“Branding” will clear the future for regional business
■Formalization of government support towards the creation of regional branding
According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of foreigners visiting Japan in 2017 recorded an all-time high of 26.89 million people, a 19.3% increase from the previous year. The number of foreigners visiting Japan has been increasing steadily in the past 10 years to approximately 3.2 times of the 8.35 million people in 2008. In midst of such increase, in recent years, there have been changes in domestic trends of foreign visitors. Previously, as places to visit in their “first group tour”, inbound movement was concentrated to major cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, but recently, with the increase in number of repeaters whom can be called Japan fans, the form of trips is changing to so-called “FIT (Foreign Independent Tour = trips arranged by each individual) types. Each region which has been dealing with inbound attraction since early 2010s, has formalized their activities in acquiring future consumption.
In addition to the tourist industry, there are various projects moving forward towards regional “making attractive”, “dynamizing the economy”. From the 2015 fiscal year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has started the “Declarations of Support for Regional Specialties”, aimed at creating brands unique to each region, utilizing regional resources of each municipality. Regional companies which has large influence on regional economy and can/will be a valuable bearer of regional economy has been designated as a “Driving Company for the regional future”. In the 2017 fiscal year, 2,148 companies were chosen, among which, a large number was chosen from the Shikoku region, including 30 companies from Tokushima Prefecture, 45 companies from Kagawa Prefecture, 31 companies from Ehime Prefecture, 39 companies from Kochi Prefecture.
■Taking advantage of items/things which only exist there
The “Koku” of “Shikoku-no Koku”, stands for both “area” and “deep flavor of foodstuff”. With the Shikoku Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry acting as the project implementing body, and “J-chef’s”, an organization of top Japanese chefs joining forces with REBIRTH PROJECT TRADING Co. Ltd, a company based in Ehime involved in various activities, this project is promoting the attractions of primary products of the Shikoku region at metropolitan areas, through digging-up of foodstuff and developing attractive menus. From J-chef’s, Mr. Chikara Yamada, owner chef of the creative cuisine restaurant ‘YAMADA CHIKARA’ located in Minami-Azabu, Tokyo, known for spreading ‘espuma culinary’ ※ in Japan, and Mr. Koji Azuma, owner chef of the creative Chinese restaurant ‘Chi-Fu’ located in the Kansai area, got together to develop new menus utilizing foodstuff of Shikoku, centered around “Sodabushi” dried bullet mackerels of Tosashimizu City, Kochi Prefecture, which adds depth and rich aroma to foods. These menus were offered at several distinguished restaurants in the Tokyo metropolitan area, including the “Shangri-La hotel TOKYO”, thereby promoting the taste of Shikoku to many people.
Chef Yamada comments, “there are things which can be tasted only at each region. Things which are in-season or those which are largely influenced by freshness, should be enjoyed at the production center, to experience its true taste”, in addition to saying, “the existence of such local specialties and culinary culture, could be priming water in inducing people to visit that area”.
Furthermore, on this project, Mr. Makoto Takeda（竹田真）, representative of ‘Tosashimizu Futoshachu（土佐清水沸騰社中）’ an organization which operates an expand of restaurant businesses using “Sodabushi” says, “Tosashimizu City is the birthplace of John Manjiro, the great hero of the Bakumatsu (last days of the Tokugawa shogunate) era. Following in the footsteps of John Manjiro’s travels to America, we aim to advance overseas to Hawaii and San Francisco, with foodstuff and culinary culture of Tosashimizu, including the Sodabushi”. With the high-value-added new menus developed by top Japanese chefs through the “Shikoku-no Koku” project, they hope their efforts in advancing overseas with Sodabushi will gain momentum. The restaurant chain “Tosashimizu World” in which Mr. Takeda is involved in, has shown an amazing expansion, opening a total of 8 restaurants, including a related store in Kochi, Kobe, Tokyo, in approximately 2 years since the opening of their first restaurant in June 2015, with a total of over 360 thousand customers visiting their restaurants. In the background of such a rapid expansion is their world-view focused on “Tosashimizu”, and menu making good use of regional specialties, such as Sodabushi. Their efforts in promoting regional specialty food is contributing largely in improving the area’s degree of recognition. As the popularity of this chain rises, the restaurants have even been asked for advice from people wishing to move and live at Tosashimizu. In recent years, in cooperation with Tosashimizu City, they have carried out “Tosashimizu tours” for their restaurant customers. Because Tosashimizu City is located at the southernmost tip of Shikoku, even by plane it takes over 5 hours one-way from Tokyo and is called the “farthest city from Tokyo”. By local government working in cooperation with corporations to set forth local attractions, they are attempting to create an added-value worth making the long trip. This tour is scheduled to be carried out again in 2018.
