People cultivating the future of Aomori

Koichi Nakamura
Representative director, CEO of Qlock Up Co., Ltd.

Koichi was born and raised in Goshogawara City. He is a graduate of Hirosaki Daisan Junior High School and Hakodate La Salle Senior High School. After graduating university in Tokyo, he started to work in a video production company in Tokyo, and then moved to NY in 2005. After graduating from New York Film Academy, Koichi took charge of the comprehensive branding and advertisement at the night club & record label “Club Shelter” in SoHo. After returning to Japan in 2008, he started to work for the advertising agency as an art director in Tokyo, and then moved back to Aomori in 2009.

Koichi owns restaurants including the dining bar & cafe “PENT HOUSE”, the aged beef bar “BISTECA”, the hamburger shop “OCEAN’S DINER”, and the coffee shop “COFFEEMAN good”. He also organizes the “Aomori Coffee Festival” and publishes “KONOHEN journal” in the aim of revitalizing the community in Aomori.

- Please tell us the reason you moved back to Aomori.

I was working for an advertising agency in Tokyo. My father was running a hospital and nursing-care facilities in Aomori Prefecture, but passed away 15 years ago. Then my mother who succeeded his business also passed away 10 years ago. I felt “Local healthcare and long-term care service jobs are so meaningful in the society” and “They shouldn’t be closed down just because no one is taking over the business”. So I decided to quit my job in Tokyo and moved back to Aomori for the employees, residents, and for the community.

―How did you feel about Aomori when you returned?

What I felt the most was “Aomori is such a great place”. The hot springs and beaches are easily accessible, food is great, and local people are good-hearted. Anyway, I felt “It’s such a great place”. Internet helped me buy things what I want, and didn’t really feel frustrated like “I can’t buy things because it’s Aomori”.


However, regardless of age, I thought the people in Aomori have some kind of inferiority complex. They say “Aomori spoils everything”, “Nothing goes well”, and “Aomori isn’t cool”. As I see the people who feel disadvantaged and dislike living in Aomori, I realized quite a number of people don’t know how special Aomori is.
It was true that Aomori didn’t have any places such as “nice places to have fun” and “nice places you dress up and visit” for them at that time. As for food, you weren’t able to find places which serve new trend food such as pancakes.
There were many restaurants and I found some of them served first-rate great food with third-rate service. As I used to work in advertising, I strongly felt “Since there are good things, better public relations should be provided”.

So I thought I might be able to start something fun in Aomori if I provide new food, great service, and effective advertisement.

―So your idea took shape as the restaurant called “PENT HOUSE”.

I wanted to make places where my friends and I can get together, and places you get a little dressed up and go – and I opened the dining bar & cafe “PENT HOUSE” alongside the Showadori shopping street.
With the intention of attracting new clients to our branding business such as design and commercials by making our company as a model, I produced PENT HOUSE to become our sample house which shows “We can produce like this”, as well as producing a restaurant. So PENT HOUSE is the place which shows off the interiors, food, PR strategy, and customer service management.
The concept is if the restaurant becomes interesting, interesting customers will come. I appreciate that orders and requests for branding other companies keep coming since I started this business.

―Please tell us what can be unique to Aomori when starting new business.

As Aomori has a small population, the trade-area population is smaller (200,000 or less) than the one in the metropolitan areas. If you are in Tokyo, as the trade-area population is large, you can recoup the initial investment even the customers come to your restaurant only once. However, when it comes to Aomori, you can’t keep the business if your customers don’t come to your restaurant repeatedly. Besides, sometimes the customers choose not to come back again because of the little service mistakes or when they wanted just a little more salt in their dishes.

―Getting the repeat customers must be essential in Aomori.

Some people who had training in Tokyo or other areas launch their business as soon as they move back to their hometowns because they are just fueled by passion. However, most of them have to close their business within 2 years. In short, they try to become independent too early. No matter how delicious the food would be, if you start your business being too optimistic and skip learning things including management, research of needs around the target area, and building networks in relation to what you want to do – you’ll wind up closing your business in a short time.

―Recently, some people open shops and restaurants by moving into their hometowns or rural districts. Any thoughts? 

It’s a good thing that people move not only into the metropolitan areas but also into their hometowns or rural areas. However, what the host communities should seriously consider would be the support system for the newcomers. The startup grant for newcomers can be the common support, but the more important thing than launching business is to keep the business afloat.

