Located an easy train ride from Tokyo, Ibaraki Prefecture is already well known for cultural attractions like the gardens of Kairaku-en, but it is also a major hub of innovation and industry in Japan. Governor Kazuhiko Oigawa explains how Ibaraki’s proximity to the capital, incentive programs and its wealth of resources make it a smart investment destination
Ibaraki has been successful at attracting foreign investment in the past. What makes it the ideal investment destination in Japan?
We have been very good at attracting factories because we are close to Tokyo and have reasonable investment costs. On top of that, in order to create high-quality jobs in Ibaraki, we have introduced a 5 billion yen ($44.3 million) incentive program to support companies that want to set up their headquarters in our prefecture. This project will be open to foreign investors who intend to move their headquarters here. We offer good FDI conditions, human resources, government subsidies, and networking with universities, research institutions and major corporations like Hitachi. Ibaraki has everything that investors could need. In fact, it is hard to find something that we lack.
How much do U.S. investors know about Ibaraki?
I was recently in San Francisco where I met with business leaders who were not very familiar with Ibaraki itself, but they all understood the quality of our products and our potential, and that is a really good start. We are now starting to aggressively promote ourselves outside Japan, including in the U.S. To be known abroad is our greatest challenge right now. Once people know us, it will be easier to promote exports and investment.
The 2019 summit of G20 nations will be held in Japan. Why is Tsukuba one of the selected cities to host ministerial meetings?
Tsukuba is a very unique place, with an artificially created scientific research city that showcases all the innovative power of Japan. There are a lot of things happening in Tsukuba and I look forward to showing them to the world.
What has been your biggest challenge since your appointment a year ago?
My main challenge as governor is, first and foremost, to create quality jobs. Because of our location just 100 kilometers from Tokyo, we have experienced a decrease in our young population, which is moving there. So my main goal is to create jobs that will encourage youths to stay in Ibaraki. This is an area that is blessed with a rich nature and resources, so we have many things to be proud of and many tools to ensure that our young people will stay here. Innovation is another key priority.
What are some of the other priority areas for Ibaraki?
I want to improve healthcare, as we currently have a shortage of doctors, regardless of its population. And we have a population of 2.9 million. I also want to enhance the education system to differentiate ourselves from other areas of Japan, and to create special events that the residents of Ibaraki can be proud of and which will contribute to brand creation and show the world who we are. We are also trying to create a higher quality brand for Ibaraki while lowering costs for investors.
How important is agriculture?
We are the second largest agricultural region after Hokkaido but we can still improve profitability by consolidating small farms and diversifying the distribution channels, giving them direct access to consumers, and also by cultivating foreign markets including the U.S.
What does Ibaraki contribute to Japan?
We have a balanced economy with high quality in each field: agriculture, manufacturing, the most advanced research institutions, and we are located close to Tokyo, so we represent Japan on a small scale. And as we are something of a small version of Japan, we want to help all of Japan tackle all the pressing issues facing the country – industry innovation, improving education and social security, encouraging entrepreneurship, dealing with demographic change. If Ibaraki can figure out how to deal with these issues, then we can help all of Japan.
The country’s demographics are changing. Does Japan need to change its immigration policy?
We face the same challenges as other prefectures – an aging population, declining birth rates, younger generations moving to Tokyo – and all of this affects us in the mid to long term. Japanese society is not very open to foreigners, but this needs to change because of our declining population. We are facing a lack of workers for nursing homes, to name just one issue. Unless we develop robotics to provide nursing care, we will need a larger, younger workforce. The issues we are facing will get more pressing in a few years, maybe 10, maybe 20, but most politicians find it hard to take action. Let’s hope that change does not come too late.
Which products have a potential niche in the U.S. market?
Food is an obvious choice, such as Hitachiwagyu beef and pears. We also produce teas, and I know that Macha is very popular in the U.S. Right now Ceramics (kasama ware) have a good opportunity as well.
What is the potential for tourism?
Right now we are mostly focusing on Asian tourism to Ibaraki, but there are some cruise ships stopping here from Alaska and the Pacific. We have the Hitachi Seaside Park, which has been chosen by the New York Times as one of the 100 places to put on your bucket list. During flower season, many tourists visit it.
Now that the U.S. is adopting a more protectionist attitude, what is your message with regard to trade?
I am not in a position to discuss national trade policies, but I believe that we are all benefiting from the free trade system, and we need an exchange not just of products but also of people and investment. We hope that the good relations between the U.S. and Japan will continue.