Japan Travel

* * * * * * * * TERRIE’S (TOURISM) TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Monday, Apr 01, 2019, Issue No. 986

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+++ Creating Tourist Traffic for a Museum in Kasama

Over the last couple of months I have been asked to help assess the
viability of a number of remote or “not-so-accessible” prefectures
looking to attract more foreign tourists. It’s kind of hard to believe
that with the flood of foreigners coming into Japan that there is any
part of the country which is untouched by their presence – but yes,
there are still some who haven’t figured out how to attract outsiders.
In fact in FY2018 some prefectures even experienced a fall in the
number of inbound visitors…

In this latest project, in early March, I headed up to northwestern
Ibaraki (Kasama City) which is not far from the Prefectural capital of
Mito. Ibaraki is a relatively flat coastal prefecture that has for
centuries been a food supplier to Edo – and thus it has had a modest
but steady flow of income resulting in some very wealthy local
families. You can tell this by the art collections in the area, such
as the Hasegawa family collection at the Kasama Nichido Museum of Art.
This small museum has an amazing array of Monets, Renoirs, Degas,
Picassos, and even an early Van Gogh – all of which you would never
know were there. My guess is that these art works are worth at least
JPY10bn. Hasegawa was an art collector who got started in the 1920’s –
obviously a good time to be buying impressionist paintings.

Kasama itself got started in 1771 as a post town on the main coastal
route north, but which then converted to pottery when substantial clay
deposits were found nearby. Although Arita, Imari, Bizen, and other
pottery towns are more famous, by virtue of its proximity to Tokyo,
Kasama has been able to grow by focusing on the production of every
day kitchen ceramics from the iron-rich clays. I was excited by the
prospect of visiting, as I have fond memories of visiting Koishiwara
in Kyushu, a cute town with over 50 pottery studios that are in easy
walking distance of each other. And since Kasama is only 90 minutes by
train and connecting bus from Tokyo, I was hoping that it might also
become a natural destination for foreign tourists – providing
sufficient marketing and transport links were made available.

Alas, it’s not going to be that easy. Although I discovered that set
in the foothills where Ibaraki starts to turn into Tochigi, Kasama
city is a nice sleepy rural town that is indeed well-populated by
artists, the problem here is that the artists are hidden away from the
public, working their magic in hill-top studios or behind walls and
hedgerows. Instead, their works are displayed in a cavernous central
facility, called Kasama Geijutsunomori Koen (called “Craft Hills” in
English), which is antiseptic and run bureaucratically in a way that
for westerners at least is far removed from the passion or spontaneity
you want to get from the artists themselves. Now, I’m not saying that
these people working at the park are not professional nor that they
are not dedicated to their job – I’m sure that they are – but it is
pretty obvious that they are a skeleton team run on a skeleton budget,
and that the main investment has been the buildings and not the
“software” to make it work.

This is such a common problem in Japan, not just Kasama, that there
are museums everywhere, where no one really understands how to make
those facilities perform properly. In fact, I often wonder why the
central government doesn’t have a “museum assets utilization
improvement” team whose job it would be to travel the country
analyzing under-performing cultural assets and diagnosing how to get
them fired up again.

In the Craft Hills facility, I’m going to guess that the main
buildings probably cost around JPY5bn-JPY10bn, and the operating
budget is around JPY1bn a year. While the original mission of the
facility was probably to provide a focal point for the Kasama heritage
and sales for the current-day ceramics industry, what appears to have
happened in the intervening 30 years is that the facility has
atrophied into survival mode. Again, surmising just from what I could
see, there are really only two main audiences for the facility, apart
from the ceramics university elsewhere in the park and which I didn’t
get to. These audiences are retired people wanting to get their hands
on some cheap clay and create pots, and school kids who will go there
once then forget the experience – in other words, neither audience is
conducive to making profits that can be reinvested for the future. It
is only natural, therefore, that the local bureaucrats would want to
cut costs to the bone and spend almost nothing on content, program
management, marketing, project development, attractive decor,
landscaping, a decent restaurant menu, etc. I feel this is an age-old
trap for Japanese museums – splurge on the hardware then cut all the
software – which is the exact opposite of the spending patterns that
are actually needed to attract visitors – as Disneyland and Universal
Studios well know.

So how to fix this bad circulation?

[Article continues below…]
—— Terrie’s Slow-Poke Cycling Tour – Kyushu ——-

Last year we threatened to run a cycling tour for readers, but got too
busy to actually do it. So this year we’re making amends. The first
tour, which will happen in the third or fourth week of April (just
before Golden Week) will be a 5-6 day ride in Kyushu – most likely in
the Nagasaki region. This tour, and a Hokkaido tour in late August or
early September, will have a common format.

