SINGAPORE - Dapper in a pinstripe suit, Mr Yoichi Suzuki looks at The Straits Times photographer's first shot of him and promptly says no to it.
"I mustn't look so happy to be leaving Singapore," says the Japanese envoy, adding immediately that he was jesting, with a booming laugh that echoed in the drawing room of his lush home near the Botanic Gardens.
But Mr Suzuki does have much to laugh about, as he is finishing his three-year stint here on a high note. Make that several highs - in bilateral ties and trade as well as people and business exchanges.
Most noteworthy is a resurgence of the Japanese presence in Singapore as Japan refocuses on South-east Asia as a growth partner. There has been an increase in "the number of my compatriots coming to reside in Singapore as well as a bigger presence of Japanese businesses here", Mr Suzuki, who leaves his post this week, says in an interview with The Straits Times.
There are now some 28,000 Japanese living in Singapore, up from 24,000 in 2010, a telling statistic showing Japan's renewed interest in the region and its recognition of the need to reach out to the world as an ageing, decreasing population crimps its domestic market. Mr Suzuki, 62, notes that there has been a broadening in the profile of Japanese businesses coming to Singapore, with more IT start-ups and service-related firms in the mix.
Key to this is Singapore being the most important economic hub in the region, and this is also the reason that some 1,000 established Japanese companies have branches here, with many using these as their regional bases.
"They come here... because of (Singapore's) unmatched value as a hub," he says, citing the ease of doing business here and the Republic's position as a regional information centre and, increasingly, as an important marketplace where firms can easily meet buyers and sellers from around the region.
He also praises the strong support of the Singapore Government for the firms' regional functions.