Club Kanazawa aims for unique tourism pitch

by Seana K. Magee

Kyodo News

NEW YORK — A group representing artists, businesses and promoters from Japan recently launched Club Kanazawa, a membership program — with concierge services — highlighting the ancient Japanese city’s assets to entice American and other international tourists to visit.

“Our goal is to plant a seed of interest,” Kenji Yoshii, president of the Cooperative Association for Promotion of Kanazawa Kaga Maki-e, said of the Club Kanazawa concept.

The club, he explained, aims to provide visitors unique chances to interact with the locals and craftsmen for “intimate and unforgettable travel experiences.”

By providing information through a new website and through people, Yoshii hopes his city can be introduced to the world as a place not to be missed.

“Nowhere else in Japan can you find the combination of art and traditional crafts,” Yoshii added, stressing Kanazawa’s rich cultural heritage.

Capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa is well known for “maki-e,” lacquerware sprinkled with gold or silver powder for decoration, among other crafts.

Historically speaking, many crafts were developed in the area during the Edo Period (1603-1868) under the Maeda family, the local rulers. The city’s promoters liken the clan to the Italian Medicis for their emphasis and support of the arts.

Because the city escaped the ravages of World War II, many of its traditional buildings remain intact. UNESCO included Kanazawa in its Creative Cities Network in 2009.

Besides crafts, the performing arts and local cuisine, the promoters are touting its natural beauty.

The program’s website, at clubkanazawa.com, was officially launched Feb. 1 at an event in Manhattan that attracted New Yorkers mainly from the travel industry.

While two koto players performed, sake from the region was served and there were opportunities to mingle with the artists and other group members. Maki-e products were on display.

The organizers set out a goal to gain 10,000 members by 2015. They also explained how the concept of the Japanese word “shun” (season) was behind their branding strategy to sell the city.

“The essence of shun is the awareness and appreciation of the exact moment an object reaches its peak,” Yoshii explained.

Pointing to those rare moments, such as when cherry blossoms peak, he emphasized how travelers to Kanazawa can also benefit from special seasonal occurrences as well.

Evelyn Teploff-Mugii, a designer and New York native who lives in Kanazawa and was part of the group from Japan, offered an example of how visitors might be able to participate in a rice harvest and see how it is transformed into sake.

Other opportunities could include witnessing the once-a-year firing of a remote mountain kiln.

“I am a real advocate for preserving the traditional crafts,” said Teploff-Mugii, who designs accessories utilizing traditional maki-e processes as well as paper and gift products.

Having spent nearly nine years in the city and having lived abroad for some 15 years, she is also a proponent of proactive, rather than passive, travel experiences, and believes her adopted hometown offers the former.

On the importance of launching the club concept in New York, Teploff-Mugii said, “New York is really one of the centers of the world to the arts and people who appreciate the arts.”

Yoshii, who called New York “an information hub,” urged visitors to Japan to move beyond the well-beaten path that often includes stops in Tokyo and Kyoto and seeing Mount Fuji.

“We would like to triple or quadruple the number of visitors to our city,” he said.