The Dominican Republic, which was the first Spanish colony in the New World, has close connections with Japan due to emigration directly after World War II. The Dominican baseball team recently won a bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Robert Takata from the Dominican Republic about its history, industries, ties with Japan, and other topics.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. Even if they have heard the name “Dominican Republic,” most Japanese people don’t know much about it. I invited you here so you could teach us about your country.
(T) Thank you for having me. I read Apple Town every month, and I always empathize with what you say. I’m very honored to be able to talk about my country in this magazine. Hispaniola is an island in the center of the Caribbean Sea that is divided into two countries: the Dominican Republic on the eastern side, and Haiti is on the western side. The Dominican Republic spans some 48,000 square meters, roughly the size of Kyushu and Kochi Prefecture put together. The population is approximately 11 million people, and the capital city is Santo Domingo.
(M) What is its ethnic makeup?
(T) Hispaniola was the first Spanish colony in the New World, which was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492. For that reason, 85% of the population is of mixed white European and African (particularly black) ethnicity. Historically we have had various ties with Haiti. Because the Dominican Republic was a Spanish territory for many years, our official language is Spanish and many of our people are Catholics.
(M) So it has the longest history with Europeans.
(T) Yes. The capital city of Santo Domingo was established in 1496, four years after the island’s discovery. The Casa de Contratacion was built in 1503 to control trade with other colonies, and all business with Europe started from Santo Domingo. There are many buildings from the early 16th century in the oldest area, called the “Ciudad Colonial.” These include the Alcazar de Colon, Fortaleza Ozama, Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor, and Museo de las Casas Reales. This area is inscribed on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage list as the “Colonial City of Santo Domingo.” The Dominican Republic is also world-famous for Merengue, a type of music that combines the unique features of Africa and Europe, and Bachata, a dance done by men and women to slow songs. In 2019 these were inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Countries like Japan that love baseball also know of the Dominican Republic because we are good at this sport and have turned out many Major Leaguers.
(M) The Dominican baseball team won a bronze medal by beating South Korea at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games this summer. In the first game the Dominican Republic played against Japan, which ended up with the gold medal. It was a close, thrilling game; Japan made a comeback in the final inning to defeat the Dominican team. I think many people became aware of the Dominican Republic that day. However, there are probably lots of Japanese people who think it is in Central America, like I used to assume.
(T) I don’t think Japanese people are very familiar with the Caribbean. This ocean area adjoins the Pacific Ocean south of the Gulf of Mexico. People in the United States might think of it as the ocean south of the Florida peninsula. Cuba is the largest island in this region, followed by Hispaniola, home of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There are many other Caribbean islands as well, such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. There is also an island nation called the “Commonwealth of Dominica,” which is totally separate from the Dominican Republic and has a population of about 70,000 people on an island roughly the size of Amami Oshima. It used to be a British colony, so its official language is English.
(M) There’s a country with the same name? Is that why your country is referred to as the Dominican “Republic?”
(T) That’s right. The Caribbean is an important ocean area for the Americas. For instance, while ships from the American West Coast pass through the Panama Canal, they must go through the Caribbean to get to Europe.
(M) That makes sense.
(M) What are the Dominican Republic’s most flourishing industries?
(T) Traditionally we exported primary products like cacao, but this has completely changed today. Now one of our main industries is tourism, and I certainly hope that many Japanese people will come to visit. The mining industry is also thriving, including gold, silver, and ferronickel. These are exported to Japan and other destinations. People around the world are interested in the gemstones that are only found in the Dominican Republic, such as larimar, which has a blue color like the Caribbean, and blue amber, which shines blue in the sunlight. Other active industries in recent years include the manufacturing and export of precision equipment, medical equipment, and other products.
(M) Your neighbor Haiti is located on the Ring of Fire, just like Japan. A magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, and more than 300,000 people died. There was also a magnitude 7.2 earthquake this August that killed approximately 2,000 people. Did these earthquakes also affect the Dominican Republic, which is on the same island? As a country with many earthquakes, Japan has developed advanced earthquake-proof and quake-absorbing technologies. All buildings must meet specific seismic performance standards, including hotels and apartment buildings.
