Hokkaido as “Japan's Mongolia”
Commonalities provide a foothold for economic exchange
Commonalities provide a foothold for economic exchange
Hokkaido-Mongolia Economic Exchange Promotion Committee
IIST has been working with the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry to run a program promoting the development of economic and industrial partnership with Mongolia in Hokkaido. In its second year, the program is designed to encourage economic exchange between Hokkaido and Mongolia. Mongolia-born Usukhbayar Ganbat, who participated in the program as interpreter and coordinator, reports here on 2017 initiatives.
What springs to mind when people think about Hokkaido? While there will obviously be some variation according to the individual, most people would surely mention Hokkaido's beautiful natural scenery, abundant food, and friendly atmosphere. Oddly enough, exactly the same can be said of Mongolia. Because Hokkaido has the most similar climate in Japan to Mongolia, Mongolians call Hokkaido “Japan's Mongolia.” What does it mean to have a similar climate, and what else do the two places have in common as a result?
This is my 10th year living in Hokkaido. I chose to study abroad at Hokkaido University because I felt certain that something about Hokkaido would provide a valuable reference for Mongolia. After graduation, I wanted to know more about Japanese society, and I also wanted to serve as a bridge between Hokkaido and Mongolia, so I decided to find work in Sapporo. My role is to establish an economic exchange window linking Hokkaido and Mongolia, and as part of that task, I have been involved since 2016 as interpreter and coordinator in a program promoting the development of economic and industrial partnership with Mongolia in Hokkaido, organized with the cooperation of the Institute for International Studies and Training (IIST) and the Hokkaido Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry.
In this report, I identify the points that Hokkaido and Mongolia have in common, introduce specific results in 2017 as the second year of the program, and, in closing, speak as a Mongolian living in Hokkaido.
The program has two major activities.
One is the September dispatch of a mission from Hokkaido to Mongolia. The Chair of the Hokkaido-Mongolia Economic Exchange Promotion Committee is sent to Mongolia to hold a business forum, business-matching, and other events with the aim of further expanding economic exchange. Agriculture and stock farming are Mongolia's key industries, and September is harvest time as well as the start of the new school term, so urban areas are bursting with youthful energy—the perfect backdrop for a mission.
The other activity is receiving a mission from Mongolia. Professionals with a detailed knowledge of industrial stimulation, the economy, and trade, etc., are invited to Japan to provide information on the state of the Mongolian economy and areas for possible partnership with Hokkaido. They also tour relevant institutions and companies and exchange views with the personnel there to deepen their understanding of Hokkaido's technologies and products. The mission is held in February at the same time as the Sapporo Snow Festival so that mission members can learn about Hokkaido's cold-region technologies, winter tourism, and the effective utilization of snow.
Mission spurs partnership between Hokkaido and Mongolian companies
A mission was sent to Mongolia again this year, with 27 members participating from relevant institutions and private companies in Hokkaido. Around 100 people from local government and business—more than last year—came along to the Mongolia-Hokkaido Business Forum in the capital of Ulan Bator, and the event also received extensive local media coverage.
One major result of the mission has been economic partnership between Hokkaido and Mongolian companies, while another is the intake of young architects. Work virtually ceases over winter in Mongolia (October-February) in all areas, so there is a lot of interest in Hokkaido's cold-region technologies. The intake responds to requests from companies wanting to send their staff to Japan as trainees for the purposes of technology transfer. The trainees have to be able to speak Japanese, so the scope is still limited, but it promises to be an important first step.
A further achievement is partnership between media outlets putting out information on Mongolia's economy and business. A memorandum was signed in 2017 on supplying that information, including cold-region technologies, IT, tourism, the environment, and personnel exchange, to Hokkaido for inclusion in the newspaper and on the website of local architecture paper company the Hokkaido Kensetsu Shimbunsha.
Most Mongolians visiting Hokkaido do so because of some connection, such as an acquaintance or an inter-university partnership, the reason being that Hokkaido is still not very well known in Mongolia as either a tourist or study destination. However, Hokkaido is an easy place for Mongolians to live, and even outside cold-region technologies, it has numerous attractions for Mongolia and Mongolians. The above partnership between media outlets could be extremely useful in terms of boosting the profile of both regions, as well as personal exchange.
New projects launched in Mongolia!
I would also like to mention the activities of a new research committee established in Mongolia in November 2016 to provide various types of support for Mongolian member companies wishing to engage in partnership and exchange with Hokkaido. Joint projects in relation to a meat processing plant and buckwheat cultivation are in the process of being developed through partnership between member companies in Mongolia.
The meat processing plant project entails setting up a factory in Mongolia using Hokkaido technologies and hygiene measures, while the soba cultivation project is focused on technical tie-ups, investment and financing, and the opening-up of sales channels in relation to a buckwheat cultivation area on the outskirts of Ulan Bator. With both, the future aim is not just domestic consumption but also export.
With these projects in mind, the program for the February mission from Mongolia included a tour of a meat processing factory and a flour mill. Mission participants' comments included: “I was reminded again of the importance of strict hygiene management”; “we were able to talk concretely about possible business, such as exporting natural sheep intestines to Japan”; and “one day I would like to make a Mongolian mutton barbecue that is genuinely Mongolian.”
Mongolian mutton barbeque is a famous Hokkaido dish. Mutton is actually a dietary staple in Mongolia, but the country has no custom of dipping it in sauce to eat. To Mongolians, Japan's Mongolian mutton barbeque looks just like standard barbequed meat, but when they try the Japanese version, many are surprised at this new way of eating mutton and how well the mutton and the sauce go together, feeling a sense of closeness to Hokkaido through food.
Corporate relations between Hokkaido and Mongolia just beginning
The similar climates of Hokkaido and Mongolia therefore create various commonalities to a greater or lesser extent in terms of people, food, and technology, etc., and we are beginning to see partnerships and collaborations between companies in the two regions that exploit these commonalities. The new relationships are the result of the various initiatives undertaken as part of this program over the last two years and companies from Hokkaido and Mongolia visiting each other's countries as part of the program missions—because “seeing is believing,” as the saying goes.
At the same time, the wide range of activities to date has still only brought corporate relations between the two countries to the starting line. In other words, companies have realized that they have commonalities as cold regions and have become acquainted with each other, but to become partners in the true sense of the word, it will obviously be vital to persist patiently with initiatives to date, while at the same time not just repeating the same things over and over but rather pursuing a narrower, deeper focus.
While various challenges remain—the language barrier, the lack of mutual understanding, and temperature differences, for example—if the commonalities between the two regions can be effectively utilized, all these challenges will be resolved in the end. In the future, I hope to see the relationship go beyond business between companies to the resolution of issues facing both regions such as the environment, infrastructure, and labor shortages.
About the Author
Usukhbayar Ganbat, Deputy-Secretary General, Hokkaido-Mongolia Economic Exchange Promotion Committee
Born in Ulan Bator in 1984. Entered the Mongolian University of Science and Technology's Foreign Language Institute in 2000. After graduation, she handled secretarial duties at Mongolia's then-Ministry of Food and Agriculture before joining JICA's technical cooperation project staff in 2006, deepening her knowledge of agriculture. In 2009, she entered Hokkaido University's Graduate School of Agriculture, completing her doctorate in 2016. At the recommendation of Tsutomu Takebe, former Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party and currently Mongolian Honorary Consul in Sapporo, she took up a post at Sapporo Daiichi Kōsan KK. She is currently Deputy-Secretary General of the Hokkaido-Mongolia Economic Exchange Promotion Committee. She married a classmate from her junior high school years, and is the mother of three children.