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IIST e-Magazine (For the Japanese version of this article)

Aomori as a Source of Vitality for Tohoku and Japan Recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake | Yoshiko Sato Director General Tourism and International Affairs Strategy Bureau Aomori Prefectural Government [Date of Issue: 31/July/2013 No.0221-0897]

Date of Issue: 31/July/2013

Aomori as a Source of Vitality for Tohoku and Japan
Recovering from the Great East Japan Earthquake

Yoshiko Sato
Director General
Tourism and International Affairs Strategy Bureau
Aomori Prefectural Government


To bring in foreign capital to support stable growth for the Aomori economy, the Tourism and International Affairs Strategy Bureau was set up within the prefectural government to take coordinated approach to promoting companies' overseas expansion, growing exports of locally produced goods, and attracting foreign tourists. Just as the Bureau was rolling out an ambitious international economic exchange program, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck.


1. Introduction

The Great East Japan Earthquake struck at 14:46 on 11 March 2011, with violent tremors and massive tsunami waves wreaking extensive damage particularly along the Pacific coast in the south of Aomori and causing unimaginable hardship and grief for the prefecture's citizens.

The Tohoku Shinkansen, long awaited by local residents, had only begun operating end-to-end on 4 December 2010, and on 5 March, the East Japan Railway Company had just put into service its latest E5 series Hayabusa Shinkansen model, which boasts the highest speed in Japan. With the large-scale Aomori Destination Campaign due to start in April, the whole prefecture was wired with anticipation of a massive tourist influx from in and beyond Japan as the tourist season, encompassing the Golden Week holiday and the summer festivals, kicked in around Aomori. And then the earthquake hit.

2. Tourism and International Affairs Strategy Bureau recovery efforts

With the interruption of the transport network connecting Aomori with Tokyo, consumer sentiment subdued nationwide, and the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant causing reputational damage, the flow of visitors to Aomori tourist spots dried up, and a string of accommodation cancellations immediately after the disaster forced tourist facilities to close their doors and lay off staff. Instead of enjoying a golden business opportunity, Aomori's tourist industry was effectively flattened.

Countries around the world also placed import restrictions on Japanese food products. Where the combined efforts of the prefectural government, producers and businesses had fostered steady export growth for Aomori apples and many other local agricultural, forestry and fisheries products, these came to a standstill, and uncertainty about future prospects caused a feeling of unease to pervade rapidly throughout the community.

Aomori Destination Campaign logo

Aomori Destination Campaign logo

Faced with this situation, on 18 March, around one month after the disaster, the Aomori Destination Campaign Steering Committee, which comprises the six companies in the JR Group, Aomori Prefecture and related organizations, decided to go ahead with the campaign as planned over the three months from 23 April to 22 July. While we were naturally concerned about the difficult conditions that persisted in the affected areas, including the many people still living in evacuation centers, the possibility that subdued consumer sentiment would push not only Tohoku but Japan as a whole into recession meant that something had to be done toward economic recovery. We wanted Aomori Prefecture, which had suffered minor damage compared to the other affected prefectures, to take the lead in achieving an early recovery, instilling vitality in Aomori and the Tohoku region and, through the power of tourism, bringing some light back to Japan as a whole. It was this strong feeling among the people of Aomori that led us to make the major decision to go ahead with the campaign.

Hirosaki is one of Japan's most famous cherry blossom sites. During the campaign, the peak of Hirosaki's cherry blossom festival was the cue for an astonishingly fast return to complete operation of the Tohoku Shinkansen line, the holding of the Tohoku Rokkon Sai Festival-which brought together all six of Tohoku's major summer festivals-and, subsequently, 'Visit Tohoku' tours and Tohoku product exhibitions as national initiatives. This drive to support for Tohoku's recovery, underpinned by the cooperation of a huge number of people, gradually gathered pace and scope to encompass all of Japan.

To restore Aomori's agricultural, forestry and fisheries exports and inbound tourism, we started instituting a range of measures as of immediately after the disaster. Given the offshore impact of reputational damage, we thought it necessary to restore the confidence of overseas consumers, and other relevant parties, so we arranged an appropriate division of labor with the central government and related organizations and undertook PR on the safety of Japanese agricultural products and Japan's tourist areas.

Apples in particular are Aomori's best-known local product. A key export item, apples account for around 70 percent of the fruit exported from Japan, and around 90 percent of those are expected to come from Aomori. Our belief was that the return of confidence in Aomori's apples, as well as export volume, would act as a symbol of the restoration of the image of Japan's agricultural products as safe and reliable. To advertise the safety of the prefecture's agricultural, forestry and fisheries products and steadily win back international trust, we created a Web page for viewing in a number of foreign languages the results of radiation tests on local produce, as well as the results of environmental radiation monitoring around the prefecture. We also ran a vigorous sales promotion campaign in and beyond Japan, involving even the prefectural governor in PR.

PR effort by Aomori Prefectural Governor Shingo Mimura, Overseas promotion
3. Conclusion

Two years after the disaster, inbound tourism and exports of local produce are moving steadily toward recovery. Intensive tourism promotion campaigns pushing Aomori's attractions in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, including efforts by the Aomori governor, have seen inbound tourist numbers return to 64 percent of pre-disaster levels, the highest recovery rate in Tohoku. FY2012 Aomori apple exports too rose to 14,461 tons as at the end of April 2013, 150 percent up on a year-on-year basis.

August this year will usher in a season of thrilled and feverish excitement for local residents, with all Aomori's summer festivals blasting off together-the Aomori Nebuta Festival, the Hirosaki Neputa Festival, the Hachinohe Sansha Taisai Festival and the Goshogawara Tachi Neputa Festival.

Aomori Prefecture and the whole Tohoku region will continue to march forward to achieve the earliest possible recovery. We appreciate your continued support, and welcome you to visit!

(original article : Japanese)

Festival Photo
(For the Japanese version of this article)


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