Series: Growing Inbound Tourism (Part 10)
Using Seasonal Fruit and Cycling to Showcase Kasumigaura City
Using Seasonal Fruit and Cycling to Showcase Kasumigaura City
Office for Promotion of Overcoming Population Decline and Vitalizing Local Economy
Kasumigaura City in Ibaraki Prefecture is blessed with a rich natural environment and abundant local resources such as fruit and agricultural and marine products—but no one has heard of us. Our tourist numbers are among the lowest for the prefecture. Efforts are now underway to revitalize the region by developing our agricultural products into brands and expanding our non-resident population.
Kasumigaura City borders on Lake Kasumigaura, Japan's second largest lake, and mountains including Mt. Tsukuba, immortalized in the tale of the beautiful mountains “Mt. Fuji in the west and Mt. Tsukuba in the east.” Around an hour and a half from Tokyo on the expressway, the city boasts a rich natural environment and is blessed with a whole range of local resources, such as pears, chestnuts and other fruit, agricultural produce including sweet potato and lotus root, and the smelt, icefish and other marine life taken from Lake Kasumigaura. The area also has many appealing tourist spots—around 50 orchards offering fruit-picking experiences are dotted around the city, while the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road, a 180-kilometer cycling course that traces along the side of Lake Kasumigaura, draws numerous weekend cyclists.
Kasumigaura's overlooked local resources
Most agricultural produce from Kasumigaura, however, has traditionally been taken off to Tokyo by agricultural cooperatives and wholesalers under the more generic rubric of “Made in Ibaraki.” As a result, store shelves feature few Kasumigaura-branded products, with agriculture and fishing, and particularly fruit and marine products, achieving limited profitability. In terms of tourism too, as the current generation of orchardists grows older, the number of orchards around to offer fruit-picking experiences is also declining, while most cyclists on the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road just pass straight through the city, keeping the city's tourist numbers among the lowest for the prefecture (35th out of 44 cities, towns and villages). With the city's population beginning to decline as of 1995, developing our agricultural products into brands and expanding our non-resident population to stimulate the local economy has become a critical mission if we want to achieve regional revitalization.
In 2015, we undertook market surveys to analyze the degree of metropolitan user interest in our agricultural products and other local resources and also invited women's groups and families to participate in monitoring tours and workshops, using the results to plan a tourism program that links local resources and cycling. In April 2016, the Kasumigaura Mirai-zukuri Company (“Kasumigaura Future Creation Company”) was founded with joint financing from the city, a private company, and a local financial institution to develop restaurant business as well as agricultural and marine produce processing and sales business utilizing local resources, taking our cycling program as the centerpiece.
Emphasis on partnership with local producers
The company is currently operating a number of initiatives from the Kasumigaura Exchange Center (located in Ayumizaki Park next to Lake Kasumigaura), including Kasumigaura Ride Quest, an experience-based tourist program that combines seasonal pear-picking with local cycling tours and dining experiences; Kasumi Kitchen, which serves food made from local produce; and Kasumi Marche, which sells local products.
The company's top priority in all these operations is partnership with local producers. For example, Ride Quest works with around 20 orchards offering fruit-picking experiences, while some 80 percent of the ingredients used in the Kasumi Kitchen are procured from local farmers and fishermen. The plan is also to expand the company's business in directions such as developing beer and sake products made from local fruit and rice, creating a framework that enables economic effects to ripple out to local producers as well.
Where the scattered locations of the region's resources (agricultural and marine produce and tourist spots) have traditionally it difficult to communicate their appeal to visitors, the Kasumigaura Mirai-zukuri Company excels at finding ways to combine them effectively and add a design element so that they will appeal to user tastes, , increasing the number of Kasumigaura fans. The experience-based tourist program Kasumigaura Ride Quest is a great example of that method in action.