(T) The Dominican Republic did experience some shaking during both earthquakes, but not strong enough to knock over any buildings. No earthquakes in the past few decades have caused any deaths. The Dominican Republic does not yet have earthquake-proof or quake-absorbing buildings on the same level as Japan, but I think we will learn from Japan and others to introduce these seismic-resistance technologies.
(M) It must be a large island if the differences are that pronounced. When did you come to Japan as the ambassador? I’ve heard you speak Japanese as well.
(T) I arrived in December 2020 and presented my credentials to the Emperor in March. However, I have lived in Japan in the past.
(M) From your name, I guess that you are of Japanese heritage.
(T) I am. My paternal grandfather is from Minamikyushu City in Kagoshima Prefecture and was a Japanese military pilot during World War II. Back in the difficult time after the war, for the sake of his family he applied for a new Japanese government program to emigrate to the Dominican Republic in 1956. The other options included Brazil and Peru, but my grandfather selected the Dominican Republic, where he arrived in 1957. My father was just nine years old. He married a Dominican woman, and then I was born. My father always told me that I should travel to Japan one time, so I used my break before entering university to do so. I became quite fond of Japan and ended up living here from the age of 17 until 27. I believe I have benefited greatly because I was able to live in Japan during such an impressionable period when I established many of the important parts of my life, including my values and visions. As a person of Japanese ethnicity, I have a strong affection for Japan and consider it my second home country. I fully comprehend Japan’s good points because I have lived here.
(M) I’ve heard that many people from Kagoshima in particular emigrated to the Dominican Republic.
(T) This year actually marks the 65th anniversary of Japanese emigration to the Dominican Republic. When I paid a courtesy call on State Minister for Foreign Affairs Takashi Uto in April, we affirmed our will to further strengthen the ties between Japan and the Dominican Republic on this occasion.
(M) Many people from other countries view Japan in positive ways, just like yourself. However, Japanese people do not have a very high level of regard for their own country. The Tokyo Trials – and the subsequent educational system and news media – have continually implanted a masochistic view of history that many Japanese citizens still hold to.
(T) As a person from Latin America, I truly love Japan while also having knowledge of other countries, including those in Europe. Having traveled to other nations, I believe Japan is truly the world’s “jewel” compared to Europe and the Americas. If I were to live outside of the Dominican Republic in the future, I would choose Japan with no hesitation. I think Japanese people should have a renewed awareness of how special their country is and feel a sense of national pride.
(M) I’m so happy to hear you say that. European countries have long warred with each other, experiencing victories and defeats, so they do not lose their pride when they are beaten just once. Yet Japan, an island nation in Asia, did not suffer any war defeats after it became a modern nation via the Meiji Restoration; it won the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. Perhaps that’s why the single loss in World War II so wholly destroyed Japan’s pride and entrenched a self-torturing view of history. I am working to help Japanese people regain pride in their country and to break the spell of this masochistic historical view by publishing Apple Town, writing books, operating the Shoheijuku academy, and organizing the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest and APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize.
(T) I think wars and other histories should be handed down and discussed. I believe people would naturally come to revere and feel proud of their ancestors if many people discussed the various aspects of wars and learned detailed information about them. In the past Japan defeated Russia, which was known as the strongest army in the world. Many cities were completely destroyed during World War II, and Japan was the victim of atomic bomb attacks. Despite these circumstances, Japan achieved a miraculous recovery and developed sciences and technologies to become a wonderful nation with a rich culture. Everyone should feel proud of this.
(M) Thank you. In addition, racial equality was achieved across the globe thanks to Japan’s fight in World War II, when it freed countries that were previously under colonial rule. All circumstances have positive and negative elements. We must look at both sides to perceive them accurately. It’s not good how Japan’s educational system merely teaches that Japan was a bad country for waging war.
(T) We cannot change the past, but we can learn about it in detail. Today’s Japanese government highly values peace, even if that wasn’t the case in the past. By sharing its experience – including its past – I think Japan could become a model for the world. In fact, that’s something only Japan can do.
