ASK Yoshiji Nogami how he felt about being posted to Hong Kong as Japanese consul-general after being deputy head of his nation's most important think-tank, and the burly, bearded former rugby player gives a huge grin. 'It's a punishment post,' he chuckles. 'It's very busy, there's high visibility and there are all those parties, dinners and social functions.' Beneath the joviality, the 52-year-old diplomat has a more serious charge; with 20,000 Japanese nationals living in Hong Kong, 1,300 companies based here, 70 banks and manufacturing investment of $125 billion, he's anxious to work towards ensuring the business climate remains benign after 1997. Mr Nogami believes China is unaware of the enormous scope of Japanese investment in Hong Kong, and hence the degree of concern over our future. 'We have a huge stake here,' he says, looking out of the 47th floor window of his Exchange Square office. The consulate moved there a year ago because expanding official representation meant a need for more room. With $125 billion invested in Hong Kong manufacturing alone, the territory is the second largest beneficiary in the region (after Indonesia) of Japanese business. That's three times more than Japan has ploughed into China, Mr Nogami notes. 'To put it bluntly, we've put in our money here and we want to keep it,' the career diplomat adds. 'So it's extremely important to us that the business climate remains the same after 1997.' He says '99.9 per cent' of Japanese in Hong Kong are expatriates on business, or their families. They fit in well with the Hong Kong community. Problems? Yes, exactly the same as other Hong Kong people, the Japanese face soaring rents and hard-to-find school places for their children. Most of those Japanese work for 1,300 Japanese companies. While many are smaller concerns focusing on handling the flood of 1.4 million tourists who arrive annually, most Japanese work for the 716 big firms which are members of the powerful and influential Japanese Chamber of Commerce. Just as our own economic structure has changed from a manufacturing base to a service economy in the past 25 years, so has the business focus of Japanese firms. Today, Mr Nogami totes up 70 banks and financial institutions, holding an incredible 53 per cent of net banking assets. Many of these important banking institutes are out of the public eye, dealing with big corporate accounts and not having branches seeking business from the public. Their financial clout is immense, with the Japanese financial institutions sited in Hong Kong being larger than in either New York or London. Why so many bankers, businessmen and industrialists? 'It's a nice place to do business,' he says. Making sure that continues is partly the responsibility of major players such as Japan and the United States, whose firms have big investments in the territory. If there is a loss of confidence in financial institutions, if the market economy stops operating, business will leave. 'It's simple as that,' Mr Nogami shrugs. 'In our thinking, it's the responsibility of both the United Kingdom and China to see to it the interests of third parties like Japan, the United States and Canada, are well protected. 'These third countries have been equally contributing to Hong Kong growth. The meetings with top officials, the Governor recently had in Tokyo, are a very strong expression of our interest here. 'People in Japan are concerned about what is going to happen when Beijing takes over.' A career diplomat who passed the stringent foreign service examinations while studying American intellectual history at the prestigious University of Tokyo, Mr Nogami has been based in Washington, Bangkok, Paris and Tanzania. He is married to an Englishwoman, Geraldine. They have three sons, one studying at a diplomatic institution in Tokyo, the others at Hong Kong's Japanese school. He takes a serious interest in Hong Kong's social, as well as political and economic, scene. 'The Hong Kong Government limits its role to a very basic minimum of social and economic institutions,' he says. 'It provides law and order and minimum regulations. Government here is transparent and very, very modest and your economy is the very prototype of a market economy. 'That's why we do business here. But throughout Asia, people are growing more concerned about other issues, like the environment, democracy and welfare. 'Given Hong Kong's current economy and per capita income, your welfare system is falling behind. It has to be brought up, to be commensurate with the economy. 'There is much talk of upward mobility, of the man pulling the cart being able to rise to the top. Yes, it happens, but not all the time. 'You go to Mongkok and see an old lady pushing a cart in the street. Is she chasing the Hong Kong dream? No. She's doing it because it's the only job she can get. She has to do it. 'Hong Kong can afford to do better.'