Higashikokubaru boasts blueprint to revive Miyazaki, nation

by Toshihiko Ueno and Tetsuro Koyama

Kyodo

Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru was one of Japan’s most visible personalities in 2007.

The 50-year-old, who went by the name Sonomanma Higashi as a comic, was elected governor of Miyazaki last January with the local dialect slogan of “dogenkasento ikan,” or “something must be done” (about the prefecture).

The slogan won a grand prize in the annual buzzwords contest sponsored by Jiyu Kokumin Sha Publishing Co. in December. In a recently published book about how Japan can prosper, he said, “If Miyazaki becomes cheerful, the entire nation becomes cheerful.

“If the smallest organization in a nation’s constitutional unit is the family, the family should first become cheerful,” he said. “Cities, towns and villages are next. If regional communities become cheerful, the entire nation can be revitalized with competition among regions, I think. The idea is not top-down but bottom-up.”

Japan has been vexed by its increasing rural-urban economic disparities.

According to fiscal 2004 statistics, the per head average income was ¥2.970 million against ¥3.188 million in fiscal 1996. The lowest ranked was Okinawa Prefecture with ¥1.987 million and the highest was Tokyo with ¥4.559 million, a disparity of 2.3 times.

Advances of large stores following relaxed regulations have decimated once thriving shopping streets in many cities, and even in the nature-rich countryside, forests have increasingly been damaged.

Such trends are not unrelated to prospering cities. If rural autonomous bodies are impoverished, nature and forests are destroyed, and cities are at greater risk of floods and other natural disasters. Rural and urban areas are closely linked.

Despite the adverse situation surrounding Miyazaki and many other prefectures, Higashikokubaru has been successful in drawing national attention to his prefecture and helping Miyazaki products such as chicken meat and mangoes sell well along the way.

“Miyazaki beef became Japan’s No. 1 in a contest for Japanese-produced beef this year. As a result, what about Matsusaka beef, Saga beef and Tajima beef? I think friendly competition will result in higher levels,” he said in 2007.

Asked whether there are ways to make Miyazaki people cheerful even if the prefectural finances are lacking, the governor said: “I’d like the people of Miyazaki and those hailing from Miyazaki to be proud of being from Miyazaki. The spread of the Miyazaki dialect to other parts of the nation, like ‘dogenkasento ikan,’ will help Miyazaki people feel that way.”

More than 90 percent of prefectural residents polled say they support Higashikokubaru, but how does he rate himself?

“If the four-year term is a four-day golf tournament, the first day is about 2 (strokes) over. To make par or under, I need to take concrete measures in and after next year, including those to raise the prefectural people’s revenue,” he said.

Miyazaki leads the nation as a producer of Japanese cedar. “What I should tackle in the long term are forest-related problems. It’s important to protect the mountains because the prefecture often gets hit by typhoons and other disasters,” he said. “There are about 2,000 hectares of mountains where trees have been felled but have yet to be replanted. The target for the time being is to plant trees in all these areas.”

About measures to find successors in primary industry and countermeasures to the falling birthrate, the governor said, “As this is a late-marriage society, we have to support ways for people to encounter each other.

“We’re now considering three invitation programs — those to invite businesses, immigrants and marriage partners. We hope successors in the mango, beef, chicken and fisheries industries will be fostered,” he said.

The governor must also help ponder the future of Seagaia, a giant resort facility in the prefecture that has collapsed.

“It was a private-public facility designated as the first of its kind under the law to promote resort development, but it was created under state policy and guidance, and it wasn’t what the citizens themselves wanted,” he said.