Gov. David Ige plans to fly next week to Japan to discuss clean energy, research partnership and a return of Japanese tourists to the islands after a more than two year pause amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

While tourism from the U.S. mainland has largely recovered from pandemic lows, visitors from Japan, which is Hawaii’s third-largest tourist market, have been nonexistent.

“Japan is the most important international source of travelers to Hawaii,” Ige said Wednesday on the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program. “I’m hoping to be able to meet with (Japanese) Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and members of his Cabinet to really talk about reestablishing the relationship between Hawaii and Japan.”

Currently, only arrivals in Japan who have been fully vaccinated and boosted and received a negative PCR test can avoid a three-day quarantine. The country is also limiting daily arrivals to 10,000 people, from a pre-pandemic 140,000 passengers.

Ige said he would broach an exemption to quarantine rules for travelers from Hawaii, emphasizing the state’s low infection rates and high levels of mask wearing to distinguish Hawaii from the mainland.

He plans to also meet with partners in the Japanese travel industry to promote the “Malama Hawaii” initiative championed by the Hawaii Tourism Authority as a way to attract a more thoughtful tourist.

“Japanese visitors are ones that we want: they tend to engage with the community, they are very, very respectful of Native Hawaiian culture,” Ige said. “There’s more hula dancers in Japan, I think there are over 3 million at this point, than there are in Hawaii.”

Also on the agenda was a joint commitment to renewable energy and swapping ideas about sustainable development and other research goals.

For security reasons, the governor’s office has not revealed a departure date, spokeswoman Jodi Leong wrote in an email. But the administration will release an official schedule later this week.

Following a nationwide trend, Hawaii has seen a recent uptick in Covid-19 cases, but the level is still well below the peaks that occurred during previous surges.

On Wednesday, Hawaii reported a weekly average of 485 cases per day, up from 89 in mid-March, according to the state’s most recent numbers. The positivity rate rose to 11.5% statewide.

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