With resources like Towada-Hachimantai National Park, Appi Kogen, and Mt. Iwate, our city has boundless potential. Hachimantai City's first mayor, Mr. Tamura Masahiko, and Albertville Olympic gold medalist skier Mikata Reiichi sat down to discuss what needs to be done to fulfill this promise.
Tamura I knew that you were part of the 1992 gold medal-winning Nordic combined team and a highly successful athlete, but I hear that you're now working for Iwate Hotel & Resort (Appi Kogen)?
Mikata That's right. I work with travel agents in the Tokyo metro area to help entice visitors to Appi Kogen. I always emphasize the natural beauty, convenience of our high speed transportation network, and the central location in northern Tohoku (you can get to Akita, Aomori, or the Iwate coast in under two hours) that makes this area a great home base for touring the region.
Tamura Tourism is a wide but deep business. I think that to promote tourism in Hachimantai City, we have to tie it in with primary industries like agriculture. There's only so much you can do if you think of tourism, agriculture, and commerce as separate—community vitalization requires the cooperation of all three.
Mikata The Hachimantai area, including Appi Kogen, is a hot destination for school trips. More than 15,000 students visit every year. The number of schools requesting to stay with farming families is increasing slowly but surely, and helping out on these farms has become a popular program. Guided hiking on Hachimantai offers the chance to learn about flowers, wetlands, and the great outdoors. That's exactly the kind of experiential learning with primary industries that you were talking about.
Tamura But that's a big burden on the farming families who have to put up all those students. The Hachimantai City area has all kinds of hotels and lodges. Wouldn't it be easier to let those places take care of the accommodations, and leave the experiential learning to the farmers?
Mikata That would be great for the hotels, too. School trips are very important—it's like planting the seeds of the future. So many people who visit us as students return as adults.
Tamura The Hachimantai City administration is also working hard to attract junior high school trips. I think that planting trees at the site of the old Matsuo Mine and observing the water neutralization plant are perfect learning activities for kids that age.
Mikata I agree. When you think that it was the biggest in this half of the world, just seeing the Matsuo Mine remains is worth the trip.
Tamura We even have foreign researchers who come to observe the plant as it neutralizes the highly acid water seeping out of the mine. We plan to keep working together with JOGMEC (Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation), the facility owner to be able to use the plant even more for observation.
Mikata Appi Kogen Ski Resort is famous for winter recreation, but Hachimantai is better known for fun in the green seasons. I think that naming the new city Hachimantai, too, is a great opportunity to leverage that appeal.
From a waiting game to aggressive tourism promotion
Tamura I think we need to really work on training tourist guides. Just wandering around Hachimantai is not enough to leave a lasting impression. But with a guide who can explain about the history and environment of the mountain would make a huge difference.
Mikata Japan's baby boomers are just beginning to retire. They'll have money, time, and the motivation to learn, so I think that we really need to target them.
Tamura There's plenty to do in regardless of the season, so really, it should be possible to attract the same person four times in the same year. I have to say that, personally, I like fall foliage and the the new green of spring best.
Mikata It's unfortunate that the number of visitors drops so much from May, after Golden Week.
Tamura I think that's because in the past we didn't really work hard to entice people to come—it was a waiting game. Even when everyone south of us is mired in the muggy, oppressive rainy season, it's still dry and delightful here. That should appeal to a lot of people. Something to the effect of, "Get out of the sweltering, sticky heat," would be a good tourism campaign slogan. Because just putting scenery in a pamphlet won't do the trick.
Mikata If we're going to push green tourism, I think that the hospitality industry will have to work as one with farming families to make things work. And it would really help if the city government could help to pull things together so that we can have, for example promotional campaigns in Tokyo.
Tamura It appears that nobody had really tried that until now, but we've started up a monthly debate group that includes representatives from the city administration, the tourism association, and the hospitality industry.
Mikata Hachimantai has beautiful nature and great hot springs. But I think that another thing tourists are looking for is food. Fortunately, the farmers of Hachimantai City provide tons of great ingredients. I think it would be great if hotels and farmers could work together to offer guests delicious local foods. Again, I think that the city government has a role to play here as the mediator.
Tamura There's already an organization of producers and hotels, so we'll work to make sure that it's effective.
Mikata As people are becoming concerned with their health and with "the real thing," they are seeking out safe, high-quality natural products.
Tamura Hachimantai City is the prefecture's biggest wild mountain grape producer. There's a lot of buzz about these wild grapes because they're high in iron, anthocyanin, and polyphenols. So guests are sure to be pleased if their hotel offers wild grape juice. We have the ingredients, it's just a matter of using them the right way. So first of all, it's important to think about how we cooperate with our primary industries. These industries are links to the outside world, so if tourism and primary industries are healthy, the purchasing power of local shopping districts increases. Maximizing this synergy is the job of government.
Tamura You're a world-class skier, and I'd really like to create a system for training more future Olympians in Hachimantai City.
Mikata There are less children these days, and the popularity of sports is dwindling, too. I learned skiing at school, and we played baseball and dodgeball until it got dark. If kids had more opportunities to enjoy sports from a young age, I think things would change.
Tamura The New City Construction Plan we adopted when Hachimantai City was created includes eight projects. One of those is a sports promotion project. We are trying to improve our facilities to attract major sports competitions and promote sports-related tourism. The city in general has a lot of experience in winter sports. Also, rugby is popular in the Nishine area, and soccer is popular in Ashiro, and both areas host camps and tournaments. We have a base to work with, so now we need to improve what's there and make the effort to really publicize what we have.
Mikata I hear that more than 30,000 people use the Appi Kogen soccer ground, Aspa, every year. The owners in the Hosono minshuku (tourist home) area invested together to make this facility, with five fields. I hear that the fields are kept in excellent condition. And the great scenery, surrounded by white birches, is really popular, too.
Tamura With their own ideas, they've given Aspa its own unique flavor. With their own efforts, they have created a great facility and attracted users. On behalf of the city government I can say that not only would we like to offer them some economic subsidies, but we also want to help these creative, diligent folks in any way we can. If they came to the city administration and said, "We've come this far, now lend us a hand," we'd be more than happy to help.
Mikata People talk about the mecca of this and the mecca of that. In Japan, for baseball it's Koshien Stadium and for soccer it's Tokyo National Stadium. If there was a place in Hachimantai City that the whole nation could see as a mecca, they'd come in droves without you doing anything.
Tamura One major advantage we have is our hot springs. For athletes, this is a great way to relieve fatigue and rest up. Many people use cool mountain retreats closer to Tokyo for their sports camps, but I think that if they came here once they'd understand the pluses we can offer. That would be a big step toward being a bona fide mecca.
Mikata The city is still a newborn, but I'm very excited about its future. We in the private and public sectors both have a lot to do.
Tamura We have a lot we want to do. We need to expand our network of cooperation and association and create a great new future for our city. Thank you.
〒028-7192 Tel 0195-76-2111 / Fax 0195-75-0469
Matsuo Branch Office 19-75 Noda, Hachimantai City, Iwate, Japan
〒028-7392 Tel 0195-74-2111 / Fax 0195-74-2102
Ashiro Branch Office 70 Kasumada, Hachimantai City, Iwate, Japan
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