Kansai International Airport

Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of the Airport’s Opening

Kansai International Airport–or “Kankū” in its familiar abbreviation–celebrated its twentieth anniversary on September 4. When the airport first opened, it mainly served domestic business customers and tourists. Nowadays, overseas tourists from Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan and elsewhere account for 40% of its international airline passengers. Twenty years have passed since the airport opened. Kankū had aimed to become the “hub airport of Asia,” but it has stepped up its presence to become a “gateway airport of Japan.”

Kankuu-Singapore Airlines

“Inbound” is the Key Word

Kankū lagged behind its rival airports for a considerable period of time. Last year, however, a record high of nearly five million foreigners used the airport. Two years ago, Kankū successfully brought in one of the low-cost carriers (LLCs), Peach Aviation. Subsequently, the Chinese LCC Spring Japan decided to set up a base in Kankū. Given such successful strategies to introduce LCCs, Kankū has experienced a surge of inbound travelers from overseas, primarily Asian.

The strength of Kankū is its location. The choice of Kankū as a base allows proximity to not only Kyoto and Nara, which are Japan’s dominant tourist spots, but also Mount Kōya, which has received great attention as a World Cultural Heritage site, and Nanki Shirahama, which is a popular coastal scenic destination and hot-spring site. Kankū has successively developed its twentieth-anniversary collaborative projects with railway companies and travel agencies, trying to boost the number of tourists who utilize the airport.

From a Hub Airport to a Gateway Airport

The Japanese government has set a target of attracting 20 million tourists annually by 2020, the year when the Tokyo Olympics will be held. In addition to Narita Airport and Haneda Airport, the plan is to beef up Kankū’s function so that the increase in visitors can be accommodated. The Tokyo metropolitan area will not be big enough to receive 20 million overseas visitors on its own. Kankū will therefore assume an important role, as it is approximately an hour closer from Asian countries than Narita and Haneda are.

Kankū has seized its opportunity to emerge. By absorbing the remarkable growth in travelers and cargo from Asia (in comparison to Europe or the United States), Kankū will enhance its value, transitioning from a hub airport to a gateway airport. Leveraging its 20 years of experience, Kansai International Airport will continue to thrive.

The key is to bring in travelers from Asia.

Kankuu - Thai Airways

Shibusawa Memorial Museum

Tracing the Footsteps of Seien

Seasonally different appeals of Shibusawa Memorial Museum Exhibitions

Eiichi Shibusawa, also known as Seien, is considered the father of capitalism in Japan. He was instrumental in the country’s economic growth, having persuaded Japan to adopt Western cultures and systems following the Meiji Restoration. As we welcome the new year, it is time for us to think of the future and renew our ambition. As I write this, it may be a good idea to reflect on the great accomplishments of Shibusawa and get in touch with his ideas.

Memorial Museum on Former “Aii Sonsou” Site

Shibusawa Memorial Museum is located in a corner of Asukayama Park in Kita-ku, Tokyo. Shibusawa Shiryokan


Eiichi Shibusawa was born on March 16, 1840 in Fukaya-shi, Saitama Prefecture. He came from an affluent farming family that not only grew crops but also produced and sold indigo (leaf) ball (dye). Young Eiichi advocated reverence to the Emperor and plotted with his comrades to attack the Takasaki Castle and burn a settlement in Yokohama. However, he realized that bloodshed was not the best way to realize his vision of “changing the world” and decided not to execute the plot. Thereafter, Eiichi traveled to Europe as a vassal of the fifteenth shogun, Yoshinobu Tokugawa. Upon his return to Japan, he was recognized for his achievements of establishing a business that became a model for joint stock organization, and was thereby appointed as a government official. Eiichi initiated various institutional reforms and later accomplished numerous feats as a private citizen and businessman, including the establishment of a bank.

150-Year-Old Soap

The museum has interesting exhibitions where you can learn about Eiichi. Eiichi quickly adopted the Western clothing he saw in Europe. The first area displays the old books Eiichi reportedly read when young, as well as accounting records showing that he helped the family business. The next area showcases the records of his attendance at the World Expo in Paris as a vassal of the shogun. Particularly, the photographs of Eiichi with a topknot reminiscent of the Edo period and wearing a tuxedo to attend the World Expo lead one to think. We realize how flexible he was in trying to assimilate foreign culture, and we see how advanced the Western world was compared to Japan at the time. We also see the actual soap Eiichi brought back to Japan. When Shibukawa arrived the West, instantly he chaged his dress

Eiichi the Government Official

The third area compiles the documents and items from the time Eiichi worked for the government. He handled the affairs of the state together with Shigenobu Okuma, Toshimichi Okubo and Hirobumi Ito. There is also evidence showing that Eiichi worked as an administrative supervisor at the government-operated Tomioka Silk Mill, which is now a world heritage site.

