Karuizawa is a resort town at the heart of Japan’s Nagano Prefecture. Situated on a 1,000-meter-high plateau in Nagano’s eastern mountains, its awe-inspiring natural surroundings and advanced infrastructure make it one of the country’s best-known and most successful tourism destinations. Now, the town is building upon its brand assets by hosting major events in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) segment, and reducing its environmental impact by installing renewable energy systems in public facilities and subsidizing take-up of residential solar power and electric vehicles. In 2019, the town will welcome energy and environment ministers of the G20 group of the world’s leading economies and is looking beyond that to a future as a center of both business and nature tourism. Here, Karuizawa Mayor Susumu Fujimaki describes his ambition for the town as it places itself more prominently on the international stage
Why was Karuizawa chosen to be one of the cities to host G20 ministerial meetings?
We have a lot of experience hosting academic, political and financial meetings, including the G7 transport ministers’ meeting in 2016. That experience, coupled with the fact that Karuizawa is well-renowned within Japan, was an important factor in its selection as a host of the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Energy Transitions and Global Environment for Sustainable Growth in 2019. Other assets we possess include a high level of security, due to the annual visit of the Japanese Emperor to the town, and easy access to Tokyo. Some have called Karuizawa ‘the Davos of the East’ for its reputation as a MICE destination. It benefits us to be viewed alongside cities such as Davos and Aspen.
What does the big-name value of Karuizawa represent to you?
It is a brand value gained through Karuizawa’s 130 of history as a place where many Japanese own summer villas. The most influential people in Japanese societies have historically come here to enjoy the temperate summer, including the Japanese royal family and many leading writers. Through these influencers, the name of Karuizawa spread throughout Japan and worldwide. These writers raised awareness of its value, steadfast as a suitable place for creation. To me, Karuizawa is known and valued as a place where ideas take root. Its quiet atmosphere and natural beauty lend itself to the town being a retreat destination for great writers and cultural figures, some of whom have gone on to influence the world.
What would you like the outcome of the G20 meetings to be for Karuizawa?
Karuizawa is not visited by many foreign tourists. The G20 meeting provides an excellent opportunity to raise more awareness of the town’s many attractions and increase tourist arrivals. It can also help to position the town as a role model for sustainable growth. We would like Karuizawa to contribute even further to carrying out the dedicated policies that Nagano prefecture has adopted to take care of the environment. After all, our abundant nature is our biggest asset. Karuizawa citizens all take pride in protecting their environment and hosting the G20 energy and environmental ministers meeting will encourage them to take a step further in their contribution to conservation. Although all municipalities in Japan have their own measures to look after the environment, I would like to introduce other towns to our go-it-alone achievements and policies. We do have important and influential measures in place – the Karuizawa Town Nature Preserve Countermeasure Outline was designed to maintain the town’s attractiveness as well as its natural beauty and diversity.
Are you looking to establish new partnerships that can attract investment to develop the infrastructure that Karuizawa needs in order to attract more global events?
The G7 meeting put our town on the map for businesspeople, so we are aiming to host more and larger MICE events in the future. To cater to this, I feel and expect that our existing hotels will improve their infrastructure to become high-class hotels with good conference facilities. Naturally, this will lead to growth and I am confident that more investors will arrive. Nevertheless, without a public conference center, we depend on the hotels for conference facilities. I wish to change this and install conference facilities as soon as possible.
Karuizawa receives 8.5 million tourist visitors per year. Do you expect this number to grow for the future with the infrastructure that exists here?
We already possess natural and cultural assets that can attract inbound tourism. Considering the size and carrying capacity of Karuizawa, it is difficult to say if our number of tourists will grow – but we desire to receive visitors from a wider range of outbound markets. We would like to attract visitors from the United States and Europe, given that we can provide mountain hiking and outdoor tourism activities that may appeal to them.
In your view, what are the challenges and opportunities presented by the fact that Japan’s population is aging?
Healthcare and welfare have both improved rapidly in Japan. Having a large elderly population is a testament to the success of these improvements. Our biggest problem is that the birth rate is decreasing, thus there are fewer younger people available to support the elderly. Our role in municipal government, both in Karuizawa and also throughout Japan, is to encourage people to have more children through a good living environment. Yet our elderly population also possesses much experience, which we implore it to share within the community. We would like to facilitate the maintaining of the practice of grandparents passing on their knowledge to younger family members. We are giving financial subsidies to families of three generations living together – grandparents, parents and children – which is a typical living arrangement here in Japan. This is also beneficial because I believe Karuizawa has enough land for families to expand their houses to accommodate three generations.
What is your big vision for Karuizawa moving forward?
Karuizawa has a lot of future expectations placed upon it, both domestically and internationally. We are trying to cater to those. Personally, as we work to build a sustainable community in the long-term, I believe that fostering creativity and compassion within our population is as important for us as having good facilities. I would like to help people to become more considerate of each other. I would like the youth of Karuizawa to take pride in both the infrastructural and social development that our town has gone through.