The year 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations between Japan and Ecuador, and today the Republic of Ecuador is working to further enhance its ties with Japan, focused on the economy. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary H.E. Mr. Jaime Barberis about things to see in Ecuador – including the Galapagos Islands, a treasure trove of plants and animals – as well as its history, culture, and industries.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I’ve wanted to interview you for quite some time, and today that wish is finally coming true. How long have you been the Ecuadorian ambassador to Japan?
(B) Thank you for having me. I was assigned to Japan two years and eight months ago.
(M) I imagine you’ve visited various places around the country during this time. What is your impression of Japan?
(B) Yes, I’ve traveled to several prefectures. Everywhere I’ve gone has been beautiful, and I feel that Japan is a wonderful country. There are still many places I want to visit, and I’m hoping to take a family trip to Hokkaido and Tohoku when my four children come to Japan.
(M) I’ve traveled to 82 countries around the world, including North America, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. I haven’t been to Ecuador yet, but I’m extremely interested in visiting. Is it on the Equator?
(B) Yes. In fact, the word “ecuador” means “equator” in Spanish. The Equator is right by Quito, the capital city at an elevation of 2,850 meters on the side of the Andes. That’s why the average temperature is around 18 to 19 degrees Celsius throughout the year. The weather is spring-like all year round.
(M) That sounds more pleasant than I expected.
(B) Ecuador has diverse geographical features and is divided into four regions. Sierra, the mountainous region where Quito is located, is home to Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in the country with a height of 6,267 meters. Costa is the coastal region where Guayaquil, the largest city, is located. Guayaquil is a port city and industrial center with a population of three million, including the surrounding area. In contrast, Quito is the political center of the country. The Amazon region has vast rainforests in the eastern part of the country. The fourth region is the Galápagos Islands, which I think everyone in Japan is aware of, even if they’ve never heard of Ecuador.
(M) So the Galápagos are part of Ecuador.
(B) Yes. The different regions are diverse in terms of terrain and climate. Ecuador is one of the 17 megadiverse countries of the world with the greatest biological diversity. Ecuador is also an ethnically diverse country. The population of roughly 17 million lives in a region the size of Japan’s Honshu and Kyushu put together. Among these, 70% are mixed-race Mestizos with indigenous and European blood. There is also a wide range of other races and ethnic groups, include indigenous people, Caucasians, and Afro-descendants, resulting in great cultural diversity. The official language is Spanish, but 14 other languages and dialects are also spoken by different indigenous communities .
(M) Does Ecuador speak Spanish because it is a former colony?
(B) That’s right. Today’s Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama gained independence from Spain in 1822 as “Gran Colombia.” People have been living in Ecuador since 10,000 BCE. There was a flourishing earthenware culture from 4,000 BCE, and village ruins have been found in Quito from 1,500 to 500 BCE. Afterwards, there were cultures led by strong chiefs in Sierra, Costa, and other areas until the second half of the 1500s. They were subjugated by the Inca Empire in the latter half of the 1500s, occupied by the Spanish in the mid-1600s, then colonized for roughly 300 years after that. Ecuador became independent from Spain in 1822 and seceded from Gran Colombia in 1830. In 1979, Ecuador transitioned from military rule to a democratic government, and the current constitution was enacted in 2008.
(M) What are Ecuador’s industries?
(B) Our biggest industry is oil drilling in the Amazon region, which accounts for around 50% of our exports. There is also agriculture, including bananas and cacao, as well as shrimp and other marine products. We export products like crude oil, bananas, frozen broccoli, cacao, and seafood to Japan. Ecuador has a longstanding diplomatic relationship with Japan, with last year (2018) marking the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties. High government officials are discussing how to strengthen the Japan-Ecuador relationship. For example, former Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono visited Ecuador in August 2018, then Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno and Foreign Minister José Valencia came to Japan that September. They talked about economics in particular, and concluded an agreement to prevent double taxation and proposed an investment treaty. We hope to attract more Japanese investment. Ecuador is devoting efforts to tourism as well, and we hope to export more products such as bananas and cacao to the Japanese market.
(M) I didn’t know Japan and Ecuador have a diplomatic relationship over 100 years old.
(B) Yes, diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Japan formally started 100 years ago with the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Navigation in 1918. That same year, Hideyo Noguchi was sent from the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research to Ecuador to do research on yellow fever. The photo of Hideyo Noguchi on the current 1,000-yen bill was taken in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
(M) I didn’t know that!
(B) After arriving in Guayaquil, Noguchi immediately beginning his research. He discovered the pathogen that causes yellow fever on the ninth day and refined a vaccine that saved many lives. After, it became clear this pathogen did not cause yellow fever, but rather Weil’s disease, an infectious disease with similar symptoms to yellow fever. Back then all cases were diagnosed as yellow fever, so the truth is that Noguchi saved many people from Weil’s disease as well. The people of Ecuador were grateful to Japan for Noguchi’s research. There are busts of Noguchi in Quito and Guayaquil, as well as a street named after him in Guayaquil and an elementary school with his name on the outskirts of Quito. Noguchi is still bringing Ecuador and Japan together, even 100 years later.
