KYOTO — If Japan wants to revitalize the sluggish economy and turn its prospects around, there are plenty of indications that Kyoto’s way of life as well as its way of doing business are the answer, according to Hiromi Ichida, a fashion critic who has lived in the ancient capital for more than half a century.

Hiromi Ichida promotes Kyoto as a modern business center.

While Kyoto may be famous for its traditional culture and scenic beauty, it has also attracted the world’s attention in recent years as the city where many of Japan’s high-tech venture firms are based.

In her book, “Kyo no Sokojikara” (“Kyoto’s Underlying Strength”), Ichida says the city is home to both long-established stores and venture firms, which have borrowed techniques and business ideas from the traditional industries still very much alive in Kyoto. As academia is also active here, she added, Kyoto has huge potential to nurture new businesses.

Ichida’s undisguised love for the city may lead to the conclusion that she is a Kyoto native, but she was born in Osaka in 1932 and spent some of her childhood in Shanghai. Her family moved to Kyoto after World War II, and she took over her mother’s beauty shop after trying various jobs, including working as a secretary, actress and beautician.

She became a well-known figure after appearing in a TV commercial for Japanese tea, but she is also famous for her research into folk costumes from around the globe, of which she also has a sizable collection. She said she understands Kyoto well because she has seen it both from within and from the outside.

Ichida attributes the strength of Kyoto’s businesses to their focused operations. “Businesses in Kyoto do not put too much weight on expansion, as they want to provide customers with the best quality goods,” she said in a recent interview. For instance, Kawabata Douki’s “chimaki” (cakes made from arrowroot starch wrapped in bamboo leaves) are always sold out by noon. While a shop in Osaka or Tokyo might make more to rake in a bigger profit, the Kyoto shop sticks to its traditional business style.

“That’s why Kyoto’s businesses have been able to last so many years without their fortunes declining, even in times of recession,” Ichida observed.

Another unique element of Kyoto, she said, is the tendency of people to avoid conflicts. “As it is a small place, hostile relationships may continue for generations once a conflict occurs. To avoid that, people try to maintain good relations with each other.”

Kyoto’s traditional arts and techniques, meanwhile, are supported by local customers with a sharp eye for value, Ichida said, adding that this instinct is nurtured at home.

“I, for instance, was raised in a house where the hanging scroll was changed in line with the seasons,” Ichida said.

But she said she believes these traditions are disappearing, even in Kyoto. “Young people nowadays are losing their sense of appreciating beauty because they have fewer opportunities to pick it up from everyday life.”

This can be seen in the recent popularity of cheaper goods, Ichida said, expressing concern that this in turn contributes to the decline of traditional skills and techniques as well as culture as a whole.

“Goods are priced in accordance with the cost of raw materials, transportation and other elements which went into their production. Unless a product carries an appropriate price tag, valuable things may be lost,” Ichida said.

The disappearance of culture and traditions is common around the world, as Ichida has discovered after visiting more than 100 countries for her research into folk costumes.

“More and more folk costumes are being replaced by modern clothes. As my research focuses on people’s everyday clothing, which will never be housed in a museum, I feel a strong sense of crisis.”

The home is where traditional culture should be preserved, Ichida said, adding that in Kyoto, it is important to preserve “matsuri,” or festivals, the art of dyeing and the culture of “kokoro” — offering hospitality and entertainment to others.

“It is so easy to stop doing something — keeping such traditions alive is where the difficulty lies,” Ichida added.

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