie that I came here. I happened to meet the then minister of tourism and culture, Habteselassie Tafesse, and he asked me to get married in Addis Ababa, something I was able to do later on.

So with the help of Habteselasie I had a very good wedding ceremony at the Addis Ababa municipality hall. After one year I got a baby and he named her Addis Alem. My daughter is very proud of her Ethiopian name and she comes to Ethiopia frequently.

What is the purpose of your current visit?

It is to escort a Japanese tour group through historical routes across the country. Ethiopia has a rich asset in tourism. I am also escorting the group to tourism sites in the west and south of the country such as Gambella, Durame and Arbaminch. So I have the chance to promote Ethiopia’s tourist attractions to all Japanese. The country had some unfortunate incident in the past. There were domestic turmoil, famine and drought, things which are very challenging. This is the time for the country to sell its tourism. Stability and peace is important for foreigners to discover Ethiopian tourism. So that is my mission. I am now 67 years old. Though I retired three years ago and I didn’t want to sit back and enjoy my retirement; instead I stood up and determined to work hard to promote Ethiopian tourism.

After retirement I used to work for some Ethiopian travel company in Addis Ababa. I stayed here for one-and-half year. But living in Addis is quite different from a short visit. It was difficult for me to drive in the city and to find my house. In my stay here I have discovered that the young society here in Ethiopia has a hungry spirit. I see constructions, hotels, restaurants, super-markets all around the city. The country is growing. It is just like what I have said before; it is high time for Ethiopia to sell its tourism industry. Getting foreign currency is critical for the development of the country. So I do want to contribute whatever I can to promote Ethiopia. With the help of the Japanese government, we are trying to sell this country. Now I am doing my best to promote Ethiopia to Japanese tourists. Many Japanese do not have any idea about Ethiopia. I am telling these people that Ethiopia is a stable and peaceful country. I am playing the role of promoting Ethiopian tourism by organizing package tours to Ethiopia. I am encouraging Japanese people to visit Ethiopia.

The Japanese market is very different from European or American markets. We used literature and pamphlets to promote tourism. The Japanese people are very quiet. Their mentality is similar to Ethiopians. When they have something to complain they don’t say it directly. They say “eshi” (ok) like Ethiopians. But when these tourists go back to Japan they would complain. For them modesty is a high priority.

How do you see the tourism industry in Ethiopia at present?

I think the government should focus on tourism development. It should promote its tourism in different ways. I have submitted a proposal to the Ethiopian tourism and culture ministry. I have a plan to work with the ministry to start a tourism campaign in the year 2012.  The [Addis Ababa] Airport customs office, the Immigration office, Ethiopia Airlines, hotel owners and travel agencies will be involved in this tourism campaign. 2012 is a year for tourism. In this tourism campaign we can provide information about Ethiopia to the rest of the world. Many people in the world have the wrong information about Ethiopia. I hope this campaign will bring about positive change in the tourism industry.

The Japanese people are travelers. Tell us some of the places that the Japanese frequently visit.

Our backyard is Asia, namely South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand and Australia, but areas in the Pacific like Hawaii and cities on the west coast of the United States like San Francisco and Los Angeles are some of the places that are also frequented by Japanese tourists. More than 1.5 million Japanese visit South Korea annually.  Some 1.5 million Japanese also visit Thailand. Egypt is another tourist destiny for us Japanese. Egypt has pyramids and very famous old culture.

What should Ethiopia do if it wants to be a tourist destiny like Egypt?

May be the Ethiopian tourism and culture ministry should open strong branch offices in Japan, USA and Europe. I believe that each embassy is playing its own role to promote Ethiopia, but establishing independent tourism office is important.

How do you describe Ethiopia and its people?

Well, I should say Ethiopia has a big dream. In spite of many difficulties (such as the world wide inflation), the country is doing well. I hope if everybody keeps working harder with the aim of succeeding, things will happen. Ethiopian music is also very similar to Japanese music. Their way of life is also similar. They are modest. They are very honest and sincere. Most of the people of Ethiopia are religious. I think religion has a positive impact on the lives of the people. Ethiopia is different from other African countries. People are safe. The life style and the culture are very unique. If we promote this unique culture people from the rest of the world will be eager to visit this historical country.