(M) I’m surprised to hear he is so highly appraised there.
(M) You mentioned that Ecuador is focusing on tourism today. I definitely want to go to the Galápagos Islands. First, how do you get to Ecuador from Japan?
(B) I think the easiest way is to go through the United States. There are direct flights from Houston and Atlanta to Quito. Including transfers, it takes about 20 hours from Japan to Ecuador.
(M) Are there flights to Ecuador from New York City and Vancouver, where we have opened APA Hotels?
(B) There are flights from New York, but not from Vancouver.
(M) Do you fly from Quito to the Galápagos?
(B) Yes, you can fly from Quito and Guayaquil to Baltra Airport on Santa Cruz or San Cristóbal Airport on San Cristóbal. There are strict quarantine inspections on the mainland to protect the ecosystem of the Galápagos, and you also have to pay a fee to enter the islands.
(M) There are several islands in this chain. Which do you recommend visiting?
(B) You can take a cruse going around the Galápagos and sleep on the ship, or you can stay at a hotel on Santa Cruz or another island and take daily tours to the other islands. You must be accompanied by an officially licensed naturalist guide to sightsee on the islands. Tourists are limited to specific locations and roads, and the remaining areas are off limits. Still, you can see plenty of animals and birds, including the Galápagos tortoise, which is likely the most famous. Other well-known species include the Galápagos marine iguana, Galápagos fur seal, and birds like the blue-footed booby and great frigatebird. No matter how you decide to travel, I’m sure you will be satisfied by your time on the islands.
(M) How long does it take to visit all of the islands?
(B) Around one week. Recently, author Haruki Murakami toured the islands.
(M) I doubt I can manage to stay longer than two nights (laughs).
(M) Where else do you recommend visiting?
(B) First, the capital city of Quito. The old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the Spanish colonial era of the 16th century. You can enjoy panoramic views of the city from the El Panecillo hill. Quito was a base for propagating Christianity throughout South America in the 16th century, and there are many churches, monasteries, and other buildings, which is why it was called the “Monastery of the American Continent.” For instance, the Saint Francis Monastery has a dignified façade and gorgeous interior decorated with lots of gold. A unique spot is the Monument to the Equator on the outskirts of Quito, where everyone likes to take pictures straddling the line showing the location of the Equator. You can buy colorful native clothing, bags, and other souvenirs at the handicraft market in Quito. Tren Ecuador train tours are recently popular with tourists. Steam locomotives, pulling Spanish-style passenger cars, connect Quito and Guayaquil on trips taking three nights and four days. These trains travel routes with height differences of 3,000 meters or more, so you can enjoy stunning mountain scenery. There are also same-day train tours from Quito.
(M) I would definitely like to stay overnight in Quito.
(B) Ecuador has 800 kilometers of coasts and beach resorts besides the Galápagos. Visitors can enjoy marine sports, and blue-footed boobies and great frigatebirds can also be seen on the uninhabited Isla de la Plata. Cuenca, the third-largest city, is in the mountainous Sierra region and has city streets from the colonial area that are UNESCO Cultural Heritage. It is also known as the city where fine toquilla straw hats are produced. These hats, which take hours to make by hand, are popular souvenirs.
(M) I definitely want to go to Ecuador soon, and would appreciate it if you could make arrangements for me to meet with government officials during my trip.
(B) Of course, I will be glad to make them.
(M) Thank you very much! At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(B) My message for the youth would be, “Do not lose hope.” Prepare yourselves as well as you can to help find sustainable and permanent solutions to today’s global challenges such as climate change, poverty, terrorism, corruption, and drugs.
(M) APA Hotel is making dedicated efforts related to the environment. Our functional, compact rooms produce one third the CO2 emissions as regular city hotels. We use water-saving showers that mix air into the hot water to increase water pressure and reduce water usage. Our baths are equipped with thermostats and automatic shut-off valves to stop the water when it reaches a set level. We also developed oval-shaped bathtubs that use about 20% less water than normal tubs, yet still allow you to enjoy a good soak. This September we opened APA Hotel & Resort Yokohama Bay Tower, which has 2,311 rooms, one of the biggest numbers in Japan. We also opened APA Hotel Yamate Otsuka Station Tower, with 613 rooms, on October 11. I would love to invite you to stay at one of our hotels!
(B) Yes, that would be great.
(M) Thank you for sharing such an interesting conversation with me today.
(B) hank you.
Date of dialogue: October 4, 2019
Born in 1957. Earned his law degree from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in 1981, and his international law degree from the Central University of Ecuador in 1990. Entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador in 1979 and has served in positions such as head of the Asia, Africa, and Oceania Bureau; head of the America Bureau; and undersecretary in charge of North America and Europe. He became ambassador to Japan in February 2017.