Last week, WBS (World Business Satellite) TV programme approached us with a filming request regarding the topic of the niche tourist market that is attracting wealthy Western travellers to less tourist-friendly areas of Japan.
This exciting invitation comes on the back of a request from the producers of the programme ‘Japanese Style Originator’.
Although in these two cases we were unfortunately unable to take up these filming offers, it has nevertheless provided us with the assurance that our ambitions are rightly placed.
What we are aspiring for has social significance, to help initiate a shift in the value placed on regional areas of Japan.
We would like to create an environment in which Japan’s villages can become a ‘global brand’, similar to that of Italy’s Cinque Terre. We would effectively like to package Japan’s rural villages, brand them and globally communicate the abundance of rich Japanese culture, history and tradition in these regions.
We hope to connect rural regions to the rest of the world by acting as an international bridge, not only by serving as a communication channel between regional areas and overseas networks, but also by reworking the abundance of information about Japan that has yet to be made accessible to foreigners.
The first step is tourism. Tourism is an all inclusive physical contents business.
We first have to create demand, both for a customer profile that has previously not been considered a key target in the past and also create value for a destination that has previously not been branded into a product.
With limited information, the customer only knows what they want based on the available options. In other words, they don’t know what they’re missing out on, what they may really want to see. As a result, there are many visitors to Japan who are satisfied simply by visiting the mainstream destinations of Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Thus we face the challenge of providing accessible information about the richness of Japan’s countryside and with it the value of spending money on trips to such destinations.
It is wonderful hearing that there are customers that want to know the ‘real Japan’. However, there is considerable lead time before the actual ‘consumption’ of the product, or conversion – such is the nature of the travel industry.
We are truly appreciative of the many individuals – both in Japan and abroad, Japanese and foreign, who have shown their interest in contributing to this project. It is thanks to these individuals, including those from Italy, Germany and Austria who have been promoting our services with the utmost dedication that we are able to gradually build a bridge between rural Japan and the rest of the world.
Since last year, we have been collaborating in tourist development in the Aso region of Kumamoto Prefecture. The reconstruction process from the 2016 earthquake provided an opportunity to bring new value to the region by focusing on inbound tourism. The area has wonderful natural features: volcanoes – including the world’s largest caldera – and numerous onsen hot springs which provide a backdrop for the theme “the community that live with volcanoes”.
In a similar way, we have been working with Shimane and Hiroshima Prefectures on the Sankosen Rail Line which became an unused line from March of this year. Rather than viewing the disuse as a negative factor, locals have been working to breathe new life into the region by creating a point of interest for inbound tourists. With this in mind we have been creating a product with the theme of “the community that live with myths and rivers”.
If we market Japan’s countryside for global consumers, there are many glowing personalities and areas waiting to be discovered. It is simply a question of branding it correctly.
The CEO of Heartland Japan, Keijiro Sawano has watched the population of his small fishing village hometown, Sanin (a 40 minute drive from Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture), halve over the past 30 years to around 2600 people today. Nevertheless, the community has been initiating efforts such as creating campsites, fishing boat experiences and the branding of local squid products. It is therefore Keiji’s ambition to bring foreign travellers to the region to appreciate these developments and become a source of pride for locals, and in the process creating a sustainable circular business model.
There is a sense of urgency and a personal dimension to making this dream a reality for Keiji – to help save the village, and the many others around the country, that have so much to show and give, before the populations dwindle and there is no one left to keep the community and the culture and traditions that go with it alive.