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Tochigi breaks free of Japan's 'least attractive prefecture' title after 2020 shock result

This screenshot of the Tochigi Prefectural Government's website shows a quiz video with a title roughly translating to "escape the bottom of the attractiveness ranking."

UTSUNOMIYA -- 2021's prefectural "attraction" rankings are in, and east Japan's Tochigi Prefecture has escaped the ignominy of being ranked least appealing among Japan's 47 prefectures after receiving the title for the first time in 2020.

    Tochigi Prefecture came 41st in the 2021 list announced by Tokyo-based private think tank Brand Research Institute Inc. on Oct. 9. Neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture found itself in last place for the 11th time since the survey's 2009 launch.

    A statement from Tochigi Gov. Tomikazu Fukuda read, "Regardless of the results, we will work on strengthening our brand by refining local resources and proactively engaging with messaging in three strategic fields: selling prefectural products, attracting tourists, and encouraging people to settle here."

    Tochigi Prefecture launched its own branding policies in 2016 as part of plans to raise its 35th place marked in 2015 to 25th in 2020. Instead, it was 46th in 2016 -- one above rock bottom. Despite tracking slightly higher at 43rd in 2017, 44th in 2018, and 43rd in 2019, it hit the 47th floor in 2020. When he heard Tochigi was last, Gov. Fukuda reportedly failed to hide his shock, saying, "I couldn't help shouting 'What?!'"

    This screenshot shows the website for a Tochigi Prefectural Government project that has a title roughly translating to "Tochigi Prefecture, starting from the bottom."

    An unconvinced Gov. Fukuda visited Brand Research Institute just after last year's announcement. There, he lobbied the company to change its survey methods, among other requests.

    The think tank noted in its announcement on its website this year that it had "received opinions and requests from many involved in local governments." It also explained it had increased its sample from about 600 people to some 1,000, and a committee of four academics had been established.

    For Tochigi Prefecture, its first time at the bottom had an enormous effect. Questions over whether the prefecture was able to communicate its attractions became a contentious point in the gubernatorial election held about a month after its 47th place was announced. During the campaign, Gov. Fukuda apologized to his assembled supporters for the prefecture coming last, and vowed to recover lost ground, saying, "I will push forward as leader in the next four years, and we will emerge from the bottom."

    The Tochigi Prefectural Government has tried to turn the newfound attention into an opportunity to run projects raising its position. It has since promoted using, among other methods, online videos on the prefecture including one featuring Tochigi-born comedian Miyuki Oshima.

    In the prefectural government's online survey taken by some 5,000 people across Japan between May and June, 50.6% expressed favorable views about Tochigi Prefecture, but 24.7% of all respondents could not identify tourist spots such as Kegon Falls and Kinugawa Hot Springs as in Tochigi Prefecture.

    (Japanese original by Eri Misono, Utsunomiya Bureau)

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