Achievements in the Business World

After retiring from the Finance Ministry, Eiichi promoted banking in Japan as the president of First National Bank. Subsequently, he established or nurtured approximately 500 companies. The fourth area contains a panel exhibition depicting some of the 500 companies. We see a list of companies that still have significant influence today, and the depth of impact Eiichi made on the Japanese economy is very clear. Exhibitions in other areas tell stories about Eiichi, who was not only a businessman but also a devotee to civil exchange with other countries and a contributor to education and welfare. When he died at the age of 91 (November 11, 1931), newspapers and radio stations ran headline stories about him, and many people gathered at the funeral service to bid him farewell. We also see photographs and other records of his funeral.

Important Cultural Properties of Japan

Bankoro and Seien Bunko are the must-see buildings in the Old Shibusawa Garden. Bankoro integrates Japanese and Western architectural styles. Primarily made of chestnut, the building, which appears very Japanese from the outside, contains a fireplace and other features characteristic of Western houses. On the other hand, Seien Bunko boasts beautiful decorative tiles and stained glass featuring “crossed oak leaves in a circle,” which was the emblem of the Shibusawa family. Standing inside the building, one is overwhelmed by deep emotions, knowing that Eiichi entertained Chiang Kai Shek and other foreign dignitaries here. Shibusawa Memorial Museum periodically organizes special exhibitions in addition to its permanent exhibitions. In visiting this personal museum, each of us–including business owners–can learn a thing or two from Eiichi Shibusawa. Shibusawa Memorial Museum - Exhibition room [Facility Information] Shibusawa Memorial Museum, 2-16-1 Nishigahara, Kita-ku, Tokyo; TEL: 03-3910-0005

On Being an Early Adopter in Silicon Valley

PDF Report


When I lived in Chicago, I used to find myself getting annoyed at coverage of new innovations happening in Silicon Valley — it all seemed so far away and out of reach.  But now that I live in Silicon Valley, I’m enjoying being at the center of new trends.

So when I read about a company that is revolutionizing blood testing, and realized that their first and only testing center is about 20 minutes from my house, in downtown Palo Alto, I had to check it out.

I learned about the company, Theranos, in the pages of one of my favorite magazines, Wired. This magazine, headquartered in San Francisco, features the most exciting up-and-coming technology from the hottest startups.  Theranos certainly qualifies as one of these, with its goal to revolutionize the business of blood testing.  The 30 year founder came up with the idea for doing blood testing using 1000th of the amount of blood required by normal tests, with results produced in just a few hours. She dropped out of Stanford and used her tuition money to fund her company.

Blood testing was on my mind when I saw this article, because every spring is when I have my annual physical my doctor likes to do a lot of blood tests. And I mean a lot.  She’s a devotee of another trend that is currently popular in the Bay Area, called Functional Medicine, which emphasizes gathering a lot of data. I like this approach very much in theory, but having a half dozen vials of blood drawn for all the tests is not so great in practice.  So the Theranos micro-sample approach was extremely appealing — all they need one drop of blood to run a battery of tests.

Thus I found myself at the Theranos Wellness Center in the Palo Alto Walgreens, the first of what will soon be a nationwide network.  It turned out that the large number of tests ordered by my doctor exceeded what could be done using the pinprick micro-sample, so I had to have an ordinary venipuncture.  That was disappointing, but they only had to take two mini tubes, so it was certainly an improvement over my usual blood test experience.  Other than that, it was not too much different than going to the usual testing center, other than I was the only patient there, presumably because not many people have discovered it yet. But with small blood volume requirements, test results available in a few hours, and clearly posted prices (a rarity in U.S. medicine) I expect that more and more people will be trying Theranos soon.


Inakadate’s Tanbo Art! ~ Art works displayed over a summer ~

Transforming rice paddies into art

The journey to the village of Inakadate-mura is a car trip of approximately 40 minutes from Aomori Airport. Another route is to take a train on the Ou Main Line from JR Shin-Aomori Station to Kawabe Station and then take a taxi for about ten minutes. Inakadate-mura is literally an environment of countryside (inaka) surrounded by rice paddies (tanbo). Although the village has a population of only about 8,200, each year from mid-July to mid-August it’s swarmed by visitors. The sole purpose of their visit is to see “tanbo art (rice paddy art).” Last year, as many as 250,000 people visited Inakadate-mura.








