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Regional Charm: Popular 'antenna shops' compete to promote local areas

An official of "Kagawa-Ehime Setouchi Shunsaikan," an antenna shop representing Kagawa and Ehime prefectures, explains about the shop to local municipal government officials from France at "Kagawa-Ehime Setouchi Shunsaikan" in Tokyo's Minato Ward on Aug. 8, 2018. (Photo courtesy of JCRD)

TOKYO -- Specialty stores representing various local regions across Japan are competing here in the capital to promote their traditions and culture, partly in a bid to counter aging and depopulation griping their communities back home. And they are expanding their targets from inside to outside the country.

The "Kagawa-Ehime Setouchi Shunsaikan," which features products from western Japan prefectures of Kagawa and Ehime, is one of 56 such stores called "antenna shops" in Tokyo. The shop received officials of three municipalities from France on Aug. 8 and explained how they try to attract the attention of would-be visitors. The French visitors asked about the accessibility design of the facility, according to the Japan Center for Regional Development (JCRD), which also gave them a lecture on efforts in Japan to revitalize local economies.

Chizuru Hatada, chief of public relations at JCRD, explains about "antenna shops" and product trends at JCRD in Tokyo's Chuo Ward, on Sept. 27, 2018. (The Mainichi/Richi Tanaka)

The antenna shop industry in Tokyo is "in the midst of a boom," said Chizuru Hatada, chief of public affairs at JCRD, which helps municipalities adjust themselves to the changing times. The number of such shops is growing, and their roles are diversifying -- some facilities have set up consultation counters for those who are contemplating migrating to local areas, while others offer restaurants, bars and even accommodation.

"Turn Table," a shop representing the western prefecture of Tokushima Prefecture, offers accommodation from dormitory-type beds to a terrace suite using materials from local mountains such as cedar and blue stones. "Gunnmachan-chi (Gunmachan's house)," run by Gunma Prefecture northeast of Tokyo, serves specialty foods created by an executive chef from a famous Japanese restaurant, using items such as beef, vegetables, rice and miso paste from Gunma.

"Those antenna shops offer hands-on experience on local food items, products and cultural attractions for future tourists. That is their strength to compared to online promotion," said Hatada.

The specialty store boom is driven in part by expectation for a growth in the number of foreign visitors as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics draws near, according to Hatada. This year alone, more than 21 million foreign visitors came to Japan by the end of August, up 12.6 percent from the same period last year, according to government statistics. The central government's programs to shore up local economies are also behind the boom, she added.

Some local governments are expanding their promotion efforts abroad. The Fujiyoshida Municipal Government in Yamanashi Prefecture, west of Tokyo, reached an agreement on Sept. 19 to promote tourism with Sagawa Advance Co., a Tokyo-based company involved in marketing and sales. The company will start running the city's antenna shop in Thailand in October, and will sell local foods and set up a tour counter to attract visitors to the city located at the foot of Mount Fuji.

Receiving foreign visitors to antenna shops in Japan, like the Kagawa-Ehime store did this month, is another way of promotion. The French visitors were invited by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), which helps local governments' internationalization efforts. Researchers and related individuals from 47 countries joined such tours from 2009 to 2018, according to the JCRD.

(By Richi Tanaka, Staff Writer)

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