1. The tours are potluck, not professionally run. No complaining.
Jokes and helping each other out are mandatory.
2. There will be no support cars or spare bikes or guides. Instead, we
use Google maps and take the most scenic routes to arrive at our
hotels each night.
3. Our bags will be relayed by couriers so you can ride light. Yes, we
will have inner tubes and other basic spare parts.
4. Terrie is a slow poke, so while we will indeed be covering
80km-100km a day, it will be take 6+ hours each day, with plenty of
time for lunch, photos, drinks, etc.
5. No hill climbing! Terrie is allergic to tall mountains.
6. Although the rides will run 5-6 days, people wanting to cut out at
3 days will be able to do so.
7. Our bikes will go with us on the Shinkansen. Terrie can show you
how to prepare and break your’s down for simple transport.
8. If you don’t have a road bike, you can rent one at
https://www.gsastuto.com/. [Excellent supplier, great prices.]
9. Anyone over 16, any gender, welcome.
10. There will be a JPY20,000 organizing fee per rider.
11. Other costs will all be at cost. Usually this works out to about
JPY13,000/day plus Shinkansen tickets.

If you’re interested in a long, slow, fun, potluck cycling tour in
Japan, contact Terrie today and he will work with you and the rest of
the group to set the final dates and routes. For those readers who
have already responded, we will be in touch shortly with the proposed
travel arrangements.

For more information, email: terrie.lloyd@japantravel.com
[…Article continues]

Firstly there needs to be a clear mandate from the people paying the
bills that they want the museum to be invigorated and made profitable
again (assuming as I am, that it isn’t profitable now). In making that
decision, there also needs to be investment made in marketing
management and actual marketing, along with work done on access and
“content”. What a visitor wants with a place like this is an immersive
experience, with activity and energy, plenty of variety in the things
to see and do, thoughtful high-quality amenities (yes, the cafe needs
to be privately run), and access to the pottery masters who are
creating the works of art. In short, the same sort of “software” that
makes a theme park like Disney run. This of course is not cheap to do,
so investment and courage are required, while the staff will probably
need training so as to refocus on the needs of their newly empowered
paying audience, while of course still satisfying their current core
visitor group. That paying audience will probably include foreign
tourists and moneyed visitors from Tokyo.

How to do this? Here are some action points that I noted to myself as
I toured the facility:

* Hire a theme park specialist, but mandate them to not do cute and
instead focus on heritage and sophistication – for the audience that
will actually spend money here. Kids and young females can already get
“cute” in a thousand places closer to Tokyo.
* Hire a marketing professional who knows what audience to target and
give him/her a budget for at least 2 years to get to the agreed KPIs.
* Do the actual marketing, particularly targeting Experience
(“Taiken”) sites by selling tickets to events – meaning of course that
the Marketer needs to step up the creation of attractive events and
* Use all parts of the facility, leaving no part vacant and empty, and
turn the place into a hive of activity. Empty spaces in a public
facility create a dark vibe that puts people off.
* Get the nearby university ceramics students who are internationals
to act as tour guides for the facility. Give them a trade-off for
cheap rent and courses. Train them, give them credits for the work,
and ensure there is at least one “tour guide” on duty all the time.
* Make the greater township around the museum part of the exhibit
area. Solicit artists to open their front porches and be more
accessible. Map out the cooperating studios and let them keep any
profits from any street sales made. Give them free credit card
* Make budget available to improve the frequency of buses, organize
self-drive rental vehicles, and even provide some electric bicycles
for tourists to get around on.
* Make the facility come alive by having a continuous roster of
working artists on site. Surely active marketing of a potter’s goods
could be traded against their showing up a couple of days a month?
There are over 300 potters active in Kasama, so it should be easy
enough to man the facility every day of the week.
* Invite international potters to take up residence at Craft Hills,
for 3-month and 1-year study assignments. The requirement in return
for study, food, and board being that they act as representatives for
visitors a couple of days a week, and explain the site and its art.
* Work with Airbnb and do monthly rentals for visiting foreign artists
(e.g., create mini-internships of 1 month), staying at such iconic
places as this: http://bit.ly/2U7VBjr [Ed: Very nice Airbnb listing in
* Hold international fairs where visitors are hosted in local homes or
given cheap passes to travel around the area. Once they discover
Kasama, especially the artist suburbs, the word-of-mouth
recommendations will spread rapidly.
* Upgrade the restaurant at the site, to serve traditional or modern,
healthy dishes, with gourmet lunch/dinner options.
* Open up the facility at night and hold soirees and other functions there.
* Free WiFi everywhere. Maps and signage in 5 languages. Credit card payments.

Well, you get the idea.

The problem is that even knowing what the problem is, how do I submit
my evaluation in such a way that it doesn’t insult the people working
there? Yes, this is tricky and is probably a matter of timing,
targeting, and perhaps dumb luck. Essentially I need to have the
recommendation read by someone international enough to listen, senior
enough to take action, and mature enough to realize that my intent is
to help, not to create mayhem. Of course, that influential person also
has to feel the need to change, and so it’s important that I try to
find a “receiver” and “champion” who is already activated. Hopefully
there won’t require too many late nights drinking! It would certainly
help if the local community is under fiscal pressure, but not so much
so that they are one step away from closing down. Further, what kind
of political quicksand will my team be walking into? What local
sensibilities and sensitivities are at play?

Note here that I’m not saying that any of these conditions necessarily
exist in Ibaraki, just that in the past I’ve stumbled across many of
these challenges – with the emphasis on “stumbled”.

Lastly, thanks to those people pointing out last week that Ichiro is
45 years old, not 51. The number “51” was his shirt number. Silly me.

…The information janitors/

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd@japaninc.com)

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