Akita to brush up its depressing image
BY SAWA OKABAYASHI, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Life in Akita Prefecture isn't much fun, if current labels are true.
Home to 1.14 million people, the northern Honshu prefecture faces problems like these:
・Its minimum wage is the lowest in the country;
・Its suicide rate has been the highest in the nation for past 12 years;
・Its birthrate is the lowest in Japan; and
・Its younger residents are fleeing in droves.
Hoping to reverse this trend, the General Policy Making Division of the Akita prefectural government began looking closely in the mirror.
The officials concluded Akita's poor self-image has done much to hinder development.
The division now wants to transform that negative image.
"We agreed that reinventing the prefectural character may bring positive results," a member of the division's 40-person task force on the issue, including residents, said. "We are afraid that we may get left behind in this time of rapid change."
The group has met on three occasions since July to sound out ideas. They took a long, hard look at the Akita image.
It wasn't flattering:
"People here don't speak up unless they have a drink first."
"Akita people are always getting in each other's way."
"People around here don't like change."
Some panel members suggested that the best way to change those traits was to set a good example.
So the group wants Akita's business leaders and local government officials to undergo retraining in how to behave in more socially acceptable ways.
Once residents see their leaders reinvent themselves, others will invariably follow suit, according to the plan.
The prefectural government is inviting people from outside Akita to share their experiences and views on the local character until Oct. 21.
The task force is hoping that locals will then become interested in extending the makeover project, and get the ball rolling to re-energize the entire prefecture.
Shinichi Yano, a marketing consultant and author, is a self-proclaimed expert in local characteristics in Japan's 47 prefectures. Yano has praise for Akita's efforts, but he notes they have a long way to go.
"They should make the best of their positive talents, rather than fixing upon shortcomings," he said. "That way, they will see an improvement in consumption behavior, which will bring other benefits."(IHT/Asahi: October 19,2007)