There was a Japanese painter who lived in Ethiopia for a long time who happened to be a close friend of yours. Tell us about him.

We had a very famous Japanese painter whose name was Mizuno Humio. In the 1970s he decided to visit Ethiopia when he was 55 years old. Soon after, he left his young children and his wife to move to Ethiopia. He knew that Ethiopia is a beautiful country with a very nice climate. Mizuno was surprised to know that Ethiopia has very beautiful ladies. That is why he painted only ladies. He lived in Ethiopia for 25 years. During the military regime he had a problem with the kebele cadres. Consequently, he left Ethiopia and moved to Kenya. He stayed there for 8 years and passed on. When he was here he used to go to Bati and Kombolcha. He used to say there are many Elizabeth Taylors (the late beautiful Hollywood Actress) in Ethiopia. He promoted Ethiopia in Japan through his paintings. He organized many exhibitions in Japan. He contributed a lot to introduce the other face of Ethiopia.

I have also brought another painter to Ethiopia. His name is Koito. Unlike Mizino, Koito painted only boys. He also painted a picture of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi about 8 years ago. He presented his portray to the prime Minister.

Tell us about the relationship between Japan and Ethiopia during the Emperor Haile-Selassie’s rule?

You may have heard that a woman from the Japanese royal family was about to marry an Ethiopian belonging to the royal family during the Emperor’s time. It was big news for Ethiopia and Japan. But the Italian government was against this idea. Italians did not want Japan to strengthen its relationship with Ethiopia because they were making preparations to invade Ethiopia. So because of their intervention that marriage plan failed.

It is said that the prince and princess of Japan visited Ethiopia during the reign of Haile-Selassie for their honeymoon. Can you tell us anything about it?

Frankly speaking I don’t know why they chose Ethiopia for their honeymoon. But I know for sure that the relationship between these two countries was very strong. Japan opened its embassy in Ethiopia during the Emperor’s time. It was the only Japanese embassy in sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopia was the number one choice. This relationship has been restored after the EPRDF came to power.

You said that the mentality of Japanese people is similar to Ethiopians’. Can you give us one or two examples?

One of the similarities that always surprises me is the Japanese Inka song. We sing the song with emotion and some modesty. The melody is very similar to Ethiopian music. Both people respect older people. Both people do not express their disappointment straight. Sometimes, when we give a present to somebody we say, “This is a very small present” even though it is a big present. But the Americans say, “This is beautiful present” and when you open it you will be disappointed. In Japan when somebody invites you to eat something you don’t accept the invitation immediately. You are supposed to say ‘ok’ when you are asked to eat for the third or for the fourth time. The same is true in Ethiopia. When I visited America for the first time my relatives who are living there said to me “Peter, please eat this.”  I said “no” expecting a second and third request but it never come.

I have heard that you met Prime Minister Meles Here in Addis and Tokyo. How did you meet him?

I had a nice meeting with Prime Minister Meles. I personally respect him very much. He is an intellectual and sincere. I met the Prime Minister for the first time when a Japanese congressman, Antonio Inoki, visited Addis Ababa. This person was a famous boxer. He was the head of the spot party and he was at the same time a lawmaker. So Meles asked him about his profession. I told him he fought with Muhammad Ali. And Meles asked, “Who won?”  I responded, “Both of them lost.” Meles again asked, “Why?” We said, “It is the sponsor who won the game.” There was a big laugh. That was the first meeting. After that the prime minister came to TICAD I (Tokyo International Conference of Africa), TICAD II and TICAD III. This conference was held three times in Japan. I was the director of the Ethiopian Association of Japan at that time. This association organized a welcoming party for the prime minister’s delegation. I was also the official interpreter for Prime Minister Meles. When I was interpreting the prime minister’s speech in English into Japanese language he was speaking very quickly. So I asked him to speak slowly. Everybody was surprised by my reaction. They believed that nobody should ask any prime minister to speak slowly. However, contrary to their expectation Meles found me very interesting. He also told me to contact him when I visit Addis Ababa.

Source: The Ethiopian Reporter




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