Ohtawara City Hall - General Policy department,
Policy Promotion division
（September 2019 – March 2020）
For 2 consecutive years since 2018, Hitoshizuku has been providing logistical support as part of a 3-company team for Ohtawara City’s regional promotion initiative called “Ohta-wara City Project”
Ohtawara City in Tochigi prefecture has taken on a regional promotion initiative called Ohta-wara City Project (wara=smile). This project began in 2016, and after consultation with the city, A&I LLC, HITOMINA Co., Ltd, and Hitoshizuku collaborated to provide continuous support throughout FY2018 and FY2019. A course for local writers and a Tokyo-based event were held in FY2019. For this interview, we’re sitting down with one of our project team partners, Ms. Imanishi from A&I LLC.
Forming a 3-company team and supporting the Ohta-wara City Project
Asuka Takahashi, Hitoshizuku supervisor (Takahashi):
We worked together from 2018 to 2019 on the Ohta-wara City Project regional promotion initiative that was started by Ohtawara City in Tochigi prefecture in 2016. To start, could you tell us what it was that led you to contact our company?
Ms. Atsuko Imanishi, A&I LLC (Ms. Imanishi):
I personally joined the Ohta-wara City Project team in 2017, and was in charge of a course for local writers. When the city was considering policies for the 2nd year of the project, which began in 2016, they discussed how it would be good to come up with some mechanism that would allow locals to participate and would directly benefit them through independent action. That was when the city reached out to me.
After that, we received a request from Ohtawara to continue the local writer’s course into 2018 and to hold other promotional events throughout the city. However, we didn’t have experience directly consulting with local government administrators, and PR work such as event organizing is too much for a single person to handle, so I decided to first discuss the situation with Ms. Naoko Sugiyama (Ms. Sugiyama) of HITOMINA Co., Ltd, who’d worked with us before. She said, “If that’s the case, then you need to contact Hitoshizuku!” So I immediately did so.
I see! Our company has also had lots of opportunities to consult with Ms. Sugiyama, so it’s wonderful to hear her say that.
The reason why I didn’t hesitate to reach out is because you already had a history of work with other government agencies, and I also knew it would be a huge help if you could handle the events and other PR responsibilities. We didn’t have experience being involved in an entire project with a government agency, so I thought it would be best to form a 3-company team to move forward.
From our company, Ushijima joined the Ohta-wara City Project team in FY2018, and in FY2019 I was added to the project. What was your first impression working with us in 2018?
I had heard from Ms. Sugiyama that Hitoshizuku would provide diligent support, so I was picturing a lot of severe, strict people. It was a relief to meet you all and see that everyone was actually quite kind and friendly. I remember getting the impression that your passion wasn’t a total outward expression, but rather it was something that simmered quietly under the surface. I felt that you would work with us to resolve the issues we were facing.
Holding events that allow participants to enjoy what Ohtawara City offers while also learning more about the city. Understanding that planning is everything
In 2018 we helped organize a course for local writers, events in the Tokyo metro area, and produced a city fact book. In 2019 we organized another writers’ course along with other events in Tokyo. You were primarily involved with the writers’ course, while we were mainly responsible for the events in Tokyo.
I think in 2018 our 3 companies were working without a really clear understanding of everyone’s roles. We were struggling to find attendees for our events, and the local government was experiencing difficulties with holding small-scale events in Tokyo.
In 2018 we held 2 events, one centered on coffee and the other on sake, right? It was the first time for Ohtawara to try holding an event all on their own, but the cozy atmosphere naturally created an opportunity for communication among attendees and was well-received. The city contacted us and said they wanted to hold the events again in 2019.
Our goal with the events was to use them as a way for people in their 20s and 30s living in the Tokyo metro area to learn a little bit about Ohtawara City itself. As a starting point in 2019, we organized an event around strawberries since it’s the fruit Tochigi prefecture is best known for. We wanted to make the event unique to encourage people to attend, so we decided rather than an event where people just ate strawberries, that it would be fun and a bit different if we had people compare flavors while wearing eye masks.
The event was held in February, during strawberry season, and as a result we were able to move forward without worrying about whether we could attract attendees.
That event of course included a presentation about Ohtawara City from one of the city hall staff members, but it also featured a talk about strawberry development and nutritional composition from a member of the Strawberry Research Institute, Japan’s only research institution specializing exclusively in strawberries. There were also presentations from young strawberry farmers in Ohtwara who talked about cultivation and daily life in the city, so there was a lot of information packed into this one event. I think everyone was more satisfied because of the decision to give attendees the opportunity to actually compare the different flavors while wearing eye masks, rather than simply listening to someone talk about it.
The idea itself prompted a lot of people to immediately sign up, and it made me realize that planning ability is crucial to any event’s success. This was one of the best things about the event. Also, despite our concerns, we ended up with a lot of male attendees who came with the female ones.
The results from the participant survey indicated that over half of the attendees learned about Ohtawara for the first time through this event, and over 70% of people said that it made them want to visit the city. Overall I think we were able to achieve our goals through this event.
Working as a team means finding new ways to share detailed information
The events themselves were successful, but I feel like there was more that could have been done during the planning stages.
It was difficult to balance the schedules between 3 different companies, and we were unable to have a face-to-face meeting with every member of the project team in attendance, so I had some misgivings as we were moving forward. It’s easy to overlook something when all of your interactions are online, and I wish we’d been able to share information with a bit more detail. Still, in the end the events went smoothly, and I think we were able to conclude our work in 2019 with an even higher level of satisfaction compared to the previous year.
I also think we needed to come up with a better way of communicating among the project team.
During our time working together over those 2 years, did you feel like we helped you address the issues you were facing?
The ultimate goal of the Ohta-wara City Project is to promote resettlement in the area, but I think it’s important to first let people know about the city itself and get them interested in it. The work we did was a step toward that goal.
Resettlement is not an issue that’s going to be resolved just by implementing some policies a few times every year, so this is work that we want to continue to be involved with.
I completely agree. When working on any project that’s promoting resettlement, not just the Ohta-wara City Project, it’s important to define small steps that can be steadily continued over time.
Ohtawara is a place with a wonderful environment and culture, so I have no doubt that its appeal will be conveyed to others.
We’d like to continue providing support in any way that we can. Thank you very much.
Some photos courtesy of A&I LLC
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Satoshi Hirai, CEO, honshoku Inc.
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Hiromi Miki, Director, Center for Diversity and Collaboration, Ryutsu Keizai University
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Your support inspired independent action among our members.
Yoko Matsui, Kanagawa Prefectural Housing Supply Corporation / Yutaka Maruno, Wakabadai Development Center
PR expertise is essential for regional projects. We want to expand to new places, using the experience we gained together.
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