The Image of “Aomori”…
－Mr. Shimura is involved in the management of A-FACTORY. Please tell us about the facility.
Shimura: A-FACTORY was opened in December 2010, and is going into 6th year. 6 years ago Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train has expanded to Shin-Aomori station. As Shinkansen has an influence on both attracting and sending people off, we, as JR EAST decided to create somethings which can attract and send people off out of local resources as well as launching Shinkansen, which was completed as A-FACTORY. It is based on a concept of content development in Aomori Prefecture both for objects and matters. We focused on Cider, an alcoholic apple beverage which was not yet produced a lot in the prefecture at that time, and built a cider factory in the building. We regarded the scenery as a part of important content, and summoned the architect several times to make sure the building would blend in the scenery.
Fuji: That is brilliant.
Shimura: Recently I’m taking part in the citizenship activity around A-FACTORY. For example, the neighboring facilities have established the Council for Aomori Waterfront Development, and I take part in it. I feel Aomori City is losing the typical atmosphere which the areas facing to the sea possess. I’m actually one of the people who was impressed by Aomori for being such a wonderful place when I first visited here, so I hope I can contribute to activate it.
－You both are from out of Aomori. So can you tell us if the impression toward Aomori Prefecture changed before and after visiting Aomori?
Shimura: It’s actually not about me but my family. They didn’t know anything about Aomori and were thinking Aomori would have nothing but mountains.
Fuji: I was thinking Aomori would have nothing but forests.
Shimura: Likewise. I showed my family the map of Aomori telling that Aomori is facing to the sea, you can find rivers too, and you can enjoy great food. As for the regional economy, it will need to make all kinds of efforts from now on. I want to create something which can energize Aomori.
Fuji: I see. I used to live in Oirase in Towada. In winter it was much colder than I expected. Besides, I got to live in the old house and when the temperature became like -15℃, I saw inside the house got frozen. It was the first experience in my life, but somehow the winter life was very interesting. The reason I feel comfortable for the cool summer in Aomori should be from the experience in Kyushu.
What I didn’t expect was that Aomori wasn’t far from Tokyo. I used to work around Kyushu, and if you want to go to Tokyo, you have to transfer the Shinkansen bullet train in Kansai area, so I rather travel by air than by Shinkansen from there. To get to Tokyo, first you pass Kansai area, then Nagoya and it’s further ahead…that’s how I feel.
Shimura: So in Kyushu you feel Tokyo is located 3 regions away?
Fuji: Yes, I feel Tokyo is like 3 or 4 regions away. On the other hand, in Aomori, unexpectedly I feel I can get to Tokyo right away. At the time I was a director at Towada Art Center, I was surprised that so many people came and visit the art center from Tokyo.
Shimura: So Aomori is not far away from Tokyo.
Fuji: It surprised me Tokyo was closer, much closer than I thought.
－Please tell us what made you involved in Aomori.
Fuji: I kind of chose to come to Aomori by myself. Talking about Shinkansen, when the extension of Shikansen to Kagoshima was finally announced, I was so glad and expressed my joy to many people but most of them including people in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima didn’t understand me responding with a statement like: “Shinkansen? So what?”.
Shimura: Shinkansen might already be taken for granted by people living in those areas.
Fuji: Only the people in Aomori said: “I understand your feeling, about time”. That made me interested in Aomori. When I come to think of it, there are things in common between Kagoshima and Aomori such as the landforms. I think between Northern Tohoku and the mountain areas in Kagoshima, Miyazaki or Southern Kyushu have many similarities regarding arts and culture. The native accent intonation between the areas are similar too. As I started to feel close to Aomori, the great earthquake struck northern Japan, and happened to have more business in Tohoku such as Miyagi and Fukushima, then I built a network of connections with people in Aomori.
Shimura: I was connected to Aomori while I was involved in Ecute Omiya in Saitama, which is the in-station facility I organized and also was the store manager. It had a positive reputation since it was very original at that time.
At first we stuck to selling products made in Tokyo area with refined taste, but we felt it somehow boring, and discussed we should sell local products too. So we opened a temporary shop for 2 weeks with a theme of “Aomori Apple Kingdom”. Although some co-workers were anxious if we were able to manage it only with apples, we had an extremely good reaction from customers. When you display various kinds of apples, customers enjoy learning the difference. My first contact with Aomori was through the “Aomori Apple Kingdom” limited-time-only shop.
What is the value of “Aomori”?