Experience-based tourist program Kasumigaura Ride Quest
“Ride” of course refers to riding a bicycle, while “quest” is a search for treasure, and Ride Quest is quite literally a program where everyone goes out on bikes to enjoy the region's treasures. The program runs all year, with the course changed every season. For example, from summer to fall in 2017 we operated a long course of around 50 kilometers that combined fruit-picking, engaging with animals at a llama-rearing facility, and a stroll around the “power spot” where a famous tomb lies.* Let's look closer at this very popular course.
* There are also short courses of around 25 kilometers in total.
You start at the Kasumigaura Exchange Center in Ayumizaki, the best viewing spot out across Lake Kasumigaura. The scenery is so spectacular that Ayumizaki has been selected as one of Ibaraki Prefecture's top 100 viewing points. Leaving the Center, you soon find yourself cycling along the Tsukuba Kasumigaura Ring Ring Road. On a fine day, the opaque waters of the lake reflect the sky, a dazzling blue stretching out before your eyes. Leaving the lake to climb a slope, you sink into the tranquility of the serene rural landscape.
A little further on, you come across the stunning sight of a rural road stretching straight out ahead for many kilometers, framed on both sides by rolling fields and barns. Across that Hokkaido-like vista, the two distinctive peaks of Mt. Tsukuba dominate the horizon. It's 25 kilometers from the start to the turnaround point where an orchard awaits. Once you have enjoyed picking pears, grapes, chestnuts or whatever else is in season, you fill up on a delicious special lunch and fruit smoothies laid on at the orchard by the Kasumigaura Mirai-zukuri Company.
A public footbath along the second half of the course gives you the chance to soak your feet and restore your energy levels. Veer off the main road to visit a welfare facility that raises South American llamas for animal therapy, and get up close with these personable animals. The course climax is the Fujimitsuka Tomb, built back in the sixth century. A keyhole-shaped tumulus around 80 meters long, the tomb is one of the biggest in the prefecture, and even cyclists who don't know much about history find themselves awed by the sight. If you clamber up on to the tomb, you can look out over the beautiful Kasumigaura Inlet, a view which combined with the other-worldly atmosphere unique to tombs, soothes and heals the spirit.
Dropping down to the lakeside cycling course, there's not far left to go. Ride along enjoying the reflection of the evening sky in the lake until you reach the Kasumigaura Exchange Center. Having whetted your appetite just nicely, you'll be pleased to see dinner waiting! Kasumi Kitchen on the second floor offers a fabulous healthy menu using local agricultural and marine produce, and you can make your own fruit pizza for dessert. Suddenly you realize that it's already dusk—the perfect time to sip an after-dinner coffee while watching the full moon rise over the still lake waters.
Linking the region's various scattered treasures by bicycle has enabled Kasumigaura City to provide visitors with a much broader experience of the region's resources than just dropping by a couple of places and moving on. There is still a lot to be done in terms of PR, and attracting customers remains a struggle, but program participants are giving us great feedback and we're even attracting repeat customers. We will continue to work to uncover and polish new local treasures to make the experience an even more special one.
Profile of Kasumigaura City
Located in the south of Ibaraki Prefecture, Kasumigaura City has a population of around 42,000 people. Bordering a lake and several mountains has blessed the region with a moderate climate, enabling visitors to try their hand at harvesting pears, grapes, chestnuts, persimmons and strawberries. The lakeshore produces high-quality lotus roots and rice, and the abundance of smelt, icefish and other marine life have fostered strong tsukudani (food boiled in soy sauce) production. Hobikisen (small sailboats invented during the Meiji era that use wind power to propel them sideways to drag fishing nets across the lake) are still operated today for fascinated tourists, and the Kasumigaura Enduro, one of the few cycling endurance events in Japan to be held on public roads, takes place along the lakeshore, drawing participants from all over the country.
■ Kasumigaura City Tourist Association (Japanese)
■ Kasumigaura Mirai-zukuri Company (Japanese)
■ “Let's go on an adventure! Kasumigaura City, Ibaraki-ken, Japan” (Japanese/English)
■ Kasumigaura Enduro (Japanese)
■ Kasumigaura Enduro (Facebook)