Japan’s Local Industries Approach the Next Stage

Recently in Japan, local industries promoting their region have been gaining attention. Various magazines and websites have been highlighting the high quality craftwork, organic foods and slow lifestyle of these outer prefectures. TV programs have also been illustrating ‘the good old days’ of Japan more frequently, which has helped raise the interest of the younger generations. There are shops in Tokyo which are run by local governments, to promote the products and produces of their area. In Ginza, Yurakucho or Shinjuku you are most likely to run into one of these prefecture-specific shops. In addition to products and produces rooted in the region, these outlets often sell fabrics (woven goods) and women’s wear grown and made in the area. The shops have been mostly successful and are helping the local areas to gain more recognition. Shops promoting Hokkaido and Okinawa have been popular among foreign tourists as well. Some shops have been expanding business by using English and Chinese to promote in-store and online. On the other hand, we have been seeing more of those who find value in the ‘lifestyle’ rather than the ‘products’ of the local areas. The cross-industry creative group “graf” composed of designers, furniture makers and artists, has been focusing on the people living in the more rural areas to find deeper understanding of Japanese values.

“There is a village called Ato with a population of a little over 6,000 people. In this village, an unused building of an abolished elementary school is now full of hundreds of books and resembles a library,” explains Shigeki Hattori, head of graf. A local elderly in their 80’s started collecting books and occupied the vacant school, which has led to the accumulation of 60,000 books. Hattori says, “Collecting under the basic concept that ‘books are knowledge’ and ‘books are life’, the donated items have been a representation of the people themselves.” People have since gathered around the former school, including artists who have decided to move there. Hattori laughs, “The books are now valued and known as the Ato library, and the local government has appointed the elderly to take care of the books.”

The retired population of this area keen on current topics such as international affairs, the economy and the government, and have clear thoughts when it comes to subjects such as TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership). Hattori continues, “We need to find independence from the global economy and pursue our own way of life. With (Japan’s) falling population, we need to become smarter about the way we live in this world. The elders are advanced in the way they created a community through books… without any spendings.” The same concept can be used for developing local industries. It boils down to simply “people living smarter.” We’ve been inspired by the elders in the Ato village to find a different and more advanced lifestyle. It may be that global activists can be found not in Tokyo, but the local regions.