－Please tell us your favorite season of the year or sceneries in Aomori Prefecture.
Shimura: It’s hard to pick only one. I love the summer in Aomori. My favorite place is Oirase because you can enjoy the view, hands-on experiences are available and I feel there I can discover various things – I’m obsessed with Oirase. I also like swans in Aomori. When I see swans flying above me in winter, I feel it is so Aomori. I don’t think you can see swans flying above the town in other prefectures.
When I first saw then I thought they were UFO.
Fuji: It’s hard for me to tell by seasons. I agree Oirase is really a nice place to visit in any time of the season. The sense of silence in the deep snow is indescribable. Oirase is actually attractive in winter that you can enjoy snow shoe trekking. That’s what you can’t experience in other seasons. Needless to say, appreciating cherry blossoms, new leaves and autumn foliage are all enchanting, but the closed, silent space in winter activates creativity inside of me.
－From the perspectives of persons who were not natives of Aomori, what would be the charms of Aomori, or what would be the issues of Aomori?
Fuji: I’ve been talking about this in various places. I believe the regions with severe winter are obviously advantageous as for developing the ability to create images, which you can call it art. I think being trapped in the white world can develop people’s sensibilities and desires. I’m from Amami Oshima, where you see flowers blooming any time of the season which makes you not really respect or adore colors. I shouldn’t complain to the works of nature, but I feel there is a difference compare to the regions where people get trapped a certain period of time in severe winter.
For example, people in Aomori have the advantage of sensibilities such as being able to react to the bright side of things and being able to take a strong interest to the story lines. Nothing can be done if you are just trapped, but as for Aomori, while not trapped there are big festivals in summer, and can enjoy great food. I feel having such cycle is important.
Shimura: That’s an eye opener. It’s so true. While you are trapped, you develop yourself including your own style, thought, background then you disclose them to the public.
Shimura: In August, we held a live painting event called “NuRIE” in here (A-FACTORY) which was creating a huge coloring work with everyone. We invited an art creator who makes a rough sketch by researching the town, and complete the work by making children paint it. I think not only the tourists but also local people discovered new aspects of Aomori through the art event.
Fuji: Did the kids paint with watercolor paints?
Shimura: We prepared colored pencils, and “Vegetable Crayon” produced in Aomori.
－ The designer of “Vegetable Crayon” got an idea from the white snow scenery in Aomori.
Fuji: I feel because you tend to be trapped in snow, it is a good environment to create contents. That’s why I want people to express more. There are festivals, but I kind of feel that people put too much energy on them. Aomori is such an attracting place and I want people to be able to groove all together with something other than the festivals, and want them to be openly made known from the world outside.
Shimura: The issue should be a declining population, which may rapidly be progressing. On business, specialists are remarkably decreasing. The commercial facilities we manage realize that licensed specialists such as cooks and hairstylists are not really applying to our job offer. This is a serious problem because we absolutely need licensed specialists. When people get out of town, the region gets deactivated so I’m worried about it, and think something has to be done. I feel we have to make Aomori more attractive not only as a place to live, but also as a place to work.
Opinions for “Establishment of Aomori Brand” in 2030
－What do you think will be the most important thing for “Establishment of Globally Known Aomori Brand” which we aim to achieve in 2030?
Fuji: I believe there is a paradox that when you intend to create brand, you can’t make it. Actually I feel the only way to create “Aomori Brand” is from getting it out of the branding stereotypes. We have to develop the sensibilities for interesting things and potential, up-and-coming gems by not following the existing concepts, or we can make people involve in the project who already have that kind of sensibilities.
Shimura: That’s right. I also feel developing such sensibilities within Aomori Prefecture is required, and at the same time attracting sensible people who are interested in Aomori is very important. The key will be not pushing them to come this way, but attracting them naturally.
Fuji: Aomori aims to establish the brand in 2030. It’s not too far away.
Shimura: It’s 2016 this year, so we have 14 years left. As for establishing a brand might need longer period of time.
For example, current elementary school kids will come to discuss what we are currently talking about at the time they become older than 30 or 40 years old…maybe. To think that way, we really have to start it right now. After 30 years or so, today’s children who become adults then will discuss the same thing as we are currently doing, I hope.
Fuji: I think the process never ends to create a brand. As time never ends, “keep updating” is what we should always have in mind.
As you keep doing it, you should be able to discover and notice something new. I hope Aomori Brand will make it that way.