Mie Gov. Eikei Suzuki, selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum this year, is trying to promote his prefecture on the global stage.
He has visited 10 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas since he took over the prefecture’s top position in April 2011, to discuss economics, academic collaborations, exchanges and other subjects.
“Mie Prefecture has the highest growth potential in Japan. It also has Ise Jingu Shrine, the origin of Japanese spirit. I use those sales points to promote Mie to the world,” Suzuki told The Japan Times at the prefecture’s satellite office in Tokyo.
Regarding growth potential, Suzuki referred to a report by the Japan Center for Economic Research, released in March, revealing that Mie has the highest expected economic growth among the country’s 47 prefectures from 2011 to 2025. Aichi Prefecture holds second place and Ishikawa Prefecture was ranked third.
Mie is home to many large factories, including those of Honda Motor Co., Toshiba Corp. and Sharp Corp. This places Mie very high among prefectures in terms of the monetary value of shipped manufactured goods.
Suzuki’s overseas visits have yielded concrete results such as signed memorandums of understanding with states, cities and provinces of other countries.
Last month, Mie Prefecture and Washington State signed a Memorandum of Understanding on various industrial collaborations, including in the aerospace, life sciences and information technology industries.
In the aerospace sector, Washington State is the home of Boeing and many manufacturers of mechanical parts used in aircraft are based in Mie. For example, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. has chosen its factory in the prefecture to build the vertical and horizontal tail fins of its next-generation Mitsubishi Regional Jets.
“In the field of aircraft manufacturing, making it lighter is the never-ending theme. Mie can offer that technology, giving us a win-win relationship,” Suzuki said.
In life sciences, the University of Washington is renowned for its focus on primary care and nursing in the U.S., while Mie Prefecture has been designated as a special innovative zone to collect big medical data of residents, Suzuki said.
He also helped to facilitate an agreement in joint research on environmental technology between Mie University and Fraunhofer, a world-renowned research organization based in Germany.
Suzuki has also been successful in building a close relationship with Taiwan, which sends many tourists to Mie. Thanks to his efforts, in May last year, the Japan-Taiwan Tourism Summit was held in the city of Shima in the prefecture, bringing together members of the tourism industries of Japan and Taiwan.
The amicable relationship stems from various exchanges. In February last year, Mie became the first Japanese prefectural government to exhibit lanterns in the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival, organized by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. Mie exhibited ninja and ama (female divers) lanterns to promote Mie.
The Iga district in Mie is the birthplace of ninja, and Mie boasts 1,000 registered ama (female divers), accounting for half of the ama in Japan. Ama in Mie dive for Japanese ise-ebi spiny lobsters and other marine products.
Suzuki is not interested in simply entering into sister city agreements that are often little more than just gestures.
“I consider myself the CEO of Mie Prefecture Inc. I don’t want to make pacts just for friendship. I want to bring Mie to the global stage and bring profits to Mie,” Suzuki said.
“Our job is to lower the hurdles for companies in Mie to do business with foreign counterparts by way of exchanges and diplomacy,” he said.
Suzuki also promotes tourism in Mie to the world, focusing on Asia, and he is planning to visit Thailand and Malaysia this fall.
The two countries are “big markets” for Mie tourism, Suzuki, who plans to meet many travel agencies and other travel-related companies during his visits, said.
Visitors from Malaysia are on the rise. The number of Malaysians who visited Japan rose by 50 percent from 2012 to 2013. The corresponding number was 67 percent for Malaysians who visited Mie Prefecture, Suzuki said.
Asked about the strong points of Mie tourism, the first thing he cited was Ise Jingu Shrine, Japan’s foremost Shinto shrine, which underwent a partial rebuilding last year, something that happens every 20 years.
Suzuki also cited Suzuka International Racing Course, or Suzuka Circuit for short, a motorsport race track that hosts prestigious international races. It is located in Suzuka, Mie, and operated by Mobilityland Corp., a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co.
Ise-ebi and Matsusaka beef are “the top two” foods Mie is known for, while Mikimoto Pearl Island in the Prefecture is the origin of Mikimoto Pearl. On the Pacific coast of Mie, there are “ama cottages,” which serve ise-ebi, abalone, fish and other seafood freshly caught by ama.
Mie also has high percentage of foreign residents. With a total population of 1.85 million, the prefecture has about 41,000 registered foreign residents, ranking it the third highest ratio of foreign residents in Japan’s 47 prefectures.
He would also like to attract direct investment from overseas as Mie has many small and midsize high-tech enterprises and the nation’s greatest growth potential.
Among Suzuki’s outstanding achievements are his measures to tackle the declining birthrate.
The ideal number of children for a couple in Mie Prefecture is 2.5, while the actual number is 1.7. Suzuki, who took 3½ days of “quasi” paternity leave in July 2012, has encouraged male employees of the prefectural government to also take paternity leave.
The ratio of men taking paternity leave in the prefectural government had been about 5 percent, and Suzuki last year set a goal of increasing that to 10 percent by March. The government undertook measures to encourage paternity leave and the figure ended up at 13 percent in March.
In another move to tackle the declining birth rate, Mie began subsidizing fertility treatment for men in April, making it the first prefecture to do so.
Currently, about one in six couples are receiving fertility treatment, but in Japan it is mainly women undergoing treatment, Suzuki said. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said men contribute to infertility in 48 percent of the cases, with men being the sole cause in 24 percent of cases and both men and women contribute to infertility in the other 24 percent of cases.
“Globally, both men and women go to hospitals for fertility treatment. Only in Japan do women go alone most of the time,” he said.
Suzuki’s push for men to have subsidized fertility treatments has caught on in both Fukui Prefecture and the city of Urayasu in Chiba Prefecture.
“On measures to tackle the declining birth rate, Japanese men have had the mentality that it’s a women’s job. I think that is one of the main reasons for the declining birth rate,” he said.
Suzuki said he can do many small things that will eventually change the culture and people’s mentality.
“And that’s the most important job as a leader,” he said.
Asked what he thinks of being selected as a Young Global Leader, he said, “Leaders, especially politicians, can easily become a big fish in a little pond. Therefore, being in a global community such as this and having an opportunity to add to my value is great.”
“I want to expand my views as a politician and continue to send the message to the world that Mie’s economy has great potential.”