National | Regional voices: Chubu

Tobishima is the next tourism hot spot — it just doesn’t know why yet

Chunichi Shimbun

Tobishima, Aichi Prefecture — a village without a single hotel, ryokan (Japanese-style inn) or souvenir shop — will establish a tourism exchange association in April, in the hope of encouraging local residents to rediscover the area’s appeals and become involved in boosting tourism.

The idea was conceived by Michito Takeda, 47, an official at travel agency JTB Central Japan Corp., who helped make the village of Achi in Nagano Prefecture a popular tourism destination by promoting it as the place with “the best starry sky in Japan.”

By adopting a unique method that prioritizes interactions with locals, the association hopes to find regional treasures that even some of the villagers are not currently aware of.

Monthly workshops in preparation for the launch of the association have been held since October. One night in January, nine men and women gathered at the village office in Tobishima to attend. The participants, varying in age and profession — including a housewife, a teacher of Japanese tea ceremony and an executive of a local chamber of commerce — discussed what kinds of activities can be offered for visitors to enjoy at the village.

Using a projector, Takeda showed them a few illustrations that look like paintings by Vincent Van Gogh.

“These are all landscape photographs of Tobishima that have been processed with a photo editing app,” he explained.

Takeda said the landscape of the village, a coastal wetland, has a lot in common with that of Arles in southern France, which Van Gogh loved. “Let’s look at the positive side of the fact that little development has been made and that a panoramic view of the rural landscape remains,” he said.

Looking at the illustrations, Toyohiro Tatematsu, a 33-year-old farmer, said, “I thought they were really Van Gogh’s paintings. It’s surprising that a familiar sight could look like this.”

During the two-hour discussion, the participants came up with ideas such as holding a Van Gogh-style painting contest and creating sunflower fields like those depicted in one of his famous paintings.

Tobishima, located west of Nagoya with a population of 4,705 as of Jan. 1, is dubbed the richest municipality in Japan in terms of financial power thanks to property tax revenues from large-scale factories and port facilities along the coast.

Local residents enjoy benefits offered by village authorities, including trips to the United States for junior high school students and a ¥1 million fund given to every resident who turns 100. But Tokio Kuno, the head of the village, said there is “little to be proud of other than that.” He hopes the association can help create tourist attractions in the village and revitalize the community through interactions with visitors.

Takeda at JTB Central Japan has been involved in promoting tourism for approximately 20 local governments in the Chubu region. He places an emphasis on upgrading existing attractions to make them more appealing for visitors, and holds long discussions with residents to discover the main attractions for each area.

In the case of the village of Achi, with which Takeda has been involved for the past six years, he heard residents comment on the starry sky during discussions. One resident said they take the starry sky for granted and that it is not something they would pay money to see in a planetarium, while another said his girlfriend from outside the village shed tears when she saw the night sky from the top of a mountain in the village.

That inspired Takeda to come up with a tour to experience the breathtaking view of Achi’s starry sky, which has attracted a total of 350,000 visitors to the top of a featureless mountain in the countryside over the six years since.

The village of Tobishima plans to hold a ceremony in March to commemorate the opening of the tourism exchange association and announce the ideas that villagers came up with in the workshop.

“I want the villagers to be able to imagine the happy faces of the tourists and the future of the village in 10 years,” said Takeda.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Jan. 29.