Japanese Couple Stranded by Coronavirus Become Cape Verde Olympic Ambassadors

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File
AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File

Japanese honeymooners stranded on Cape Verde due to coronavirus travel restrictions have parlayed their experience into an ambassadorship for the African island’s Olympic team, Japan Today reported on Friday.

Cape Verde is a nation located off the coast of West Africa comprised of ten tiny islands. Rikiya and Ayumi Kataoka were honeymooning there when the Chinese coronavirus pandemic hit and cut off travel to and from the islands five months ago.

With many international flights suspended, the couple were unable to resume their planned journey from Cape Verde to Europe and then home to Japan. They were also unwilling to fly to the African mainland, where coronavirus cases were surging. Left with little choice, the newlyweds remained on the island.

With their funds dwindling and unable to secure work visas, the enterprising couple traded their skills in videography and blogging to local establishments in exchange for lodging and food. The couple’s successful relationship with locals soon caught the attention of Cape Verde Olympic officials, who this week asked Rikiya and Ayumi to represent their team as ambassadors next summer in the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics.

“They want me to be an ambassador of the Olympic team,” Rikiya, 30, told Reuters on Wednesday. He spoke to the news agency from the Cape Verde island of Sal via Zoom. “When I go back to Tokyo, I will do a job for them.”

Leonardo Cunha, Cape Verde’s chef de mission for Tokyo, said the islands “felt the urge of giving back” to the couple.

“The guys are Japanese citizens and they deserve, in the name of the friendship we have with Japan, just to be well-treated,” he said.

“It was our interest to accompany them on their journey as well (and) making them part of our adventure in Japan,” Cunha added.

Over the past five months, Rikiya and Ayumi have filmed promotional videos and written reviews for Cape Verde hotels and restaurants, promoting their businesses online.

“I shot many things in restaurants and hotels, as a volunteer,” Rikiya said, adding that he had approached the local businesses for job offers.

“For example, the restaurant owner offered me a job … and then they gave me food for free,” he explained. Rikiya’s wife, Ayumi, wrote reviews and modeled for the videos.

Cape Verde’s Olympic officials offered the ambassadorship as a means of repaying the couple for their help in promoting the islands to a wider audience.

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