2009/10 Hokkaido

Activities and Events

Japan Study Tour

2009 – Hokkaido

Under the topic of regional regeneration through hosting international events participants examined and discussed strategies to maximise the potential of international events to encourge business and tourism in a region.

Beginning with a visit to the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) in Tokyo, participants learnt about the relationship between central and local government in Japan. This was followed by a trip to Hokkaido prefecture, the northernmost island of Japan with a population of 5.5 million and known for its natural beauty. Here participants learnt about Japanese local government, and participated in visits and meetings, including a trip to Tōyako, the host town of the 2008 G8 summit. In Hokkaido participants will also had the opportunity to experience a short home stay with a Japanese family and visit a number of famous local sites.

Duncan Taylor, Corporate Analysis Manager, Essex County Council gives his personal account of the tour:

Following in the footsteps of Bush, Brown and the rest of the G8 leaders, I and ten colleagues from UK local government arrived in Toyako, a small town on the edge of Lake Toya in Hokkaido, northern Japan. We were there ready for adventure and as part of the 2009 Japan Study Tour. The context for our time in Hokkaido was set by spending two days in Tokyo with presentations and discussions on the work of CLAIR, Japanese Local Government & Finance and a useful session with the Japan Tourism Agency.

The next morning we headed north to Hokkaido. Hokkaido for those that don’t know is the northernmost and second largest of Japan’s major islands. Closer to Vladivostok than Tokyo, it is home to about 5.7 million people and contains rugged mountains, 15 active volcanoes, and a stunning landscape which was enhanced by the snow that fell on our first night in Toyako.

Prior to reaching Toyako we first met with officials from the Hokkaido prefectural government in Sapporo to discuss with them how they are promoting Hokkaido and the role that hosting nternational events plays in their strategy. We agreed that we would feed back from our experiences in Toyako when we joined them for a final opinion exchange at the end of our tour. From that moment on our time in Hokkaido was made up of a hectic programme of visits, presentations and opinion exchanges with a smattering of social engagements, coordinated extremely efficiently by our kind hosts.

We had heard in Tokyo from the Japan Tourism Agency that they have recently set up Tourism Zones to promote the parts of Japan, like Hokkaido, that those who visit the more popular destinations of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka do not get to see. As we saw firsthand, Hokkaido has much to offer and a large part of the prefectural government’s strategy is about promoting the area as a destination for Japanese residents that wish to escape the larger urban areas on Honshu, the international visitor and the convention delegate wishing to prolong their stay. One can not help but be inspired by the natural beauty that surrounds the live volcanoes, onsen (hot springs) and caldera lakes and we are all now firm advocates of Hokkaido, as I imagine is everyone who has ever visited.The focus therefore for the Hokkaido government is getting more people to learn about and visit Hokkaido for the first time and they see hosting international and domestic conferences as one way of achieving this. They see the markets of China and Korea as the big wins for them in this regard but it was interesting to note that one of their biggest challenges remains convincing the male population of Japan to actually take their full annual leave allocation. By visiting the Windsor Hotel, the venue of the G8 Summit and the Summit Museum it certainly highlighted to me that a great deal of planning had gone into the legacy of the event, and with it estimated that Toyako will earn 28.3 billion yen (£206 million) over the next 5 years as a result of hosting the summit you can see why.

There were certainly lessons there for my authority as we plan for our 2012 Olympic legacy. Other thought-provoking visits to public sector organisations highlighted the benefit of international exchange as we were able to see how Japanese local government is attempting to overcome many of the challenges that we face here in the UK. he care home in Toyako provided the context for debate around planning for an ageing population while the heat pump facility which uses the heat from the hot springs to supply homes and businesses had us discussing sustainable development.

Viewing the ‘disaster trail’ and a talk on managed retreat from volcanic activity gave a new perspective to our views on emergency planning, likewise experiencing the Shinkansen and Tokyo Metro our views on public transport provision. In terms of local government in general, both the formal lectures in Tokyo and the visits to public sector services in Hokkaido gave us a chance to discuss the relationship between central and local government in Japan. What we witnessed seemed to be a more mature relationship with a greater level of local government autonomy than here in the UK with a higher proportion of funds under local government control. At the end of our Hokkaido adventure during our feedback to the prefectural government, I found it refreshing to see that our hosts were not only keen to learn from our experiences in Hokkaido but from our knowledge about how things work in the UK. It was interesting to note that they were particularly interested in our experiences of Private Finance Initiatives.

As with previous tours the ‘Homestay’ experience was a huge part of this and while potentially the most daunting part of the tour, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. Our respective families made us feel so welcome, looked after us for two days in their own home and arranged a lovely meal for all the delegates and their hosts complete with an ‘Aura of Death’ Samurai Sword demonstration and origami lessons.

Other highlights that I will never forget include the hot spring baths, enjoying a traditional Japanese banquet dressed in our yukatas, making udon noodles from scratch for our lunch with the mayor of Toyako and unfortunately for me, two of my colleagues belting out Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood at the karaoke.

My thanks go to the Director and staff at JLGC London, to the CLAIR staff and local government officials we met in Japan and my fellow delegates who all played their part in making the 2009 Study Tour such a wonderful learning experience.