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For love of Kenya, Japanese duo back on 149th tour

Father and daughter first toured country in the 1970s, have recruited more then 4,000 tourists from Asian giant since

Onyango Omolo @PeopleDailyKe

They are Kenya’s Tourism Goodwill Ambassadors in Japan and renowned wildlife photographers. They are not Kenyans. The two Japanese are in the country on their 149th Hiraiwa Africa Tour.

They are Michio Hiraiwa and daughter Masayo, perhaps Kenya’s most loyal foreign suitors. Hiraiwa first visited this east African country in 1972 and fell in love. He is marking his 160th visit and 46th anniversary since the maiden visit.

The daughter, on her part, marks her 150th visit and 41st anniversary since her first visit in 1977. The duo holds photo exhibitions, lecture meetings, publish photo books and engage in talk shows about Kenya on TV and radio programmes in Japan to promote Kenya as a destination of choice.

They have organised the Hiraiwa Africa Tour since 1977 — through which they have brought more than 4,000 Japanese tourists to Kenya.

Michio Hiraiwa and daughter Masayo at the Amboseli National Park. Photo/ONYANGO OMOLO

The tour has many members who have been so fascinated by the country’s attractions they have made the trip more than 40 times.

It is also an endorsement of the excellent guidance by the Hiraiwas, turning these people into permanent Kenya’s nature lovers.

One such is Mieko Hayashi, 79, popularly known as Mama Safari.

She is the most notable repeat member. Mama Safari lives in Tokyo but has done the trip to Kenya 40 times.She was among the more than 400 guests invited to the Jamhuri Day celebrations of 2017 at Hotel Marriot, Tokyo, hosted by Kenya’s Ambassador to Japan Solomon Maina.

At the occasion, Mama Safari was the star-attraction, donning an amazing Kenya-themed nail painting and an outfit in the famous red, black, white and green colours.

The nail painting included the National flag and various wildlife images. “I wanted to show something people will never forget on this great occasion.

So, I took my photos of Kenya and asked the saloonist in Tokyo to paint some of the images on my nails. At the event, a Kenyan artist currently performing in Tokyo Esther Thirimu (Swinky) sang the National Anthem, while a mixed Kenyan and Japanese unit based in Osaka (Olethabweko Band) performed Kenyan numbers.

“I commend Hiraiwa’s love for Africa, especially Kenya, and appreciate his role in promoting Kenya’s tourism. I also wish to express my appreciation for the support he has continuously offered to Enkong Narok Primary School (Hiraiwa School) in Amboseli, which no doubt goes a long way in complimenting Kenya’s development efforts,” Ambassador Maina said.

The father and daughter have been supporting education of Maasai children at the school in Loitokitok, Amboseli which has more than 300 pupils and nearly 100 pre-school children.

Says Michio, 83, and Masayo: “We are so glad that we can help give children education. Education and knowledge stay a lifetime and will help them in future.

We would like to support them as much as we can.” The duo staged their latest photo exhibition at the Hiraiwa Pole Pole Gallery in Tokyo from February 9 to 18. The Minister-Counsellor at the Kenyan Embassy in Tokyo Paul Kaliih, attended the opening ceremony.

The photo exhibitions are so popular and traditionally attract many prospective Japanese visitors to Kenya. Meanwhile, the Hiraiwas will organise the 150th Hiraiwa Africa Tour from August 7 to 14.

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