"Strangers, Fools, and Newcomers" - 1st entry.

Bifuka Town Tourism Organization's Secretary General - Mr. Taku Oguri.
 
It is said that human resources are one of the essential factors in successfully revitalizating a local area. Of course, we have many such people in Hokkaido, but we rarely hear anything about them. For that reason, we have created this series "Strangers, Fools, and Newcomers" to highlight those members of local governments across Hokkaido that act as vital new human resources to help revitalize their towns.
 
We chose the name "Strangers, Fools, and Newcomers" because it represents three types of personalities that help shed new light on old problems. (We don't mean actual fools, of course, but that those with less experience sometimes ask the most basic and important questions.)
For our first entry into this series we present Mr. Taku Oguri, the Secretary General of Bifuka Town's Tourism Organization.
 
Mr. Oguri attended Sapporo University and after graduation spent two years working in Tokyo. He returned to Sapporo and worked for six more years before an engagement caused him to make a complete U-turn in his life and go job hunting once again. He applied but was unable to get the position at the tourism organization right away, but his will to succeed and self-confidence remained strong. "Bifuka isn't a well known spot in Hokkaido, but I really wanted it to become a commonplace name. I'm not sure why but I was really confident that I could achieve that pretty quickly. (Laughs)".
 
But one year later, after finally getting the position he had so long desired, he found out that his image of the tourist organization and the reality of the situation were much farther apart than he'd expected.
 
"I thought that I'd come in and be able to start running huge Bifuka PR campaigns using all my previous experience from the big city. But instead I was put in charge of organizing local events and told to attend meetings. There was nothing that involved PR campaigns outside the city or setting up anything with outside organizations at all. And, because Bifuka had never done any kind of tourism before, there wasn't anyone above me to learn from. Quite the opposite, I actually heard opinions like 'It's useless to do anything for the town, the population is decreasing anyway.' more often than anything else. So I honestly struggled with what I was supposed to do. It really felt like I was grasping at straws at first."
 
 
Bifuka Town Tourism Organization's Secretary General - Mr. Taku Oguri.
 
There were also several local problems that troubled Mr. Oguri. "Younger local residents weren't hanging out at any of the local bars. It made me worry that the younger residents maybe weren't as active as they could be. On top of that, while I was making many local contacts, I had no opportunity to make new contacts outside the city."
 
He began working with the city, getting its highly motivated staff to start searching for solutions to these problems and try to get the younger residents more active in their community. "In June of 2010 we established the "Cuisine Sightseeing Menu Project Team" which is made up of younger Bifuka Town residents. We've been re-examining the local ingredients we produce and trying to market them in a more consumer-friendly way. Our goal is to make it so that local residents will want to buy local foods. It's a personal dream of mine to be able to have our local Bifuka products displayed in places like the New Chitose Airport." 
 
The project team worked in cooperation with Mr. Sugimura, the owner of Tsukasa Sugimura Confectionary, and created two trial products to represent Bifuka Town. These are the "Kuri Yutaka" and "Haru Yutaka." That's when the talents of this "newcomer," Mr. Oguri, really started to shine.
 
"We ran several trials, including sales and surveys, in urban areas targeting 20-30 year old females as our demographic and, using those results, we tweaked the products. We also contacted a design company in Sapporo to help us with the package of our product." In April of 2011 Bifuka's new cake, the "Piuka Boccia" was completed.
 
Mr. Oguri was finally able to put his PR experience to use to help launch the product. "I used traditional media, and social media such as facebook and twitter, and released the snack at specialty stands to help with the local release. I even contacted a high-profile blogger here in Japan and he featured our new product on his site. Because of all that work, the tourism organization homepage was suddenly flooded with views and we met our one year sales target in just four months."
 
 
 
In all, Bifuka town had sold about 70,000 of their new "Piuka Boccia" cakes by September of this year.
In March they released their second treat, the "Shirakaba," a shortbread tart, which is an older local treat made at the Tsukasa Kagestu Hall. The new treat has been selling so well that they have already tripled their yearly quota.
 
 
 
The "Shirakaba" uses birch sap as an ingredient, which can only be harvested in April. So they can only sell 25,000 every six months.
 
After producing two delicious local hits in only two years, we had to ask Mr. Oguri his secret. "Well, I'm still learning things as I go, but I guess that putting into practice those things that you've learned, really deliberated on, or strongly believe in is extremely important. Talking to many people, debating with them, and having patience with the whole process is crucial. Take it slow so as not to wear yourself out and lose motivation while trying to help make your city a better place. But above all, be sure to have fun while you do it."
 
Finally I asked him about his thoughts for the future. "There are many problems that still need to be looked at, but first and foremost I want to focus on spreading the word about Bifuka. To that end we'll be making many new products, holding events, and trying to get locals from all over Bifuka involved. We'll also be working on perfecting the system of educational travel attractions we have, and our goal is to provide service to 1,000 people in the next five years."
One thing we can be sure of is that we will be seeing great things from Bifuka in the near future!
 
美深町観光協会 (Bifuka Town Tourism Organisation)
Location : In the Transportation Terminal at Kaiun-cho, Bifuka, Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido
TEL : 016-569-2470
菓子司すぎむら (Tsukasa Sugimura Confectionary)
Location : Odori Kita 4-chome, Bifuka-cho, Hokkaido
TEL : 016-562-1462
菓子司花月堂 (Tsukasa Kagetsu Hall Confectionary)
Location : Higashi 2-jyo Minami 1-chome, Bifuka-cho, Hokkaido
TEL : 016-562-1583
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Miyashita)
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