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Ibaraki in east Japan escapes title of 'least attractive prefecture' in popularity survey

Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa (Mainichi/Chie Yamashita)

MITO -- Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, has moved up to 42nd place in this year's rankings of attractive prefectures -- its best rank so far -- and escaped its title of "least attractive prefecture" among Japan's 47 prefectures for the first time in eight years.

    While Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa, who aims to boost the prefecture's attractiveness, welcomed the results, a number of residents expressed their disappointment that the prefecture had lost the notoriety of last place, which fell on neighboring Tochigi Prefecture this year. A 44-year-old office worker from the prefectural city of Mito commented, "Ibaraki was famous for ranking last. 42nd place feels incomplete. 47th place is better."

    A 20-year-old male university student living in the city of Naka commented, "It's odd that we ranked higher than Tochigi, which has many famous tourist spots like Nikko and Nasu. Our appeal as the least attractive prefecture is gone due to a rise in rank." Separately, a 16-year-old high school girl could not hide her surprise as she said, "I have the impression that Ibaraki equals ranking lowest. I was astonished at the results."

    The rankings, based on a survey conducted by Tokyo-based private think tank Brand Research Institute Inc., were revealed on Oct. 14. The popularity survey was launched in 2009, and Ibaraki ranked worst for the first three years. Although the prefecture raised its rank to 46th out of 47 prefectures in 2012, it fell back into last place for seven straight years from 2013. The think tank analyzes factors such as Ibaraki Prefecture's sudden rise in public recognition of agricultural, forestry and fishery products from the previous year's 24th place to 12th place, as well as a step-up from 36th place to 19th place in rankings of media exposure of the prefecture as settings for TV dramas and movies, as reasons for its escape from the bottom spot.

    Gov. Oigawa praised the latest results, saying, "We have mostly ranked in 47th place so far. Moving up to 42nd place is a good thing." However, he added, "It's an investigation whose contents are difficult to analyze. Although we're in 42nd place, it wouldn't be surprising if we were actually ranked higher."

    Gov. Oigawa criticized the rankings in October 2019, after his prefecture was deemed as the least attractive prefecture for the seventh straight year, and said, "It is damaging the prefecture's image tremendously." Regarding Tochigi dropping to last place this year, he commented, "I know how they feel. I'd like for them not to be so bothered or emotionally swayed by the results."

    The Ibaraki Prefectural Government had strived to make the prefecture's image more appealing to overturn its "least attractive" status by beckoning companies to the area and by expanding exports of agricultural produce from the prefecture. It also used the prefecture's official virtual YouTuber character Ibara Hiyori in its promotion activities. Presidents of companies within the prefecture also held a meeting in July 2020 to exchange ideas on how to boost the region's appeal.

    The survey targeting individuals in their 20s to 70s was conducted between June and July, and asked questions on 84 items, including prefectural recognition, appeal, and access to information. Responses were obtained from 31,734 people, and the attractiveness of each prefecture was analyzed and indicated in points out of a full score of 100.

    The attractiveness of Ibaraki rose to 13.1 points -- 3.7 points greater than the previous year -- while its rank moved up from 47th to 42nd place. Five percent of respondents answered that they found Ibaraki "very attractive" while 16.3% deemed it "somewhat attractive."

    Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture, gained the top spot in the popularity survey for the 12th consecutive year with a score of 60.8 points. Kyoto ranked second with 49.9 followed by Okinawa in third place with 44.1. Prefectures that attract tourists from in and outside Japan took the top spots. Bottom-placed Tochigi Prefecture scored 11.4 points.

    (Japanese original by Shimpei Torii and Minori Nagaya, Mito Bureau)

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