Mie Prefecture—Getting ready for G7

Mie Prefecture—Getting ready for G7

Ago Bay in Shima city.

[INTERVIEW]

Mr. Suzuki Eikei
Governor of Mie Prefecture


Mr. Suzuki Eikei, Governor of Mie Prefecture.
Mr. Suzuki Eikei, Governor of Mie Prefecture.

—First of all, what did you hope to achieve by becoming governor of Mie Prefecture?

When I worked at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, I had the opportunity to serve in a staff position in the Prime Minister`s Official Residence. This was during the first Abe Administration. I witnessed how bureaucrats can impede politicians’ efforts to achieve their goals. At the same time, some politicians expect the bureaucrats to handle all aspects of policy formation.

So the question facing me was: should I become a bureaucrat who is not an impediment to politicians, or become a politician who does not delegate policy formation to the bureaucrats? I decided to quit the ministry and enter politics because I felt it was the quickest way to reach my goals. I subsequently ran for a seat in the House of Representatives, but unfortunately my bid was unsuccessful.

After that I returned to Mie Prefecture. As I continued to pursue my goals, I was struck by the fact that Mie Prefecture was not well-known, both in Japan and internationally. I thought Mie Prefecture needed a higher profile, and I was encouraged by those who knew me to run for the governorship. I’m now in my second term.

The campaign to bring the G7 to Mie reflects my commitment to achieving a higher profile for the prefecture.

—The G7 summit will be held in the Ise-Shima area in June 2015. Why was Ise-Shima selected to host the summit?

The summit will be held in Ise-Shima thanks to Prime Minister Abe’s strong backing of our lobbying campaign, with help from the private sector.

Night scene of Petrochemical complex in Yokkaichi.
Night scene of Petrochemical complex in Yokkaichi.

Prime Minister Abe is a strong supporter of Japanese traditions and culture and has been a regular visitor to Mie Prefecture over the years. Mr. Abe wants to ensure that Japan presents Asia’s interests and concerns to the world. His intention is also to share a beauty of Mie prefecture and Ise Shrine, of course – a symbol of Japan’s cultural roots.

The prefectural government joined with private enterprise and formed an organization to lobby for hosting the summit. We also met with Yoshihide Suga, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fumio Kishida, to promote the concept.

—What preparations are under way for the summit? What in particular do you regard as important?

Security is our top priority, particularly in view of the recent incident in Paris. The government, the police, the Self Defense Forces, and other responsible entities are preparing a security plan. The Paris attacks focused on soft targets―a theater, cafes, and restaurants. Security at such locations is critical. To achieve this, we established the Mie Partnership for the Prevention of Terrorism, composed of 41 entities including Mie Prefectural Police Headquarters, the prefectural government, and private enterprise. The members are committed to preventing terrorism through joint monitoring of suspicious activity. Local residents are in the best position to note local security problems, such as suspicious vehicles and individuals. Citizens are also contributing in a variety of ways, such as securing construction sites against use as places of concealment for terrorists.

Security is our top priority, particularly in view of the recent incident in Paris. The government, the police, the Self Defense Forces, and other responsible entities are preparing a security plan.

Cyber terrorism is another focus. We’re holding exercises to guard against malware and cyber attacks, and implementing measures to raise the level of PC security. Accumulated sand is being cleared from rivers to eliminate possible hiding places for destructive devices. Grass and trees along roadways are being cut, and additional lighting and security cameras are being installed along public roads.

Raising Mie’s profile is also important. In late October last year, we collaborated with MOFA on presentations to diplomatic missions and foreign economic organizations. We’re also holding press tours. So far, journalists from 22 countries have participated. We are also working to place Mie specialties on the menu when foreign leaders and their spouses visit Japan.

In April, we’ll be holding a junior summit in Kuwana to maximize the current and future benefits of the G7 summit for young people in Mie Prefecture. We are also taking this opportunity to offer programs in international understanding and relations to deepen the ties between local residents and the participating nations. Ninety presentations will be offered for a wide range of entities and organizations, including nursery schools and kindergartens, primary and secondary educational institutions, special needs schools, government and other organizations, and enterprises. We wanted to draw on local residents for our language volunteers. A call for two hundred volunteers drew over a thousand applications, and we are considering how we can make best use of so many volunteers.

Infrastructure is another focus. We estimate that a half a million of hotel rooms will be needed during the summit. To meet this demand, we’re looking at creating a centralized hotel reservation center. An inflow of forty to fifty thousand people is expected in the area during summit week. A center for international media representatives will be made available at a prefectural facility.

One hundred and forty economic, administrative, cultural, and other organizations are participating in the Ise-Shima Summit Mie Residents Council. In November, the MOFA section responsible for summit preparations began presentations to foreign diplomatic missions. MOFA is acting as principal diplomatic liaison, while the prefecture is coordinating with the Ministry to orient diplomatic personnel when they visit Mie for research and inspections.

—Is there a message you are hoping to send through Mie’s hosting of the summit? Is there something specific you want to publicize, or a Mie specialty you plan to promote?

Ise-Shima will be two days and a night event. We therefore hope that members of the international delegations will at least make time to visit Ise Shrine.