(M) I think that’s wonderful advice for the government of Japan. I also intend to keep sharing information with people in other countries.
(T) I think your efforts to restore pride in Japan are highly meaningful.
(M) I’ve never been to the Dominican Republic. How do you get there from Japan?
(T) Unfortunately, there are still few Japanese tourists, so there are no direct flights. I always take the most convenient route through New York. It’s 14 hours from Narita to New York, then 3.5 hours to Santo Domingo. In North America you could also transfer in Atlanta or Los Angeles, or you could go through Mexico or Spain.
(M) What are the best sightseeing spots?
(T) First, I recommend the Colonial City of Santo Domingo in the capital city, which as I mentioned before is a World Heritage Site. The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor is especially popular and is a Catholic Archdiocese. It was started in 1521 and took 19 years to build. There are some parts with varied architectural styles because different designers worked on it during this process. The splendid Gothic and Baroque ornaments are definitely worth seeing. This cathedral is also famous because the remains of Columbus were housed there. A popular natural attraction is the 27 Damajaqua Cascades in Puerto Plata, the northern part of the country. People wear helmets and life jackets while touring these waterfalls. The shortest tour, which visits seven falls, takes 40 minutes. You can see all of them in three hours. I do think most people who come to the Dominican Republic are drawn to our beaches. The Bavaro beach area on the eastern coast, which has many resort hotels, is renowned for its beauty in Europe and the Americas.
(M) When is the best month to visit? What’s the climate like?
(T) The Dominican Republic is small, but we have many different climates, including the hot coastal area with beaches, the humid tropical rainforest area, and the dry desert area. The best seasons are from March to April, and from September to October, when the temperature is pleasant. However, even the summer is quite comfortable because most places range from 22 to 26°C. There are some spots where you can swim in the winter, although the temperature sometimes drops below freezing in Costanza. I will show you around when you visit and arrange for you to meet with President Luis Abinader.
(M) The Central American and Caribbean countries I’ve visited are Costa Rica, Panama, and Cuba. I definitely want to travel to the Dominican Republic when the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
(T) People in the Dominican tourism industry have been astounded by the growth of hotels and other parts of the Japanese tourism industry, and they are keeping an eye on Japan. I think APA Hotel’s growth is the most conspicuous example of this. I hope to learn from you and your accomplishments.
(M) I think rising income levels in Japan’s Asian neighbors is the main cause for the growing number of foreign tourists. I believe they want to travel to Japan more than any other country because of our seasonal beauty, safety, security, useful and convenient public transportation, picturesque scenery, and delicious foods. There were 30 million foreign visitors to Japan in 2019, and it was thought this number would reach 40 million in 2020, but the actual number was just one tenth of that due to the pandemic. However, we will be able to meet that target in the near future, and tourism will be Japan’s largest growth industry going forward. APA Hotel is evolving with the aim of being the most user-friendly hotel chain for all sorts of customers, not only for business or resort hotels.
(T) I’d definitely like to tour your hotels. The Dominican Republic’s tourism sales have fallen 60% because of the pandemic, and we are exploring all sorts of ways to revive this industry next year and beyond. I’d appreciate your help.
(M) I’ll do what I can. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(T) Young people often hear opinions from other people and talk about history. That was true when I was young, too. I hope they will absorb different things this way and feel a sense of pride as they do their work. There are many difficult things in life, but my wish is that young people will work steadily while being grateful for a peaceful country and cherishing their family members, and make constructive contributions to society.
(M) I agree entirely. Thank you for joining me today.
(T) Thank you.
Born in 1977 in the Dominican Republic. Nisei son of a father of Japanese ethnicity and a Dominican mother. Graduated top of his class from the Universidad Catolica Santo Domingo’s Faculty of Law in the Dominican Republic. Earned a master’s degree in Senior Public Management from Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra, and a master’s degree from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA). Takata began his career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006. His past roles include diplomacy and political analyst in the foreign minister’s office, and negotiator and coordinator on the Dominican Republic’s team for becoming an official member of the Central American Integration System (SICA). He became the ambassador to Japan in 2021.