By Howard Dashefsky -
JAPAN (KHNL) - Although it remains one of the most productive countries in the world, Japan, and it's 130 million people are mired in their worst economic downturn since the end of the bubble economy in the late 1980's.
Unemployment is up, and personal income is down.
And even though Hawaii remains a dream destination for Japanese residents of all ages, many those dreams have been placed on hold.
Now Marriott resorts Hawaii is hoping to rekindle the dream, by sharing the "Spirit of Aloha".
For Hawaii, Japan has long been regarded as a valuable resource for the state's #1 industry.
But for the first time in more than 20 years, the number of Japanese visitors heading to Hawaii may fall below one million.
The problem is two fold. In addition to the sluggish economy, there are great fears in Japan over the swine flu.
Two major issues that leave tourism executives with two huge challenge.
"People are very careful with their money" said Hawaii Tourism Japan chief Takashi Ichikura. Hopefully with this promotion more people will want to come to Hawaii.
Enter the Spirit of Aloha. A giant bus decked out in a Hawaiian theme, launched by Marriott resorts Hawaii.
Working in partnership with Japan Airlines, Hawaii Tourism Japan, and the Polynesian Cultural Center, the moving billboard delivers a taste of Hawaii to the people of Japan.
It's first stop, the Nagoya Festivals parade where Marriott unveils it's second huge weapon.
sumo legend and Hawaii's own Saleva'a Atisinoe. better known here as Konishiki.
"Anytime I can help promote Hawaii I am on board" said tour ambassador Konishiki. "Marriott resorts is doping a great thing and I am more than happy to promote the islands with them".
Although this is Marriott's first road show in Japan, it comes on the heels of a similar, and very successful bus tour that traveled the U.S. mainland earlier this year.
"It's all about emotion" said Marriott International Vice President Ed Hubennette. When you play the Hawaiian music and flash the shaka they get very excited about Hawaii.
In addition to hitting the roads, the Spirit Of Aloha tour also hits the airwaves at nearly a dozen television and radio stations.
Part of an overall strategy to give an ailing tourism industry a much needed shot in the arm.
"you need to be out there face to face with the people" said Marriott Waikiki General Manager Chris Tatum.