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Nurturing Towns by Bringing Unique

Regional Characteristics to the Fore

Interview with Kurashiki Mayor Kaori Ito

As interest in regional revitalization rises throughout Japan, the city of Kurashiki is maintaining its path of developmental growth even as it attracts crowds of visitors from other parts of Japan and abroad. We asked Mayor Kaori Ito, the driving force behind this success, to talk about regional appeal and Kurashiki’s initiatives, as well as the keys to making regional revitalization work.

What are some of the attractive qualities of Japan’s provincial regions?
In Japan there are a wide variety of self-governing municipalities, ranging from villages with populations of less than two hundred to big cities of over three million. Each region possesses its own unique diversity, such as its climate and natural features, its history, its path of cultural development, and so on. Another highly attractive aspect of Japan’s regions is that the spirit and humanity of mutual support—what you might call the good, old-fashioned bond that brings Japanese people together—is still deeply rooted here.

What do you believe to be the main issue facing Japan’s provincial regions?
Dealing with the decline in population. While the current total population of Japan is about 127 million, a decline in population began in 2008 and is expected to accelerate. Many regional municipalities are suffering population decline, predominantly due to the migration of people to the Tokyo area. Rectifying this overconcentration in Tokyo and finding ways to create more regional vitality are the key challenges faced by Japan’s provincial regions.

Please describe the current situation in Kurashiki and tell us what initiatives are being pursued.
Kurashiki, which faces the Seto Inland Sea, is situated in the western part of Japan, about an hour by bullet train from Kyoto. It’s a core city with a population of approximately 480,000 people. We are blessed with a temperate climate and an abundance of agricultural and marine products, and since ancient times we have been a strategic transportation hub for commerce and industry. Since we are also known as the birthplace of domestically produced jeans, our textile industry is thriving. In addition to being ranked as the number four industrial city nationally in shipments of manufactured goods, we are also a tourist town with about 6.33 million people visiting annually.

The residents of Kurashiki are highly conscious of preserving and cultivating the traditional townscape, with the Edo Period Kurashiki Bikan historical quarter and many other old dwellings and merchant houses still standing. In recent years, with these buildings undergoing renovations, and by providing new facilities for attracting visitors, we are bringing in approximately eight hundred thousand new visitors annually. Through such developments, we are also seeing more people moving in to Kurashiki than moving out, indicating a more robust society.

Furthermore, since I took office as mayor I have made strong efforts to support childcare, and we now have a total fertility rate of 1.61, higher than the national average of 1.43. And the number of births per year exceeds the number of deaths, meaning we have a naturally increasing population.
Kurashiki has also entered into agreements with nine neighboring cities and towns to initiate coordinated plans for developing the economy and improving the lives of our residents. By taking advantage of the local resources controlled by each respective municipality, we can pursue a wide range of development. I would like to take the role of lead runner in coordinating the regions toward revitalization.

What is the key to success in regional revitalization?
For regional revitalization to occur, I believe we must be fully aware of how the region’s ancestors have cultivated its particular history, traditions, culture and industry, and by improving upon them, create unique and appealing community development initiatives that will make people say, “I’d like to go there,” or “I’d like to live here,” or “I’d like to continue living here.”
Also, with the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, Japan has set a goal of hosting twenty million foreign tourists in 2020. Here in Kurashiki, we plan to put our efforts into offering Japanese-style omotenashi, meaning hospitality, so that foreign guests can experience and enjoy the rich local ingredients of our dining culture, as well as our townscapes, our history, our traditional culture and our Japanese spirit.

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