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How to reach the major tourists spots from Kansai International Airport

Interview - March 10, 2017

With over 50% of all Japan’s national treasures, the Kansai area is increasing the number of tourist arrivals year by year. Nankai Electric offers key transport connections from the airport but also diversified its business to offer a variety of services for locals and tourists around its stations. The Worldfolio speaks with President & CEO, Teruhiko Achikita.


Could you please share a bit of the historical background of Nankai Electric Railway?

Our company was founded in 1885, and at the beginning we covered a 7.6 km stretch of land from Namba to Yamatogawa. Subsequently, we extended that 7.6 km stretch all the way down to Wakayama City along the seaside.

We developed a second line called the Koya Line and it runs from Namba to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Koyasan. We also have a cable car that connects to Mount Koya–the famous mountain in the Kansai region that is 900 meters high. Mount Koya has connections with religious beliefs. There is a monastery where more than 1,000 monks live and train, making it a pretty unique place.

Many American visitors come to Mount Koya to take part in activities typical of this area and experience the monk-like lifestyle, for instance by enjoying the special shojin ryori vegetarian cuisine as the monks do; or participating in activities such as shakyo–namely hand-copying the most well-known Buddhist sutras using a brush and Chinese ink–or ajikan, a form of meditation observed in temples on Koyasan. This place is great for experiencing all four seasons. We have incredibly beautiful cherry blossoms in spring; it’s nice and cool in summer and you can observe wildlife; and you can see the beautiful changing colors of the trees and flowers in fall; and we have a lot of snow in the winter.

In 1994, Kansai International Airport opened thereby creating a large new window from the world into the region. Nankai Electric Railway is a major company in the region. We have a diversified portfolio of businesses from transport to real estate, leisure, and retail from Namba all the way down to the Wakayama area.

Over the last 3 years, there has been a sudden surge in the number of passengers going through Kansai International Airport. I strongly believe that this increase is a result of Abenomics. We were having a tough time until 2013, but now things are getting better. In the near future, we expect an exponential growth that will double the traffic. If these figures hold, I think that we’ll actually experience overcapacity. So in the future, I ‘d like to see business models to spread out the number tourists to different locations. We are already near full capacity at the moment. It’s very difficult to reserve a room in the Kansai area right now because the region is very popular and hosts over half of all Japan’s national treasures.

In one of our hotels here 85% of occupants are foreigners. It’s a popular hotel due to its central location. Namba is the popular tourist destination for visitors in Osaka, but one thing to note is that most of the visitors who come are from East Asia.


We have had the opportunity to interview the Minister of Environment, Mr. Yamamoto, with whom we discussed the role of the private sector in the sustainable growth of Japan. In this context, can you give us details about the activities that Nankai Electric Railway promotes to support the country’s environmentally friendly growth?

The environment is something that Nankai Electric Railway takes very seriously. Environmental preservation is, as a matter of fact, one of the four major goals that we have as a company. The first one is safety for passengers and the cities in the area. The second is the environment. Number three is the strict alignment to government compliance ensuring the highest standards. And the fourth is customer satisfaction.

In 2004 we started green initiatives to protect the environment. All of our employees have a firm commitment to protect the environment, thinking about the environment first in all business activities. There are two major points I’d like to highlight in this respect: first, we have created a special department just to develop, execute, and monitor environmental policies and programmes. In this special department, we have specific initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions.

In order to show further commitment and how seriously we take these policies, I am personally heading the department. Another activity we have underway is replanting trees. In Nara areas (touching Wakayama), we have replanted an area of over 500ha. As far as the maintenance of the forest goes, every year we have activities where our employees go to these areas and take care of the cleaning, trimming of trees, voluntarily. We estimated to have reduced the carbon footprint of Japan by 1,928 CO2 tons in a part of the forest. As a result of this achievement, we are given a certification of carbon offset by the Ministry of Environment.  So, we are implementing policies giving out carbon emission credits and using solar energy to promote environmental protection

The second point I’d like to stress is our effort in developing a sense of environmental responsibility among our employees through activities. We strive to develop awareness in every individual so they can work as a group to help protecting the environment.

Through this program, we developed what we call “ECOnists” within our company, which is a special recognition to employees that show a strong environmental consciousness and proactively and independently undertake environmental activities. This is something that all employees including central and upper management take part in.

Also, we have other programs with the local entities and government, for example, we work with elementary schools to promote environmental awareness. Another program we developed in collaboration with local communities is one where we have people from local towns and small villages plant flowers along the rail lines.

I want Nankai Electric Railway to revolve around the concept of safety, which also includes environmental protection. For this reason, last year we received from the Ministry of Environment the 7th Environmentally Sustainable Transport Award.


Nankai is a major company in this area that has successfully diversified its business. What is your strategy for the future growth of the company with your mid-term management plan “Shinten133”?

Japan is facing a challenging population decline. Compared to figures from 10 years ago, we recorded a 9% decrease in the number of incomes from commuter passes except on the Airport Line. But as far as the users who live in this area are concerned, the decrease was only 1%. From these two figures, we can conclude that the number of people that are using trains to commute is decreasing, so our trains must be used by senior citizens. In order to accommodate them we have to create other businesses, for instance bus transportation.

One of my plans now is to use resources more efficiently to promote a balanced use of both transport means by visitors and citizens living close to our rail lines. To do so we are working to ensure an integrated system of transportation for all visitors coming through Kansai International Airport towards all major tourist spots.

We are hoping that by promoting more influx people into the area we can contribute to curb this social challenge. This is also an area in which we are collaborating with local governments. We launched an online marketing campaign using pictures taken by real tourists for our social media platforms. We created pamphlets where we collect pictures taken by tourists, and the name of this campaign is “the trick map” because it consists of pictures with optical illusions involving major tourist attractions. It is a nice and original way to show what real tourists are experiencing. They recommend these places so you get more of the real feel of what’s enjoyable.

Tokyo is very different than Kansai. Kansai is a friendlier place. In terms of Integrated Resort (IR), we are thinking outside the box with limousine services, ferries. Providing transportation from the airports to IR sites.

Currently our company is building a new thirty-storey building located in Namba that will leverage on the potential of the area in terms of MICE and the major theme of this building is health and welfare of employees. The building will contain cafeterias with healthy foods and also clinics for medical tourism. It will be completed in Fall 2018.


The figures relative to American tourists are growing fast. There have been 1 million American tourists in 2015. What can they expect when visiting Japan and using Nankai Electric Railway’s services?

The message that I want to send out to readers in America is that while we can’t really speak English very well, with our friendliness and traditional value of omotenashi (hospitality) we can be friends with anybody right away without effort.

Then I am aware that Americans love shopping. Our Namba Parks shopping complex was recently selected by the American magazine “Travel and Leisure”, as the one of the most beautiful city parks in the world. The designer of Namba Parks is Jon Jerde, who developed it after his image of the Grand Canyon.


For all our readers that are planning to come to Japan, what would you suggest as your unforgettable itinerary?

Mount Koya is definitely a place that cannot be missed. Going up with the cable is quite a unique experience. It takes only 80minutes from Namba by shortest path, and once you reach the top it feels like the place opens up and it’s very serene. The serene atmosphere also comes from the presence of the monks. It’s really an amazing experience that I recommend.

Depending on the season you can appreciate different colors, from the cherry blossoms to the koyo (colourful leaves) season in fall. To ensure the highest customer satisfaction, we have a special car, Tenku, whose windows are specially designed for to enjoy the scenery while riding.