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Local resources key to sustainable society

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In a local community, enhancing cooperation among relevant players is vital to creating what could be a model for a sustainable society, panelists stressed at a Tokyo forum held earlier this year, citing their experience.

Takashi Mitachi, senior adviser of The Boston Consulting Group KK, said the international community is closely watching how Japan addresses social changes, now facing population decline after going through successful industrialization.

“Capitalizing on local natural assets is crucial to realizing a sustainable society that enables the smooth running of capitalism,” noted Mitachi, who served as the panel discussion moderator during the forum organized by The Japan Times on Feb. 13. “Ambitious experiments toward creating such a model have been conducted.”

Observing various examples across Japan, Mitachi pointed out that for successful implementation of such assets, the key is to conduct collaborative efforts by relevant parties to find out measures that work toward a common purpose, overcoming differences of public, private and industrial sectors.

One of the three panelists, Genzo Shimokawa, director of Satoumi Campus of Ise-Shima in Mie Prefecture, works in Masaki Island — which has a population of around 80 — on Ago Bay in the city of Shima, after having served as a national park ranger for the Ministry of Environment.

The bay is known as the birthplace of pearl cultivation, a tradition started by Kokichi Mikimoto over 100 years ago. Shimokawa explained that due to over-cultivation, the marine environment worsened, prompting people to work toward cleaner seas so that pearls could be cultured in the future.

“We have engaged in attracting more tourists and other people, providing them with opportunities to see firsthand our aquaculture industry and to experience the marine environment. From an ecotourism perspective, these efforts offer a nature experience,” Shimokawa said.

He recalled that he needed to put forth various efforts to fit in with the local island community, where the elderly made up around 80 percent. He managed to gradually gain the locals’ trust after helping resolve what was bothering them.

“I had no idea of what troubles people in the private sector had when I was a public official. So, I recommend public sector officials experience life in the private sector,” Shimokawa said.

In a bid to revitalize underpopulated areas, Hiroshima Prefecture underwent two major attitude changes regarding policies, explained Fumi Kimura, then-director of the Hilly and Mountainous Areas Development Division of the prefecture’s Local Policy Bureau.

In crafting a development plan for hilly and mountainous areas, Kimura said the prefecture decided to capitalize on what they already possessed, not to eliminate what they didn’t have.

“Many people from such areas tend to say there’s nothing there, namely convenience stores or restaurants,” said Kimura who assumed the post in fiscal year 2014. “But some people made efforts to utilize timber left over from forest thinning, circulating them in their communities for various uses, including for rocket stoves.”

The other change was to put forth more efforts toward attracting people who appreciate the values Hiroshima possesses, for example, the appeal of hilly and mountainous areas, as well as the prefecture’s remote islands, Kimura noted.

“Some people who were attracted by the lifestyle there have relocated to such areas,” she said. “Rather than trying to get people to stay, we thought it’s better to draw people who identify with such values.”

After establishing the development plan, the prefecture launched a seminar targeting people from their 20s to 40s to nurture human resources who could make the most of resources in hilly and mountainous areas.

“Learning from the seminar, one business created pet food made from venison, utilizing parts not suitable for human consumption,” she explained. “There are many young people who consider how to make use of what they have.”

Meanwhile, revitalization of rural communities features the introduction of latest technologies. Hiroki Kuriyama, head of strategic business development and in charge of the 2020 Project at NTT Corp., said the firm has helped with infrastructure development projects across the country, including creating an optical fiber network in Ama, a remote island town in Shimane Prefecture.

“As part of our efforts to rejuvenate local areas, we help some major cities introduce digital technologies into their infrastructure, as well as aid tourism, commerce promotion and traffic control through digitalization,” Kuriyama explained.

For instance in Sapporo, heavy snowfall largely affects the lives and traffic of around 1.95 million people, so the city plans to introduce various digital devices to offer a more comfortable environment for them, he noted.

“Our technologies also enable us to visualize how and where international visitors spend money and how they travel around the city,” Kuriyama said. “Local companies could utilize such statistical data for their marketing.”

He added: “We found that fresh food sells well to visiting travelers, contrary to our expectations. We strive to exploit previously unseen or missed markets together, in a city-wide effort.”

Additionally, Kuriyama noted the telecommunications company has entered into a partnership for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, with a wish to “rejuvenate the whole country again.” He added the firm also supported the J. League.

This series introduces municipalities and local companies promoting the beauty and excellence of deep Japan.