In this interview, Mr Kinichi Shida, leader of the famous entertainment company, walks us through a diversification strategy set to further contribute to society
In 2011, Japan received a mere 6 million visitors. Five years later, Japan surpassed the 20 million visitor target in 2016, four years ahead of schedule. According to you, why are these tourists pouring into Japan just now? What has been the impact of tourism on your strategy?
The policy's established by the government have been successful and have contributed to the increase of tourists visiting Japan. The penetration of the internet and smart phones have made a bit of an impact and of course a main trigger is the 2020 Olympics which is sure to bring a huge influx of tourists to Japan.
You mentioned the Tokyo Olympics. As an example, the FIFA World Cup in Korea in 2002 brought great numbers in, but then tourist arrivals slowed down again. Is Japan going to reach 40 million visitors and start competing with big tourism nations like France and Italy?
I am not confident that the 2020 Olympics can be compared with the Korean example but I am confident that Japan has the attractions needed to compete with the other big tourist nations including France and Italy. As a country, we have great pride in our culture and history. Of course, both France and Italy have long histories and their own cultures but our advantage is that Japan’s culture and history have not been correctly understood by the public.
Targets have been set to reach 40 million visitors by 2020 and 60 million visitors by 2030. What does the tourism sector have to do to meet these targets and what are some of the challenges and opportunities that you foresee?
It is important to implement a system in which the hidden beauty of Japan can be expressed. An increasing number of tourists are being received not only in metropolitan areas but in regional areas as well and to encourage more visitors to the regional areas we need to implement an infrastructure and system to allow tourists to experience our traditions and cultures which cannot be found in any other country than Japan. Historically Japan is known for virtue and humbleness as well as craftsmanship. Japan's personality since ancient times has meant Japan is poor in appealing to the world, but our manufacturing skills are very solid and respected. Well-known IT and electronics technologies in Japan are rooted in such tradition. Products and our advanced technologies can be touched and experienced, but it is only by visiting Japan and meeting the craftsmen that you can really touch the soul – the spirit by which such tradition has been engendered.
You mentioned that one of the problems about the hidden beauty of Japan was first of all a lack of awareness, as well as a lack of infrastructure to give tourists the chance to experience true Japan. SHIDAX has a network that is all over Japan and overseas. How does your company contribute to raising awareness of Japan’s hidden gems?
There are two important things to consider as a service industry, in terms of business; one is global standards and the second is a system to communicate the beauty of Japan. The basics of the tourism industry are service, experience, accommodation and traveling; and as a company SHIDAX can personally offer all of these things.
One of the issues Japan had is that these things were provided by different companies. Going forward collaborating with competitors and other industries is the key to increasing the number of inbound tourists. As far as global standards are concerned, our company provides the same service throughout Japan. And because our network is throughout Japan, we can provide everything as a company, we do not currently have any competitors.
Another one of our strengths is the alliance we have with the local government and businesses. We provide system expertise and planning to collaborate with local businesses and people, and we actually collaborate with the local government. Another core sector of our business is the cultural section – culture work. Research and development is undertaken in our laboratory and we have various teachers in different areas, to teach Japanese cultures, for example Kabuki or Japanese calligraphy. So, we have excellent teachers in each area and by collaborating with them we can teach the appeal and uniqueness of local areas in terms of the culture.
Three things that SHIDAX offers are; first - you deliver an experience; second - you deliver an accommodation and lastly you deliver a movement to be able to go between the experience and the accommodation. Can you tell us what you mean by the experience? What are the experiences that SHIDAX can offer?
We have 70 culture schools nationwide and hire local teachers to set up a system capable of providing the one standard of teaching throughout Japan. The foundation of all services we provide is that of the spirit of Omotenashi. Collaborating with the local government and authorities, we can develop various different services in the tourist sectors. Currently it is certain that the service of Receptionists, Bus Drivers, Restaurant Waiting Staff and maybe even the Tour Guides in local areas, do not cope with the expectations of customers from abroad, but at SHIDAX I think we are able to meet and provide these high-quality services.
So, I think that we have to play an important role in having the tourism services internationalized in local areas of Japan. I went to the United States to learn service management and when I returned I applied what I had learnt in creating an integrated logistics system concerning a food supply chain, and at the same time, SHIDAX is promoting the globalization of tourism. There are four factors requisite for success. The first is the business community; second is the government and public sectors; third is universities and research organizations; and the fourth is our local people, including NPO. So, by creating a close collaboration with these four areas, we can make local areas more appealing to the international tourist site and SHIDAX is playing the central role in that area.