The history of tanbo art goes back to 1993 when an event featuring “rice” was held in the village. To convey the enjoyment of growing rice and the fun of farming, letters were arranged in rice paddy fields by planting different colors of rice plants, which were later improved with the incorporation of pictorial elements. Through the use of more detailed, artistic designs, the method eventually evolved into the “tanbo art,” whereupon it drew greater attention. It is unknown whether the improved artistic quality is what attracts visitors by the hundreds of thousands, but artistically speaking the “real thing” has the power to attract people.

The tanbo art in Inakadate-mura is now one of Aomori Prefecture’s main sightseeing attractions. Although similar tanbo art can be found in other areas of the country, in comparative terms that of Inakadate is considered highly valuable.








As the design themes for the year 2014, which marks its twenty-second season, “Mt. Fuji and the Hagoromo Legend” was chosen for the first (main) tanbo art and “Sazae-san” (© the Hasegawa Machiko Art Museum) for the secondary tanbo art. “Mt. Fuji and the Hagoromo Legend” was selected because of Mt. Fuji’s designation as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The main rice paddy field features a pair of art works divided by a road that runs in between. Thus the longer side of each art work exceeds 100 meters, being sufficiently large in scale to attract huge crowds.

Seven colorful rice plants

The first question that comes to mind with anyone who sees the rice paddy art is whether it’s created with rice plants alone. Yes, it’s true. Only rice plants are used. It’s obvious, too, when seen from ground level, as the fields are entirely covered by rice plants. The first ricepaddy art for this year used seven colors and ten plant varieties, including “purple-leafed rice” “yellow-leafed rice” and “Tsugaru Roman.” However, as with the Nazca Lines, the designs cannot be grasped from the ground. It’s essential that the art works are appreciated from the observation tower at the Village Hall, which has the appearance of a Japanese castle. On the observation deck, security guards repeatedly call out, “Please do not stop. Keep moving,” but no one listens. Most of the visitors stop to take photos, trying to capture the entire view in a single shot.

Himeji Castle Finally Reemerged

A restoration project for the main keep of Himeji Castle was undertaken in October 2009. The so-called “Heisei (Japanese traditional era name) Restoration”–which took place 45 years after the Showa Restoration in 1964–and for approximately four years the main keep was entirely covered in scaffolding. Then, in June of this year, the scaffolding was finally disassembled and the castle was revealed. Coated in dazzling white plaster, the beauty of the walls calls to mind that of white herons, true to the castle’s nickname, “White Heron Castle.”

Himeji jo - 3







Positioning of the construction

The restoration work was concentrated on [1] white plaster reapplication, [2] roof replacement and [3] anti-seismic reinforcement. Compared to the Showa Restoration, in which buildings were dismantled for repairs, the Heisei Restoration is considered small in scale. Nevertheless, the restoration work for the largest tourism resource in Himeji City was strategically planned to maintain tourism revenue and preserve cultural assets.

“Tenku no Shirasagi,” an observation facility for the restoration work   

Tenku no Shirasagi” (“egret’s-eye view” at Himeji Castle) was established to deepen the public’s understanding of the protection and preservation of cultural assets. It was open to public for two years and ten months–from March 2011 to January 2014–during the restoration period. What is notable with this facility is that it played the primary role in resolving the number-one concern in regard to the restoration project: the decrease of tourism revenue. Thus the facility has helped to maintain revenue by attracting visitors with its observation deck built 100 meters above sea level inside the roofed scaffolding structure, offering the thrill of observing the castle architecture at close hand.

The number of visitors to the facility reached 1.84 million in total, offsetting the decline in the number of visitors to Himeji Castle (approximately 710,000 in 2012 and 880,000 in 2013). The admission to Tenku no Shirasagi was 200 yen, securing approximately 100 million yen in revenue per year. Combined with the admission to Himeji Castle, which was discounted to 400 yen during the renovation, the revenue totaled roughly 300 million yen, sufficiently maintaining the existing labor force and steady castle operation.

