Governors of U.S. states frequently lead trade delegations to Japan, but rarely do they get the sort of reception being given to California's governor this week. But the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is going straight to the top. On Friday he met with Japan's prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, whose country is the biggest foreign investor in the Golden State.
Although they have difficulty pronouncing his family name, nearly everyone in Japan knows his face. Arnold Schwarzenegger's action movies and television commercials for noodles and beer have made him a celebrity here for years.
Now he is a hawking a new product - the state of California.
Mr. Schwarzenegger is leading a four-day, 57-member trade delegation to Japan, which kicked off with a buffet of California food and wine at a posh Tokyo hotel on Thursday evening.
"Come to California. I invite all of you to California and I can guarantee you that you will fall in love with our great state," he said. " And before you go back home you will be saying 'I'll be back.'"
While Governor Schwarzenegger delivered the punch lines, his supporting cast of officials and business leaders mingled with hundreds of Japanese travel agents, food importers and other business people.
The California delegation sees increased tourism and exports as one way to help overcome the state's fiscal crisis. California's budget shortfall for next year is estimated to run as high as seven billion dollars.
Tourism from Japan has been declining since the 1990s. The development director for the California Travel and Tourism Commission, Terry Selk, hopes the former Mr. Universe can pump up those numbers.
"The fact that he has made a dedicated trip to Japan specifically to focus on supporting tourism and food and agriculture is more than we could have ever envisioned when he first came into office," he said.
The actor turned Republican Party politician also is starring in a new T.V. commercial to market California to the Japanese.
For those who choose not to venture across the Pacific, the state is hoping they will get a taste of California, literally.
California already sells annually about $1 billion worth of food products to Japan. The state's agriculture secretary, A.G. Kawamura, a descendant of Japanese immigrants, hopes to increase exports to his grandparents' homeland.
"This is our first chance to actually get on the road and sell California," he said. "We use this concept 'Buy California, California Grown.' This is, for us, an exciting chance to really get out, tell the story of the three hundred commodities that California grows."
Governor Schwarzenegger on Friday made his pitch to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
Following the meeting, the governor said they discussed such topics as environmental issues and increasing trade of Japanese high-technology goods and California farm products.
The Japanese media has speculated that on this trip the former actor is eager to flex his diplomatic muscles and show he has what it takes to be president of the United States.
But for the Austrian-born politician to run for that office, the U.S. Constitution would need to be amended to allow naturalized citizens to become president - a move he favors.