LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Japan’s consul general today thanked members of a Los Angeles County urban search and rescue team sent to the earthquake-ravaged island nation and urged Southern Californians to consider vacationing to Japan.

Standing in front of firefighters and at least one canine rescuer, Junichi Ihara expressed the nation’s “sincere gratitude” to the search and rescue squad, which he said was “one of the first to mobilize and spring into action when the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit.

“While many people, including those in my office, were still struggling to understand what had just happened, the (team) was already en route,” said Ihara. He said the group’s mere presence boosted morale and its “knowledge and experience were invaluable to a shocked nation.”

Fire Chief Daryl Osby said that seven members of the team had been home for only a day following earthquake rescue efforts in New Zealand before being deployed to Japan.

“Our team is always ready, day in and day out, for emergency service,” said Osby.

Chief Patrick Rohaley, one of the leaders of the rescue task force, said “the things we witnessed there … the selfless acts of the people … were just awe-inspiring.”

Both Osby and Rohaley noted that the rescue team is always learning on the job and that the experience in Japan would ultimately help serve county residents.

After thanking the team and the county, Ihara tried to reassure Southern Californians that, other than a “limited area” near the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Japan was again safe for travel.

As the country works to assist more than 100,000 people displaced by the disaster and restore stability, tourism will be important to its economic recovery.

“We need tourists from abroad,” he said. “You are all welcome.”

He also reassured Americans that the government would only ship food and other products that are safe, and acknowledged the difficult path ahead.

“We are braced for a long period of hard work and continuous struggle,” said Ihara.