Yokohama continues to foster close African ties


Staff Writer

Africa returns to Yokohama in the form of the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), which is being held through June 3.

Since the Port of Yokohama opened in 1859, which marked the end of Japan’s isolation during the Edo Period (1603-1867), Yokohama rapidly developed as a major city for international trade. With its openness and international feel, the city is home to facilities such as Pacifico Yokohama, a world-class convention complex, and has hosted many international events, including the final of the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in 2002 and the key APEC meetings in 2010. Yokohama was also the site of TICAD IV five years ago.

As the host city, Yokohama has taken initiatives to support TICAD V by “focusing on three themes: to grow together with Africa, to feel familiar with Africa and to welcome Africa with hospitality,” said Shona Minamino, a city official in charge of TICAD V.

In many ways, since Yokohama hosted TICAD IV in 2008, the distance between the city and Africa has dramatically shortened.

For example, in collaboration with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Yokohama has provided technical cooperation with African countries in water supply infrastructure, port management and wildlife conservation.

Partnership with Africa

As Japan’s first modern waterworks started in Yokohama in 1887, the cooperation between the city and Africa in this field has a long history. Yokohama has dispatched water management experts to African countries since 1977, starting with Kenya, and has accepted more than 200 trainees from Africa since 1992.

When the ninth International Symposium on Water Supply Technology was held in Yokohama in November 2012, the city invited embassy officials from the African Diplomatic Corps and organized a workshop to let them discuss water supply technology with Japanese businesspeople.

In the field of port and harbor management, the city has dispatched its experts to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique and has accepted trainees from many African countries. Also, Yokohama City’s three municipal zoos have conducted various exchanges in wildlife conservation in cooperation with the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.

As Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi said, “A municipal government is close to local companies, so we should build a relationship as a partner to grow together and promote concrete exchanges.”

The city has signed framework agreements with JGC Corp., a global engineering company headquartered in Yokohama, in June 2010, with JICA in October 2011 and with other companies and institutions.

For local Yokohama companies to get to know more about Africa, the city has held various events, including Africa business seminars in June 2012 and February this year, in collaboration with JICA and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).

Finding solutions

While Yokohama is one of Japan’s largest municipalities with a population of about 3.7 million, the 150-year path to the present has not always been smooth. The city was affected by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, bombing during World War II and a population explosion that led to environmental deterioration in the era of high growth in Japan. Yokohama is one of the few major cities in the world to have dealt with and overcome these challenges.

Now, Yokohama is faced with even greater challenges, such as the rapid aging of its population and energy issues in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011.

Nevertheless, the city is actively engaged in sustainable urban planning that enhances the living standards of its residents while realizing a balance between environmental policy and economic development.

The Yokohama Smart City Project, an initiative to establish a Japanese-style smart grid with possibilities for overseas expansion, was selected as a Next Generation Energy and Social Systems Demonstration Area by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in April 2010.

In collaboration with 37 companies, including Accenture, Tokyo Gas, Toshiba, Nissan Motor, Panasonic, Meidensha and TEPCO, the city is working on various projects, such as the introduction of renewable energy, energy management of households, buildings and local communities and next generation transportation systems.

This April, under the YSCP, the city started one of Japan’s largest demonstration experiments on conserving energy and electricity, involving about 1,700 households that had already been introduced to home energy management systems, or HEMS. With national and local government subsidies, the city aims to increase the number of households using HEMS to 4,000 by fiscal 2014.

“One of our missions, unique in Yokohama, is to transform the existing, established big city into a sustainable, ‘smart’ one, which is more difficult than creating a smart city from scratch,” said Toshinori Mishima, a city official at the Climate Change Policy Headquarters of Yokohama City.

In 2011, in recognition of these initiatives, the city received the World Smart City Award at the Smart City Expo World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, and was selected by the national government as a FutureCity.

At the same time, the city believes that its mission and role is to deliver its long-standing expertise in sustainable development to the rest of Japan and the world.

Overseas projects

Y-PORT, which stands for Yokohama Partnership of Resources and Technologies, is the city’s newly established technological cooperation system. In this system, Yokohama provides advisory services to emerging cities in developing countries that are facing the widespread urban problems such as water and air pollution, traffic jams and garbage and waste issues. All of these Yokohama has suffered from and solved through an effective water management system, expanding infrastructure networks including efficient public transportation, and extensive garbage recycling and disposal systems.

Through Y-PORT, Yokohama collaborates with the private sector based in the city, which may provide water purifying facilities, recycling plants or services related to clean energy. This is also a way to help these companies expand overseas amid a shrinking domestic market.

“Major companies have already expanded or are expanding their business overseas, but for small and medium-size enterprises, even though boasting cutting-edge technologies, for example in recycling, it is not easy to start overseas operations,” said Takashi Kondo, a manager of the international technical cooperation division in charge of Y-PORT. “Through the Y-PORT system, Yokohama can serve as a good liaison for the companies by making firsthand observations and helping business matching under the partnership with municipalities overseas.”

This fledging urban development system is slowly taking shape. In March 2012, Yokohama and Cebu in the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding on comprehensive collaborations, which was followed in April by the signing of a similar pact with Da Nang in Vietnam.

‘Mutual Growth’

For TICAD V, Yokohama has come up with the slogan “Africa and Yokohama, Towards Mutual Growth.” The city is looking to further enhance partnerships with African countries through various systems and channels, but these are not only about economic relations.

Since TICAD IV in 2008, the African Festa has been held in Yokohama every year, which has greatly contributed to fostering a sense of closeness with Africa among Japanese people by showcasing African culture, including music, dance, art, food and other products.

Also, Yokohama City has conducted a One School One Country project in which students of 59 elementary schools and 10 junior high schools in Yokohama studied about a country in Africa and enjoyed a cultural exchange event with the ambassador of or persons who has some relations with the respective country.

The city is also holding a One Station One Country project. Among the program, one of the most popular is rubber stamp collecting campaign through June 5 in which each of the 40 stations of the Yokohama Municipal Subway is introducing an African country.

With luck, visitors to Yokohama may encounter two buses decorated with brightly colored paintings created by elementary school students from Yokohama and Africa. Perhaps these students will be the major players in the next generation of Africa-Japan relations.

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