1. At “Tosashimizu World, Ueno store”, they offer tastes of hometown utilizing seasonal foodstuff of Tosashimizu. 2. “Lightly roasted by straw, salt bonito” cooked by blazing straw, is a traditional delicacy of Tosashimizu, in which one may enjoy the characteristic aroma of straw. 3. “Crunchy Sodabushi Chili oil” devised by Chef, Chikara Yamada. 4. “Pork Kakuni (braised pork) Sodabushi, with amber chips” devised by Chef, Koji Azuma.
■Local trading companies delivering local attractions
to Japan and the world
One of the missions of the “Shikoku-no Koku” project, is to support the construction of a network between local trading companies which deliver regional specialties to metropolitan areas and/or overseas, with center firms which shoulder regional primary industries. Local trading companies stands for corporations which specializes in regional business through a variety of functions, from digging-up attractive regional specialties and/or services, marketing, cultivating of sales channels, and physical distribution. As regional revitalization gathers attention, the presence of such companies is rising also.
In this project, REBIRTH PROJECT TRADING is participating as the local trading company, contributing in communication with producers in each prefecture of Shikoku and project management of promotional activities in Tokyo. This company was established in April 2016, as a subsidiary with trading company functions of REBIRTH PROJECT, a company which the actor, Mr. Yusuke Iseya, is a joint representative. REBIRTH PROJECT TRADING is involved in the digging-up of hidden regional resources centered around Shikoku, development of products, branding, and the planning of national and international exit strategy. Mr. Takashi Kawai, President of REBIRTH PROJECT TRADING says, “Shikoku has many unique regional resources. Walking around each area in search of foodstuff to convey its attractions nationally and internationally, has enabled us to build a connection with each production center”. As a local trading company of Shikoku, they are involved in invigorating local primary industry, support in overseas advancement and induction of inbound recognition. In 2018, in cooperation with local government, in effort to increase visitors to Shikoku, they plan to strengthen activities in creating and transmitting contents which are attractive from both a business and tourism point of view.
“Shikoku-no Koku” logo
■Branding of regional resources and hand it business
In recent years, the branding of regional specialties with the aim of regional revitalization, is being done vigorously in all areas of Japan. During this time, ifs too has been involved in several regional revitalization projects, and within such project operations carried out in cooperation with individual regions, we find there are always welcome surprises and we are touched by these new encounters. Even in these times when any kind of information flies about in an instant, “things which are characteristic of that area”, “things which only exist there”, are still difficult to excavate without actually going to that local, and this process is always fresh, never lacking in interest. While the importance of experience consumption rises, this is another reason why regional business is gathering attention.
In these times when information of regions can be easily obtained without leaving the metropolitan area through the internet and SNS, it is understandable that the demand for FIT-type inbound trips, to “want to know”, “want to actually experience” more of Japan other than the metropolitan city is rising, and a reflection of such times. Not only is this a tendency in Japan. I feel this desire towards “experience” rising overseas too.
From here-on, it will become necessary to build a platform to stabilize regional business and maintain it on a long-term basis. By supporting local trading companies and/or regional future leading companies, the government too is promoting the foundation building of regional business, and the development of “attractions of each region, branding involving fundamental value” as a platform. Each region has unique attractions with hidden possibilities of business, but at the same time, because Japanese people tend to be poor in transmitting information, there exists a dilemma of not being able to fully convey the values and attractions.
However, in this “Shikoku-no Koku” project, through the approach and method of “branding”, it is penetrating, not only to corporations but also into local government levels. By being involved in the branding of their region themselves, it is beginning to bear fruit as business. As the next step, through branding eyeing global markets, we hope each Japanese region, each with its own special attraction, will expand out into the world.
※ Espuma culinary = dishes using mousse form foodstuff, made by nitrous oxide.