The government of Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture is moving its Montana office to a new location. The office currently operates out of Kumamoto Plaza, a Japanese cultural resource center in the downtown Helena walking mall. However, due to ongoing budget deficits, the Kumamoto government has decided to close Kumamoto Plaza at the end of March, state officials said. The prefecture’s office is moving into the Montana Department of Commerce building at 301 S. Park Ave., where it will share a location with the International Trade and Relations Bureau. At the urging of then-U.S. Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield, the state of Montana and Kumamoto Prefecture signed a sister-state agreement in 1982 to promote the creative exchange of people, ideas and culture. Kumamoto began dispatching a representative to Montana in 1985. I n 1 9 9 0 , Mo n ta n a opened a representat i v e o f f i c e i n Kumamoto, which continues to be operated out of Kumamoto government offices. “Montana and Kumamoto have a long history of exchanges that have enriched our citizens and communities,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said. “We look forward to collaborating even more closely to promote the Montana-Kumamoto relationship and move forward Mike Mansfield’s vision of developing regional U.S.-Japan relations.” Although the cultural resource c ent e r i s shut t ing down, Kumamoto representative Kizuku Matsunaga said he plans to keep actively promoting cultural and business exchanges between Montana and Kumamoto. “In October 2007, I traveled to several communities in eastern Montana and realized there is a great appreciation for Japanese culture and a friendly feel ing towards the people of Kumamoto,” he said. “I plan to begin conducting more outreach activities to schools, organizations and communities around Montana.” Matsunaga is planning two final events at the Kumamoto Plaza: a Hina doll festival on March 2, and an office relocation reception featuring music and dance performers on March 14. “We want to express our gratitude to our Montana friends who have actively supported Kumamoto Plaza and our downtown neighbors,” he said.