January 11, 13 | Shuhei Miyashita
Human resources are essential to the revitalization of local areas. Here on Hokkaido Likers we've been running our original "Strangers, Fools, and Newcomers" series to help introduce you to these unique individuals. The name of our series represents the three types of personalities that help shed new light on old problems. (As always the word "fools" refers to people with less experience in their position. These individuals often bring a fresh viewpoint to old problems by asking basic, but important, questions.)
For our third entry we would like to introduce you to Mr. Masanobu Sato from the Department of Commerce and Tourism Exchange in Bibai Town. Mr. Sato was born in the southern Hokkaido town of Yukamo (formerly Kumaishi Town) and began working for Bibai Town in 1999. He made the decision to move to Bibai, where his grandfather worked as a coal miner, during his student years. "I studied government works in college and got the strong feeling that I wanted to devote my life to helping the public. After the closing of the mines in Bibai the regions economics began to decline and many younger residents began to move away. I wanted to head there to help revitalize the area and was able to begin my service at the government office right away."
After Mr. Sato had worked at the Department of Commerce and Tourism Exchange for ten years he was assigned to the sightseeing and events department. But in that new position he faced some tough days working through financial problems to set up events in the area.
"I began my time there by building the correct environment for growth. Certainly Bibai is concerned with financial consolidation, but for the people of the town seeing initiative being taken is an important thing. In this way the environment began to lend itself to the revitalization of the area, and led to the financial side and the developmental side working in conjunction to create new opportunities."
Currently the town is working with travel agents in Sapporo to bring sightseeing tours to the area as well as to help plan and promote local events. They are also working with companies outside the city to provide local Bibai products to a wider market. Mr. Sato is the one who has helped the town make this wide-reaching progress in such a short time.
I asked Mr. Sato if there were any challenges he faced during this development. He explained one conviction he held in particular that helped him.
"Whenever you try to bring a new idea into the mix you will always be facing friction with the existing organizations and various processes linked to the older style of running things. I had to be sure to approach each challenge with strong conviction and the belief that the residents of the town were really hoping for a change. With these thoughts and beliefs in my mind I felt like I could face any challenges that were set before me and treat each as a learning experience."
This conceptual PR poster was made to promote the "Strong Impact: A talk about Bibai's history" event. I was told that this poster appeared not only in Bibai, but in restaurants as far away as Sapporo and Tokyo.
From April of last year through March of this year local towns Mikasa, Tsukigata, and Urausu are all participating in the "South Sorachi Fun Stamp Map" event.
Mr. Sato believes that cooperation with local towns is important for regional development.
Bibai is also one of the first towns in Hokkaido to begin to utilize facebook.
"We really take the communication with readers and the ability to post real-time information seriously. We're also trying to use the platform to bring those at the edge of town into closer contact with the rest of the area."
Above is Bibai's mascot character "Mami-chan." It looks like Mr. Sato really takes the initiative to promote the town personally.
For my last question I asked about the future plans for the area. "For Bibai the decrease in population might not be stoppable, but it's true that employment has been increasing in my department recently. I really want to focus on bringing more smiles to the faces of our residents, and spreading the message that Bibai is an exciting and great place to be. For now I want to focus on making the city a better place for its residents."
I think it's safe to say that we all look forward to seeing what new things will come out of Bibai in the future.
Bibai Town's Department of Commerce and Tourism Exchange.
Location: 1-1 Nishi 3-Jyo Minami 1-Chome, Bibai, Hokkaido
Bibai's Tourism Exchange Division on facebook:
(Hokkaido Likers Writer - Miyashita)