Mie Prefecture, historically synonymous with the country’s ancient culture and traditions, is now making its mark as an innovative, industrious business base alternative to Tokyo, Osaka or Kobe. Mie has also been chosen to host the 2016 G7 Ise-Shima Summit, which will create an estimated direct economic impact of more than 50 billion yen and, as Governor of Mie Prefecture Eikei Suzuki explains, will provide the ideal global platform to showcase the prefecture’s considerable advantages.
What impact has been felt by Abenomics in the Mie Prefecture?
Before we go on and talk about the impact of Abenomics, I would like to introduce the key economic features of Mie Prefecture. First and foremost Mie Prefecture boasts a strong manufacturing industry, which accounts for 33% of the prefecture’s GDP – as opposed to around 17% of GDP in other prefectures. Mie holds the highest ratio of manufactured products sales per capita in Japan, which is an even higher level than in Aichi Prefecture, which is the host prefecture of Toyota. Secondly, Mie Prefecture is predicted to have had the highest growth potential of 2015, according to some think tanks, such as Nikkei. Thirdly, our electronics industry ranks the No.1 in Japan because we are host to international brand names and companies such as Toshiba, Sharp and Fujitsu. We call these three features the “Triple No.1”.
With regards to the impact of Abenomics in the prefecture, our economic indicators speak for themselves. First of all Mie recorded the lowest unemployment rate in Japan in 2015. The real GDP of Mie Prefecture in 2013 reached the highest point ever, and in 2014, our business bankruptcy cases have become the lowest in the past 20 years. In 2014, the prefecture welcomed no fewer than 91 new enterprises. The inward investment into the prefecture increased to three times more than what they were back in 2011, before Abenomics. As for the number of tourists, it has passed the bar of 40 million, or 40.7 million in 2013, which is a record and the highest number ever. Considering these facts, we can easily say that Mie is one of the most successful examples of Abenomics success.
I believe that you have stated in the past that foreign visitors only account for 2.0% of the annual total number of visitors who stay overnight or longer in Mie Prefecture. How are you looking to promote the prefecture over the long term and capitalize upon this surge in tourism numbers?
In fact, compared with the previous year, the growth rate of the total number of foreign tourist stays in July and August 2015 has been the highest in the nation, following the decision last June to host the 2016 G7 summit in Mie. Therefore, we are aiming to grow the number of tourists based on the summit hosting and the subsequent recognition of the region. Luckily, Aman Resorts is going to start up in Mie this spring, after the Aman Tokyo. We are targeting the wealthy classes by making use of the opportunities to host the summit.
Sustainability is the key in developing a solid tourism infrastructure; what plans do you have in place that put sustainability at the heart of those plans?
Especially for the opportunity of the G7 summit, we are going to set up a proper Wi-Fi environment and multi-language displays with not only languages but also international pictograms at once. We also had a plan to renew other infrastructure, such as the roads. However, we have decided to focus on the security aspect essentially against possible terror threats, due to lack of time.
There are no doubt immense amounts of arrangements being out into place for the 2016 summit, so can you take us through some of the prefecture’s preparations?
Japan was officially announced as the chair country of the 42nd G7 summit in January 2016. Even before then, we were already working hard with the government in order to strengthen the security against possible terror threats. We are also working on the provision of information sessions for citizens to explain some regulations during the summit, and most importantly to disseminate information about Mie Prefecture. I participated in the Invest Japan seminar in New York in September, which I used as an opportunity to promote Mie Prefecture alongside our Prime Minister Mr Abe. I also attended the FCCJ in Tokyo recently to give a presentation. Also, in October we held a reception with Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Iikura Guest House, inviting people from government establishments abroad and international media.
Many top Japanese executives tend to focus on cost competitiveness rather than innovation, and businesses can shrink as a result. What the best way to nurture innovation in Japan and what initiatives does Mie have in place to aid innovation?
My opinion might be biased a little since I was personally a staff member in Mr Abe’s administration. Thirty years ago, former Prime Minister Mr Nakasone led the leaders such as Mrs Thatcher and Mr Regan at the Tokyo Summit in 1986. I believe that Mr Abe will take strong leadership at this G7 summit. First, Mr Abe is one of the oldest among the leaders as well as Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande. Mie Prefecture can be very suitable environment for him to promote a brand new Japan, with innovation and women’s rights as among the lead fields he has worked on.
