IISE Column: Biei City Mayor's Challenge
Yoshihiro SUZUKI (Vice-Chairman, Institute of International Socio-Economic Studies)
This is an English translation of Mr. Suzuki's column from the homepage of the Institute of International Socio-Economic Studies (http://www.i-ise.com/jp/column/column_200307.html), July 3, 2003
|Vice-Chairman Suzuki on a hill in Biei,|
I am now in Biei City, Hokkaido, standing on a scenic hill widely known as the "patchwork hill," as can be seen in the photo. The nature in Hokkaido is really beautiful. In a neighboring town, Furano, there is a hill completely covered with purple lavender from late June to early July. While many lavender farms have disappeared due to the advance of artificial perfumes, this last remaining farm was highlighted in JR's "Discover Japan" campaign, and as a result this natural beauty has turned into a resource for tourism. At the same time, natural perfumes like lavender have been rediscovered and the farm has revived.
Today 300,000-400,000 domestic and foreign tourists visit Biei and Furano each season to appreciate the natural beauty. Regrettably, however, most tourists are temporary sightseers and the mayor of Biei city is trying to make use of the city's brand name and turn the Biei region into a place for "green tourism" and eventually for a longer-term stay for visitors to enjoy engaging in agriculture. This is a challenge for the mayor, who is committed to revitalize the region from long-term perspectives.
In the agriculture sector there are many kinds of regulations for the purpose of protecting agriculture. The current agricultural system stems from the postwar movement of creating "landowner farmers" due to land reforms soon after WWII. Agricultural land therefore belongs to farmers and may not be touched by non-farmers. In reality however, many pieces of land are abandoned, partly because of the lack of successors in agriculture. Hence the challenge for the Biei mayor to revive agriculture and maintain scenic views for tourism.
There are many obstacles. For example, in order to provide more private pensions we have to clear various regulations including not only agriculture-related laws but also those regulating hotels, fire hazards, tourism, food hygiene, etc. Offering home-made sake to guests would be against the Liquor Tax Law. Building or widening roads for the convenience of visitors should be subject to the Road Administration Law, which fails to take scenic aspects into consideration.
Thus, in order to realize his plan the Biei mayor has adopted the idea of "Special Structural Reform Zones," a big hit among Koizumi reforms. These zones are intended to make holes in the thick wall of regulations so that particular regions can make full use of their own local resources. Although the initial plan by Biei City has not yet resulted in the region being recognized as a Special Structural Reform Zone—partly due to opposition by anti-reform forces—the mayor will keep trying to obtain approval based on the recent designation of Biei's scenery by the Culture Agency as important for agriculturally-related culture. I hope the mayor will be able to find a way to break the wall of silly regulations.