E-commerce allows entrepreneurs to flourish outside big cities

Kyodo

Growing numbers of business ventures are setting up in rural towns and cities as the Internet negates the problems of geographic isolation.

“We experience no disadvantages despite being far from Tokyo, as we can communicate with our customers via the Internet,” said Shinji Hamauzu, president of Miyazaki-based Aratana Inc.

Aratana helps businesses set up websites and launch online stores. It has secured a leading presence in the sector.

Hamauzu, 31, graduated from a technical college in Miyazaki and moved to Tokyo after finding a job there. He chucked it after three months and returned home.

Employed part-time by a local tailor in the city, he set up an online outlet for the store when a big shopping mall opened in the neighborhood.

Following on that success, Hamauzu decided the Internet was the sole tool of survival for shops in areas outside big cities.

“I saw it was clearly possible to create a big company based in Miyazaki,” he recalled.

Hamauzu founded Aratana in 2007 jointly with classmates from his college. Capitalizing on the Internet, it now provides support services to around 10 percent of the firms operating stores in Rakuten Ichiba, Japan’s biggest e-commerce site.

Masakuni Moriya, a 29-year-old Miyazaki native who heads the new-business section at Aratana, is happy with his job.

“As my wife also works outside the home, we feel relieved because we leave our kid, when sick, with my parents,” Moriya said.

He finds life in Miyazaki satisfying as “organic vegetables and healthy foodstuffs are available at relatively low prices.”

Aratana has 100 workers on its payroll, but Hamauzu hopes to raise that number to 1,000 in the future.

“I would like to hire competent people who have left the prefecture and offer greater value than those of companies in Tokyo,” he said.

Motoshi Kanke, 27, established Plainnovation Inc. in May last year in his hometown of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to “help make up for inadequate communication by children forced to live away from their parents and relatives as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake.” Plainnovation, with a staff of two, develops education software for children.

One day in October at a nursery school near Lake Inawashiro, six children were drawing pictures on smartphones and tablet computers using a Plainnovation app that helps people distribute their drawings.

Kanke was a senior at Keio University in Tokyo when the devastating megaquake and tsunami hit Tohoku in March 2011. He voluntarily visited evacuation centers and temporary housing and served as a playmate for children.

In addition to apps, Plainnovation arranges events such as dance sessions for kids who have had little chance to exercise since the Fukushima nuclear crisis. He is also involved in a group that manages indoor play spaces for children.

“I became keenly aware in Fukushima how important play is for children,” Kanke said. “I want to provide enjoyable games for children throughout Japan and worldwide from Fukushima.”