As you may know, the first MRJ plane, manufactured by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation, took off recently. Mie Prefecture will host the company’s production facilities, and we will be hosting here the aircraft vertical tail assembly, horizontal tail assembly, and some of the inner parts assembly facilities as well. Thanks to Abenomics, I succeeded in attracting the business to the prefecture after a long-term struggle. To make this aerospace industry a success, the strong innovation comes from Mie Prefecture. We have signed the MOU with the Washington State and San Antonio, Texas, which has a strong focus on aerospace technology. When the governor of Washington Mr Inslee came to visit Japan, I met him in person and agreed with further cooperation to promote innovation. The president of Boeing Japan also attended our seminar and gave a presentation as a partner of Mie Prefecture.
We have a further agreement with Washington State on life science technology related to the medical and welfare industry. In cooperation with Mie University, we conduct the research to use the enormous database of medical records consisting of 300,000 patients’ cases for medical innovation purposes. We have strengthened the partnership to promote both the aero and medical industries with innovations while the electronics has been the economic driver of Mie Prefecture.
Mie’s location between two of Japan’s industrial powerhouses – Osaka and Nagoya – is of great benefit. What plans are in place to further develop its connectivity and role as a logistics hub?
I mentioned that we succeeded in inviting 3.5 times more enterprises to Mie Prefectures in the last three years. I agree with you that it is due to the importance of Mie as a logistics hub: you can reach Mie from both Kansai International Airport and Chube Centrair International Airport. The highway linking the prefecture to Tokyo is going to be completed in five years and, most importantly, the linear motor car will be completed by 2027. I think that the linear motor car will be the biggest impact because it will connect Tokyo to Nagoya in 45 minutes, Tokyo to Mie in one hour.
For businesses, there will be no more point in centralizing offices in Tokyo – Mie Prefecture will be a very attractive alternative. While a large number of enterprises are based in rural areas within the US and Europe, it is very normal that the companies are very centralized only in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul.
As the infrastructure will be organized soon, I strongly suggest for foreign enterprises to invest in more provincial areas, such as Mie Prefecture.
How are you raising awareness of the prefecture on a global scale?
We are aware of the importance of communicating on a more global basis since Mie Prefecture has less recognition compared to Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. We have already signed a MOU with Washington and San Antonio, Texas, in the US, Karnataka-State in India, and Val-d’Oise in France, where Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport is based. It is essential to seek out these kinds of win-win opportunities and raise our profile on an international level. Moreover, we also promote our “soft side” industry such as the Ninja culture and the Suzuka Circuit hosting Formula 1. Mie Prefecture is also a birthplace of “Iga-Ryu” Ninja, which is the most famous school, and I assumed the leader of Japan Ninja Council. We will keep promoting these cultural attractions in the future.
The US represents a key and integral partner to the majority of Japanese companies and institutions today and long into the future – how are you attracting US investors to Mie Prefecture except Washington and Texas?
We keep promoting various industries in Mie, but I would also like to introduce here also our food culture. Our original beef brand “Matsusaka-ushi” is considered as the best in Japan – even compared to Kobe beef – and was exported to Orlando last January for the first time and was well received by American consumers. We also served it at the Asian Food Festival hosted by the CIA (the Culinary Institute of America).
We host the company holding No.1 share of machinery specialized in dog food making. I would like to promote our food culture as not only in eating but also production.
Mie Prefecture can be presented as the “home of Japanese mentality” because of the Ise Jingu (shrine). In 2013, 14.2 million people had visited there – that is 1 out of 9 of the Japanese population. It can be said that this is where Japanese people have always chosen to visit. I believe that Mr Abe has decided to host the G7 summit in Mie because the Ise Jingu can be a cultural representative of Japan to send out the message of peace. The mentality grown in Ise Jingu is dedicated to the coexistence beyond nationality, gender, religious belief and ages. Mie Prefecture can be the best place to raise the importance of coexistence.
You were elected in 2011 as Japan’s youngest governor, but what is it going to take to make you remembered for being the most successful governor?
Our short-term goal is to host a successful G7 summit event. I aim for perfect security at the event, and hope it will lead to enhanced visibility and more recognition toward Mie Prefecture. The long-term goal is to make Mie Prefecture the people’s choice – for investment, starting up a business, studying, and raising a family. I believe that it will lead to more investment, more tourists coming in, and be a countermeasure to depopulation – from which every prefecture in Japan is suffering. It is essential to build an attractive prefecture for the people.
What would be your final message to international readers?
There is an ultimate reason for which Mie was chosen for the host of the G7 summit. Please come visit Mie Prefecture and experience this prefecture with your eyes, mouth and hands.
In addition, Mie Prefecture is the only prefecture with preferential treatment policies for foreign companies. We subsidize 10% of investment that comes from domestic companies, like in the MRJ’s case that I mentioned before. However, we subsidize 20% of investment from foreign companies. It is valid for not only large enterprises but also for small enterprises with 1-2 persons.
The keyword of Mie Prefecture is “the coexistence of tradition and innovation”.