Ise Shrine represents a kind of spirituality that transcends race, gender, religion, and age. It is a spirituality of mutual acceptance. I think the path to peace is for non-extremists to practice mutual acceptance of religious and ethnic differences.

The shrine has existed for two millennia. By custom, it is partially rebuilt every 20 years. This process of continuing change reflects the eternal meaning of the shrine. To ensure eternal peace and economic growth throughout changing eras, certain things must always be protected, while others must change to reflect changing circumstances. This is an important message and one we hope to convey effectively.

Mie Prefecture is also home to Suzuka Circuit and F1 racing, and is a major center for the electronics industry. Tradition and innovation exist side by side in Mie Prefecture. This is another message we are eager to get across.

Of course, Matsusaka beef and Ise shrimp are well-known elements of Japanese cuisine that come from Mie. Pearl culture originated in Mie, and we want to communicate its quality as well. I understand that the price of Mie pearls has risen since the decision to host the summit was announced.

Mie’s Amas―predominantly female divers who dive for shellfish, seaweed and other marine products―have long been a symbol of women’s independence.

Ninjya Museum in Iga city.
Ninjya Museum in Iga city.

—Tourism to Toyako (Hokkaido) increased after hosting the summit in 2008, but subsequently fell. How does Mie plan to maintain the summit’s impact on tourism?

A domestic research organization calculated that over the five-year period following the summit, inbound and so-called MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and events) tourism in Mie Prefecture will increase by 110 billion yen. Last year, after the summit was announced, Mie’s year-on-year growth in inbound tourism for the months of July, August, and September was number one, number one, and number two, respectively, among Japan’s prefectures. To maintain this growth, we’re working to enhance Wi-Fi access, increase multilanguage signage, and offer more duty-free outlets. Personnel equipped to service inbound tourists in hotels and inns are being trained, and lodging facilities that are not currently serving inbound tourists are actively preparing to accept foreign guests.

Mie is a major domestic tourist destination. At the same time, only 2% of the guests in lodging facilities are non-Japanese. With the completion of the maglev express in 2027, people will be able to travel between Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes, and this will greatly enhance access to Mie.

MICE tourism also doubled in the Toyako area before and after the summit there. In April, we will inaugurate a section in the prefectural office to promote MICE tourism.

I see Davos as a good example of what Mie can achieve. Davos is a small town, yet it regularly hosts international conferences, though of a different type from the G7 summit. International meetings don’t have to be held in large cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, or Kyoto. My goal is to develop Mie Prefecture as a world-class host for international conferences.

Mie is a major domestic tourist destination. At the same time, only 2% of the guests in lodging facilities are non-Japanese. With the completion of the maglev express in 2027, people will be able to travel between Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes, and this will greatly enhance access to Mie. The prefecture is still a bit off the beaten track for first-time tourists to Japan, who usually visit places like Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, and Kyoto, but we hope to attract many foreign tourists making their second visit to Japan.

Ise Jingu–a Shinto Shrine–in Ise, Mie prefecture has been preserved exactly like it was around 2,000 years ago. / Credits: yasa_.

Mie has 74 golf courses and has hosted professional golf tours. The International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO) is headquartered in London and actively promotes golf tourism. In the ASEAN region, Pattaya in Thailand also promotes such tourism. Pattaya receives 6.5 million foreign visitors each year, half a million of whom are thought to be golf tourists. We believe such tourism will serve as an economic stimulus in Mie.

Mie Prefecture is also the historic home of Iga ninjas. I serve as chairman of the Japan Ninja Council. We held a seminar on ninjas last July at the Japanese Cultural Center in Paris. Ninjas tend to be thought of as soldiers, but they also served as police and bureaucrats. The seminar featured information on the lifestyle and diet of ninjas and was very well received.

—Japan is working to expand the participation of women in society. What are your views on this?

World heritage Kumanokodo in Owase city and Kumano city.
World heritage Kumanokodo in Owase city and Kumano city.

Among Japan’s prefectural governors, I am one of the most active in promoting such participation, I believe greater participation of women in society is very important. My wife is a three-time Olympic synchronized swimming competitor. Today she continues to teach children and give lectures. As her husband I want to see her do well, and I encourage her activities. When our first child was born, I took paternity leave and always encourage my staff to follow my example. I believe greater male participation in child rearing is critical if we are to achieve greater participation in society for women.

To achieve greater participation for women, Japanese men must change their attitudes and approach to work. Enterprises much change the way they work. I believe it is men and enterprises, not women, that need to change. Nationwide, the number of men taking paternity leave averages 3%. In our prefectural government office the rate is 16%, the highest in Japan.

I was invited to the World Assembly for Women in Tokyo: WAW! 2015. I took part in the session, on “Engaging Men in Reforms.” The session gave me an opportunity to exchange opinions with Masako Mori (former Minister of State for Gender Equality), Haruno Yoshida (president of BT Japan), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, (Executive Director, UN Women), and Ing Kantha Phav (Minister of Women’s Affairs, Cambodia).

Ise Shrine is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu. Amas have been active in Mie for over a millennium. Professional wrestler Saori Yoshida hails from Mie. All in all, Mie Prefecture has a long history of women playing important roles.


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