Imagine this, Tashio Inamine gushes: Bill and Boris and Tony and the other leaders of the Group of Eight--the seven major industrialized nations plus Russia--lounging next July beneath palm trees on the Okinawan oceanfront, in tropical shirts, sipping pineapple concoctions under the bright blue sky.
You won't get that ambiance in a stuffy Tokyo hotel, says the Nago city planner, and that is what Okinawa wants the world to see when Nago hosts the annual G-8 conference next July.
But another scenario causes nightmares for Okinawan officials: They get their island all gussied up for the economic conference, ready to greet world leaders, only to have a typhoon sweep through and keep anyone from landing at the airport.
Nago officials were sure "the bureaucrats would never pick a small island in the middle of typhoon season," said Inamine, who is helping organize Nago's reception for the summit. So sure, that when the selection was to be announced, the mayor of Nago was knee-deep in dirt, planting flowers, while other hopeful city mayors had scheduled news conferences.
But politics, not prudent planning, steered the choice of Nago, and now this sleepy city of 53,000 is aflutter with preparations for its big day in the international spotlight--all the while keeping one eye on the weather.
If a storm does wash away the summit, it would really irk Inamine. Bad weather would likely prompt a hurried move of the conference to Tokyo, where it was held in 1979, 1986 and 1993. And Inamine wants nothing more than to show up Tokyo:
"This is going to be a beach summit! We're going to put the press 20 meters away from the ocean front. We're going to have each of the VIPs in an oceanfront suite, where all they have to do is stroll outside onto the beach. Tokyo can't give them an ocean like we can.
"Look what the press reported on last time the summit was in Tokyo: rabbit-hut housing; cram schools for children; crowded subways. When they come here, they are going to report on the tropical atmosphere, the easy-going feelings."
Okinawa, he says, will impart what the locals call nirai kanai to the world leaders, a feeling of happiness and prosperity that comes from the sea.
Okinawa, which has never had an international summit like this, is both excited and nervous. In addition to the leaders of the United States, Britain, Japan, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Russia, the organizers expect several thousand reporters, staff people, embassy people, security people, logistics people, and maybe even a few real people who come just to watch the scene. In total, the three-day summit, scheduled to begin July 21, may bring 25,000 here--half again the population of Nago.
For most of its history, Okinawa thrived mostly by being innocuous. It was a kingdom that survived by paying lip service to both Japan and China, occasionally at the same time.
In 1879, Okinawa officially became a Japanese prefecture. Many here are still not thrilled about that, particularly since it eventually brought the full fury of World War II to the island in vicious fighting that cost nearly a quarter-million lives. For much of the world, the name Okinawa still evokes bloody combat.
"This is a chance to help us change our image from a dark past to a bright future," said Akira Sakima, chairman of the Naha Chamber of Commerce.
The last thing they need is a major foul-up. A typhoon would do it. So would terrorism.
The organizers worry about protests against U.S. bases in Okinawa, a thorn in Okinawans' sides for a half-century. But protests here are hardly rowdy. Organizers show up an hour early. They erect canopies and spread tarpaulins on the ground. The demonstrators arrive on time, remove their shoes to sit on the tarp and chant slogans in unison. Then they go home.
There are other potential problems. For one, the accommodations.
The conference center is not ready yet. Hundreds of workers swarm over the site, and organizers say it will open in March. But that's not a lot of time to furnish it and work the bugs out of its operation, worries Hitomi Aragaki, who is overseeing her employees' preparations at the summit's fancy host resort, the Busena Terrace Hotel.
"I'm worried that our staff won't be, well, sophisticated enough," said Aragaki, an elegantly dressed woman, sitting primly on the edge of her seat in the grand open foyer of the hotel.
She need not worry. Japanese service--in Okinawa or Tokyo--makes many a fancy hotel in another country seem like a Motel Six.
But the Japanese have perfected the art of fretting that they won't measure up. "Some of us in Okinawa are too timid, too shy to deal with international visitors," said Sakima, a former bank president with a master's degree from Indiana University.
The local university has laid on crash courses in English, and the citizens' council is scouring the island to find 700 volunteer guides who speak Russian or Italian or Canadian, eh? The townsfolk will be out in force to plant flowers and shrubs. The city is erecting road signs all over town. Urbane young men and women are being imported from Tokyo for key service positions.
"We have to worry about interpreters, about food poisoning, that's the kind of experiences we need to learn how to handle big events," said Inamine. "We need to know how to handle complaints--especially from the press."