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By Jude O. Marfil

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 28) – "It’s a shame."

That was how the head of the Historical Preservation Office (HPO) yesterday described the vandalism of a Japanese Shinto Shrine at the Paseo de Marianas on Saipan.

Epifanio E. Cabrera, HPO director, said the defacing of the sacred site would send a bad signal to tourists, especially at a time when the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is scrambling to increase visitor arrivals from Japan.

"I was astonished to see the picture in today’s Variety. It is really a shame that some people just have no respect for something of that historical value," said Cabrera. "That shrine was built during Japanese times."

Located along Ginger Avenue at the Paseo de Marianas, the shrine has graffiti all over it. Garbage has been dumped inside, the walls are chipped and the place reeks of urine.

Cabrera said a vandalized site is the last thing HPO needs right now, given its lack of budget.

"Our budget, excluding personnel costs, is US$424 per quarter. How far can we go with that?" Cabrera said. "Nonetheless, we will go to the shrine and assess the situation. We will try to remove the graffiti and help rehabilitate that significant historic site."

Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) Chairman David M. Sablan Sr. called the vandalism of the shrine as "an embarrassing situation."

"Here we are doing our best and spending lots of money to promote the CNMI only to find people being uncooperative and having no perception of the difficulty that we are facing. It appears that the [CNMI] is heading toward ruining [the Japanese] market," said Sablan.

Japanese nationals make up an average of 72 percent of the CNMI’s entire tourist source.

The defacing of the shrine, said Sablan, is like an insult to the Japanese. "Whoever did this to a place that is sacred to the Japanese, should pay for it. There should be some monetary penalty or imprisonment. We won’t allow this happen," he said.

In a separate interview, Pacific Micronesia Tours Inc. general manager Seiji Sato expressed disappointment over the defacing of the shrine.

"This is not good not only for the Japanese but also for the people of the CNMI. This is not good for the tourists," said Sato, who is also a board member of MVA.

Land and Natural Resources Secretary Richard B. Seman admitted: "It is not within our usual area of coverage. But we will have that checked out and see what we can do to fix the place. Thank you for bringing that to our attention."

September 28, 2005

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