If you think of how you can support the business after the start-up, the important thing will be creating a big company by gathering small individual companies. It may be the best to create the atmosphere that people can help each other and create the system which can fully support the people who wish to move back to Aomori – then Aomori can contribute to the people that they can make good use of the skills and techniques they obtained outside of Aomori.


―You became the winner of the Aomori Brand Presentation 2016. Tell us how you got the idea and your thoughts. 

While I was working in the USA, I learned “Just speak out if you want to do something”. When I moved back to Aomori and posted the idea of ice skate on SNS, I got positive responses from the people in the Showadori shopping street. So I gathered my courage and applied for the Aomori Brand Presentation.

The background of the proposal is my idea of “Changing from negative to positive”. What you think negatively can be taken positively by others, so I wanted to use the change of mindset. I was also inspired by “The Tour of the Prefecture with the Shortest Life Expectancy”, which was organized by Mr. Raisuke Nishiya who was a committee member on the Committee for the Promotion of Aomori Brand. The project is literally changing from negative to positive. By knowing the tour made me realize “Negativity can be changed into positivity so easily”.

―The theme of Aomori Brand Presentation 2016 was “Winter”. How did you change the “Winter in Aomori” from negative into positive?

In New York that is located on the same latitude as Aomori, I don’t see the residents taking “Winter” negatively although it has much snow and is very cold. On the contrary, NY residents become happy when it snows.
On the other hand, Aomori residents tend to have negative images for winter. It obviously has some tough aspects, but we need to draw something positive by changing the mindset to winter and not to end up thinking “Oh it’s tough” or “I hate it”. As for “Winter”, it’s like “Enjoying the coldness” and “Making winter fun”.

The detailed presentation can be seen with the video on the website of Aomori Brand, but to put it simply, I suggested installing an outdoor ice skate rink for a limited time in front of the station, so that both locals and tourist can enjoy the winter in Aomori. Eventually, Aomori locals might have pride or affection to “Winter” just like they have for Nebuta in summer – they’ll be able to see the winter in Aomori with positive consciousness if they can experience “fun”, “delicious”, or “joy” in the severe winter.

Aomori Coffee Festival

―Mr. Nakamura, you organize the event called “Aomori Coffee Festival”. Can you tell us how it all started?

CoffeManGOODI own the coffee shop “COFFEEMAN good” other than PENT HOUSE. I generally love coffee and flew to London for the study tour when I made up my mind to open a coffee shop. ”London Coffee Festival“ was taking place at that time. The coffee beans were collected from all over the world, so I was able to see the bean purchasing scene and various espresso machines. I felt “The whole town is trying to liven up the coffee festival”. I saw the coffee festival posters everywhere and the whole town was filled with the aroma of coffee. Now the coffee festival turned to be unmissable, but actually London was well known with the bad taste up until 5-6 years ago. However, London became one of the major coffee towns in the world. I think the coffee festival gave everyone the opportunities to drink and pay attention to coffee, which attracted better and delicious coffee and gradually enriched the coffee culture in London. Coffee is even serving the role of lubricant for business meetings and negotiations in London, and is an essential beverage to kill time or when taking a break from shopping. As the Showadori shopping street youth group was active, I suggested to the group that we hold “Aomori Coffee Festival” to create the new coffee culture in Aomori just like the one in London.


―Please tell us the future outlook of the coffee festival.

We’ve organized the festival the first time in 2016 and attracted 7,000 visitors in 2 days. In the following year in 2017, we had 9,000 visitors in one day. The latest data shows the coffee consumption per household in Aomori Prefecture ranked 9th in Japan. If we hold the coffee festival 3 more years or so, I assume Aomori might rise to the top in the coffee consuming prefecture ranking. We don’t have to be competitive to drink coffee, but I think one of the traits of Aomori locals is they fall all over themselves once they are urged to do something. My goal for now is to enjoy hosting the coffee festival constantly, to make Aomori the most coffee consuming prefecture in Japan.

―Can you say a few words for those who will launch some kind of business or projects?

When starting new business, most people have many ideas but wind up not being able to embody them. Going from 0 to 1 is important, but the previous step which means creating 0 is important as well. In that sense, the Aomori Brand Presentation was a great opportunity to embody my vague ideas such as “Doing this may make everyone’s life more convenient” or “Doing this may make money” – creating 0 and going from 0 to 1. If you find such kind of opportunities, I recommend you to make a good use of the chance and have the courage to manifest your ideas.