CAPITOL HILL Saipan — The two-day visit of Japan’s imperial couple to honor war dead placed the Northern Mariana Islands on the international tourism map said a ranking official.

“It put Saipan on the map as far as international coverage is concerned ” said Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente. More Japanese travelers would now consider visiting the islands because Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko had done so Benavente said. “Saipan will be shown in Japan. It will become a new destination for a lot of Japanese simply because the imperial couple was here.”

Alex A. Sablan marketing and administration manager for Saipan Shipping Co. and president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce; said the imperial couple’s visit to the CNMI “will go down in the annals as one of the most significant milestones for us all.

“I believe as do many that the imperial couple’s visit was a huge boost for the CNMI on the worldwide stage. I perused over 20 Asian European and mainland U.S. periodicals that had the visit highlighted in a column. One can only hope that this visit and the residual effects of the publicity will bring much in the way of further support of one of our most important industries tourism ” he said.

The emperor and empress arrived on Saipan at around 4:30 p.m. on June 27. They boarded a black bulletproof limousine that took them to the Hotel Nikko Saipan where they were greeted by hundreds of well-wishers.

The following day the couple toured five shrines including a brief unscheduled visit at the Korean Peace Memorial at Banzai Cliff.

On June 20 Kim Seung Baeg president of the Korean Association in Saipan read a statement to Takeo Saito the Japanese consul to the Northern Mariana Islands suggesting the imperial couple visit the Korean Peace Memorial in Marpi (they also visited the Monument of the War Dead in the mid Pacific in Marpi). Korean journalists accompanied Kim to the consulate. He said he was not against the visit per se but that Korean dead should be honored too. The association also displayed banners.

There are about 2 000 Koreans in Saipan working in retail hotels department stores; and many of the 24-hour grocery stores are Korean-owned.

The couple attended a luncheon at the Nikko with regional and federal officials including Gov. Juan N. Babauta; Gov. Felix P. Camacho; Saito; David B. Cohen deputy assistant secretary of insular affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior; and J. Thomas Schieffer U. S. ambassador to Japan. The couple left for Japan at about 5 p.m. following a short stopover at the Manamko’ Center (Recreation Center for the Aging) where they shared moments with survivors of World War II and heard their stories.

Some 250 journalists covered the event. Media included correspondents from Agence France Press Associated Press the British Broadcasting Corp. CNN Fuji TV the New York Times NHK Nippon TV Reuters and TV Asahi.

Hotels on Saipan were fully booked from June 24 to 29. Hotel officials said the visit further increased occupancy noting that June has traditionally been a strong month as it is the start of the peak season. MBJ