Four thousand tons of foundation stone/concrete

Stakes could not be used to secure the foundation when the scaffolding for Tenku no Shirasagi was erected. The areas in and around Himeji Castle are designated as special historic spots, so no ground could be excavated without revealing remains or artifacts. Therefore, to carry out piling work in the areas, excavation research was conducted and measures were taken to protect these archaeological resources. Consequently, the construction period was extended. For that reason, the foundation for Tenku no Shirasagi was built above-ground (instead of burying the foundation). After conducting a boring investigation to confirm the soil strength, foundation stone/concrete amounting to 4,000 tons was laid out, and the scaffolding structure was built on top of it.

Total cost of construction nearing 2.4 billion yen

The total cost for the construction of Tenku no Shirasagi, and other renovation work, was initially projected to be 2.8 billion yen, which, after the bidding, resulted in somewhere close to 2.4 billion yen. For this restoration project, approximately 65% of the total cost (about 1.8 billion yen) was planned to be paid at national expense and approximately 35% (about 1 billion yen) at city expense. Of the share borne by the city, approximately 50% was expected to be funded by public donations. In the end, the public donations exceeded 400 million yen and 50% of the city’s share of the cost was secured. The Showa Restoration (1956 to 1964), by comparison, cost approximately 1 billion yen (equivalent to about 4 billion yen today) and required a labor force of 250,000 persons, which explains why the Heisei Restoration is considered small in scale.

Grand reopening set for March 27, 2015

Approximately 8 months remain until the castle reopens, and Himeji City estimates that the number of castle visitors in 2015 will reach 1.9 million. In 2009, the number of castle visitors exceeded 1.56 million, due to last-minute demand before the restoration. While the maximum capacity of visitors to the castle’s main keep and other attractions is said to be approximately 7,000 persons, 20,000 persons visited the castle per day immediately before the initiation of construction in 2009. In the light of this experience, security and other practical simulations are currently being carried out. The exhibits within the castle have also been renewed and, through the use of AR technology and QR codes located in places, visitors will be able to enjoy audio guidance and virtual images on their smartphones and tablets.

The central part of Himeji City is undergoing various renovation projects, including the redevelopment of the area around the train station. However, its core project still is the restoration of Himeji Castle, the city’s largest tourism resource. Approximately 80% of all tourists to Himeji City visit the area in and around Himeji Castle, and over 50% of them leave the city on the same day. Consequently, several issues must be resolved in order to expand the city’s revenue generation in tourism. For now, we’ll wait and see how the reopening of Hijemi Castle affects the area.


The Forefront of Sports Business

~The Tokyo Olympics decision sparks excitement~

The performances of young athletes leading the Japanese sports scene have had a great influence on children and their parents alike, inspiring them to become future Olympians and world-class players. With the approaching Tokyo Olympics, various sports associations have begun to strengthen the development of athletes/players. We are likely to see a huge boom/upward trend in sports activities among young, aspiring Olympians as well as adults who are in turn inspired by them. Here are some sports facilities and classes that are rising in popularity.








The rise in popularity: Ward-run skating rink

The Sochi Winter Olympics concluded on February 23. Japanese athletes acquired a total of eight medals, second to the achievements at the Nagano Olympics. Among them, the figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu stole the spotlight. He is the first male figure skater to achieve an Olympic gold medal in a field that has been rising in popularity, following the accomplishments of competitors such as Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi.

Perhaps due to the effect of the Olympics, Edogawa Sports Land–a facility run by Edogawa Ward–has drawn a great deal of attention. In addition to being the only such facility among all the 23 wards of Tokyo to offer a ward-run ice skating rink (open in October through May), it also accommodates games such as tennis and futsal. Many skaters, ranging from beginners to Japan’s top athletes, visit the rink from all around the nation, “seeking its ice.” The rink has a long history, having been opened by Edogawa Ward in 1982 in response to the voices of elementary school children who wanted a skating rink. The rink accommodates a broad spectrum of ice sports, including figure skating, speed skating, ice hockey and curling, and provides classes for beginner and intermediate students.

The rink recorded 25,865 visitors–a record high in recent years–from the general public this January. Even in March, in which an average of 10,000 visitors is expected, it welcomed 21,985 visitors this year. With the popularity generated by the Olympics, the annual number of visitors has exceeded 110,000 people.


The volleyball school with a great reputation

Six more years remain until the Tokyo Olympics. During the previous Tokyo Olympics held in 1964, a Japanese women’s volleyball team known as the “Witches of the Orient” obtained the gold medal and received much recognition. Subsequently, however, the men’s and women’s Japanese volleyball teams went through a period of defeat against foreign teams. Recently, the popularity and skill/performance in volleyball, particularly in women’s volleyball, has been on the rise.