In 1959, your company started as a meal service company. Over the years, you became a conglomerate with various leisure and social services, including the management of daily stores, restaurants and entertainment facilities, outsourcing businesses and more; and you transformed into a “Social Wellness” company. Can you tell us more about the history of SHIDAX and the facilities and services that you offer today, and especially the ones targeted at inbound tourism? Looking at the next 4-5 years, what will be your mid-term strategy? Can you tell us more about your company’s “social wellness” philosophy?
Many Japanese companies are family owned and I am proud that SHIDAX can be counted amongst them. My father founded the business in the post war period, it was a time when Japan had high growth economies but the Japanese people were still suffering from malnutrition. SHIDAX at that time was aiming to support Japanese workers in the business field and so we started with the meal services, this was the starting point and we expanded and developed our business from there.
I went to the US to learn service management before taking responsibility for the management of the company and during this time I learnt two major things. One was how to maintain Japan’s unique identity as a Japanese business man and another was about an international businessman’s way of thinking. When we first started out in the meal service we did not consider facing international competition but I learned that the US had competitors in France and England and saw that this was a possibility of international competition. I realized that a Japanese company had to have core strength and international competitiveness to overcome international competition.
In order to offer the identity of Japan, I cannot turn away from the reality of our demographic problem, in other words: an aging population combined with the diminishing the number of children. I realized that we first had to solve the challenges and problems that Japan is facing, for the purposes of which we must develop a services system capable of supporting such an aging society; improving the health of the Japanese people so that people live longer, healthier lives and happy marriages which increase the number of children in our society.
Without achieving those objectives Japan cannot exist as a sustainable country. In order to make Japan a healthy sustainable country we need to focus on four important factors: “nutrition” which our family health is based on; “exercise”; “rest,” or relaxation and entertainment: and “spirit”, which is built up by learning. I decided to cover everything. By covering everything we have developed a company that provides comprehensive services and have established a system to offer these experiences, services and contents. So SHIDAX can make our customers more energized and when the number of those healthy customers increases, society itself will be much healthier. We call SHIDAX a “social wellness” company.
Your company recently announced the great opening of Nakaizu Winery Hills, an integrated complex located in Shizuoka prefecture that proposes varied activities from wine-tasting to horseback riding, hot springs and more. Looking at 2017, what new facilities or services will SHIDAX launch? What makes SHIDAX’s facilities better than your competitors’?
A visit to the winery is a must, as well as the hot springs and Mount Fiji and the basic beauty of Japan. You see everything. I visit the winery on a weekly basis to meet with the wine makers and receive an update. I think a wine produced here is one of the great wines of Japan. You can taste various kinds of wine. You can enjoy lunch and dinner alfresco.
We have every type of cuisine here, such as Japanese, Western or Chinese cuisine. I can recommend the meat and vegetables which are all grown locally and perfectly compliment the wine, with both being grown under the same water, the same sunshine and from the same soil. So, you can have experience of enjoying Japanese cuisine and wine, sunshine and vast fields together with one of the best Japanese Omotenashi.
Furthermore, in order to go ahead with Nakaizu Winery Project, we collaborate with the government, private sector and experts and hold various local events which both the tourists and local residents can enjoy. Horseback riding is an activity that you can enjoy daily, in the winery facilities, you are given a thirty-minute instructional lesson and in the vineyards, you can enjoy horseback riding. One of the objectives of the winery business is sustainability and we offer tourists facilities to enjoy wines and meals as well as the enjoying the surrounding nature, where you can walk or experience horseback riding.
In September and October there is an event where tourists are welcomed to come and pick amber grapes and every weekend I gather my friends, clients and customers to visit us at the hotel. At 5 am, the bells ring and everybody gets on the bus to pick grapes, but only for thirty minutes. To produce a good wine, you should pick quickly so that the grapes do not spoil, so about sixty people every day participate in the picking event. As you know the labor cost in Japan is really expensive, so this is a win-win situation, the grapes are harvested quickly and the pickers have an opportunity that is hard to come by. Everybody involved is responsible for producing the wine.
By having such people introduce our wine to more people and increasing the number of fans, we are able to improve the quality of the wine gradually. It was not so good twenty years ago, but it is similar to having a child. You keep loving them anyway and by sharing these experiences with more people. You become really close to each other and when you taste the wine, even if you have never met, it creates the bond of knowing the wine and has become an experience, and you will be friends forever.
SHIDAX is trying to make the society really healthy, which means we have a really good, healthy relationship with people and within the community. It is our objective and our dream for people to relax and enjoy themselves and by doing so we can make society a really healthy place. A friend is the best medicine, but sometimes there are obstacles such as religion, nationality and differing opinions that get in the way of friendship, but wine is good at enabling people to become friends within a couple of hours, you can forget about everything and then people gain a better image of the human race, which is an aspect of a society of good health.