Ohca Sports Management, a nonprofit organization (NPO) that runs the “Ohca Volleyball Club & School,” has extended its reach beyond Tokyo to other regions across the nation, such as Shizuoka and Hiroshima. Thus the membership has seen an increase, thanks to its reputation as a “sport class that’s fun for adults too.”

The cost for a single 50-minute class is 2,990 yen (the lowest general public fare). Their biggest appeal lies in their one-on-one lessons that include the “serve-lesson course,” “spike-lesson course” and “receive-lesson course,” but team lessons are held by spontaneously grouping the day’s attendees. In our interviews of the participants, it was clear that they represented a variety of goals: There was an office worker who was always interested but never had a place to practice; a teacher who had no volleyball experience but was appointed as the volleyball club advisor and wanted better coaching and playing skills; and a girl who wanted to make the team at school.


The challenge that class businesses have faced

Given an age in which the need for places of lifelong learning and communication becomes a common topic of discussion, the sports classes and facilities within the region and society play an increasingly important role. However, with demand decreasing due to declining birthrates, aging and a shrinking population, the balance between supply-and-demand and operation costs has become a significant issue. Methods of operation will vary greatly, depending on whether an organization owns a sports facility, and the reality for small to medium-sized private businesses is that it will be costly to enter the field of sports education.

The pure heart and sparkle in a person’s eyes when he or she engages in a sports activity is the same regardless of one’s age. In order to create more places for them to thrive, private businesses might consider collaborating closely with public organizations such as local governments that own such facilities, and provide appealing sports content through a synergistic effect.

Eating Eel (Unagi)on the Midsummer Day of the Ox (Doyo Ushi no Hi)

“Eat eel on the midsummer Day of the Ox”: This is a unique Japanese custom that has been around for as long as we know. People start to crave eel at this time of year, even outside the Day of the Ox, and supermarkets and other stores actively sell the delicacy at bargain prices. Why did we come to eat eel on this day? In order to get to the bottom of it, we looked into the history behind the association of eel with the Midsummer Day of the Ox.

Unaju - s_0034







When is the Midsummer Day of the Ox?

The Day of the Ox, in 2014, falls on Tuesday, July 29. However, last year it fell on Monday, July 22. Why is this day set on a different date each year?

It is because the dates are based on Japan’s old (lunisolar) calendar. The seasons in ancient Japan were divided based on the Inyo Gogyo Setsu, or the Theory of Five Elements. The five elements of wood, fire, metal, water and earth were divided into “wood = spring,” “fire = summer,” “metal = fall” and “water = winter,” with “earth” built into each of the seasons. The period when “earth” is present in the season was referred to as Doyo Youji, which was later shortened to Doyo.


Inventor Hiraga Gennai popularized the term

Why did we establish the custom of eating eel on this day, and why did the saying emerge? There are many theories, but it seems most probable that Hiraga Gennai popularized the term. Hiraga Gennai was a renowned genius during the Edo period. Aside from his accomplishments in areas such as botany and Western studies, he was also known as an intellectual, entrepreneur and inventor. When an eel-shop owner and friend asked Gennai what he could do to increase sales, he suggested using the old custom that it was good luck to eat a food that starts with “u” (as in unagi or eel) on the Day of the Ox. Thus the phrase, “Today is the Day of the Ox (Ushi no Hi),” phrase was coined. The anecdote states that this phrase caught on then. It is still used today.


Effective not only for summer fatigue but also for longevity

Eel has many nutrients that are effective for recovery from fatigue and the prevention of decreased appetite.

It has an astounding amount of vitamin A. Its vitamin A content is said to be about 4,400 micrograms for every 100 grams. In comparison, sardines have 40 micrograms and mackerel have 24 micrograms. Aside from having the fats necessary to absorb vitamin A, it is also rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).

According to research by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Hamamatsu–famous for its eel–was ranked the number-one city for healthy life expectancy. It seems only natural to assume that there is some connection between the fact that the city spends most heavily on eel and that it has the longest healthy life expectancy.


What will happen to the price of eel!?

We would love to continue eating eel in order to stay healthy, but recently young eel (shirasu eel) have been difficult to catch, causing market prices to sky rocket. Consequently, this ingredient has become more expensive than ever. The catch this year has been comparatively fair, though, and prices are expected to stabilize.

We all need to consume eel, with its abundance of stamina-rich ingredients, to get through the hot summer days.