Osaka has the potential to become a major Asian metropolis and a force to be reckoned with.
Mr. Hirofumi Yoshimura
Osaka is a metropolis that takes great pride in its venerable Japanese history and traditions. However, in the recent years, Osaka has undergone a rejuvenation to emphasize its distinctive urban characteristics. In this exclusive interview, Mr. Hirofumi Yoshimura, the second youngest mayor in Japan, shares his views about Osaka, his hometown.
—What inspired you to enter the world of politics and run for the position of mayor of Osaka?
When I was a lawyer, I had this desire to improve Osaka. I was considering different ways to increase Osaka’s strengths and I came to the conclusion that Osaka needed to challenge Tokyo in terms of attractiveness. In some other countries, the national capital and the metropolis are different: for instance, New York and Washington, D.C. or Shanghai and Beijing. We need a similar arrangement in Japan; at the moment, we do not have that. I firmly believe that to make Osaka a leader, we need to stimulate the growth of Osaka as a whole. I wanted to be involved in this process, so I moved into the political world with the ambition to make Osaka a city that would show a strong leadership and pull Japan upwards.
—Osaka City is striving to become the “second capital” of Japan. To achieve this goal, what can be done to improve Osaka’s global image?
As a national strategy, in terms of political economy, Tokyo has always been Japan’s driving force. From a crisis management standpoint, this generates great concern about what would happen if Tokyo was hit by a natural disaster. Thus, we must create a two-pole national structure led by Osaka and Tokyo, but not exclusively by them. Other cities as Fukuoka and Sapporo must gradually grow and increase their leadership. Because of its proximity to Asia, Osaka must become more than just a “small Tokyo’’; it must become a major Asian city with an identity of its own. Osaka must develop infrastructures such as express highways, airports, and railways like the Umekita Project for the north side of Osaka Station.
—Each year, an average of more than nine million tourists visit Osaka. In terms of culture, urban development, and tourism policies, what sets Osaka apart from Tokyo?
According to the latest data from the Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau, 11.1 million overseas tourists visited Osaka in 2017. In 2012, it was 2 million. In other words, in a period of five years, this figure has increased by five times. In 2017, about 13 million tourists visited Tokyo. Given Osaka’s high growth rate, Osaka may have more overseas visitors than Tokyo in the near future.
Tourists are attracted by Osaka’s culture and history. In the past, the capital city was in the Kansai Region—Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara—for more than a thousand years. The capital shifting from Osaka to Tokyo is quite recent in Japan’s history; thus, many aspects of our history and culture originate from the Kansai Region. This is reflected in both architecture and cuisine. Flourishing as a castle-town (joka machi), Osaka has always developed economically as a town of the laymen. I think this is one of the reasons why it attracts foreigners. Japanese history is more visible in the Kansai region than in Tokyo and I think it is for this reason that many people from overseas visit the Kansai region and Osaka.
—What kind of tourism policies are making Osaka even more attractive than it already is?
With the spread of the Internet, Social Networking Services (SNS) have become an indispensable tool for promoting Osaka. We are introducing OSAKA Free Wi-Fi, thus making Internet connection available everywhere.
For the sake of visitor accessibility and unlimited mobility, we are preparing tourism policies such as “Amazing Osaka Pass”; fixed-rate multiple train, bus tickets and Osaka Tour Buses for free access to tourist facilities. To make people from overseas find things interesting and useful, we are preparing mechanisms so that they are able to move around easily and to publicize through social networks. Tourists from other countries sometimes consider Japanese street signs very hard to understand. Consequently, we want to unify these signs. In addition, to make it easier for foreigners to follow, we have named the subway the Osaka Metro.
Of course, lodgings are a main concern for foreigners. Right now, Osaka offers about 60 thousand rooms in hotels and Japanese-style inns. It is estimated that this number will increase by 20 thousand before the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020. In the past, bed-and-breakfast accommodations were forbidden, but as a National Strategic Special Zone, Osaka has taken the lead in having them approved. By these means, we are promoting the provision of bed-and-breakfast accommodations where overseas tourists can stay safely.
Osaka nightlife is still lagging. Statistics show that Tokyo has a nighttime environment where consumption continues after 9 PM. In Osaka, consumption noticeably slows down after 9 PM. To overcome this challenge, we are increasing nighttime entertainment facilities for traditional Japanese performing arts and foreign shows like Cirque du Soleil.
—Osaka is competing to host the World Expo 2025. The selection will be made in November of this year. What is your vision for an international event of this kind?
I certainly do hope the World Expo will be held in Osaka. I have several goals. I think we can divide the expectations in three parts: Osaka, Japan, and the rest of the world.
For Osaka: we can expect both industrial and economic development. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan. It has great strengths in the fields of life science and medicine and holding the World Expo in Osaka will increase these strengths.
For Japan: Society 5.0 is one of the national strategies being pushed by the government. Its goal is to employ big data, Artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) in further innovations. I think holding the World Expo can contribute to Society 5.0. Another great merit for Japan would be an economic effect of two trillion yen for the nation as a whole.
For the rest of the world: the theme of the Osaka World Expo is “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.” Recently, UNICEF declared Japan the safest place on earth to have children. In other words, Japan has the world’s lowest infant mortality. In addition, Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, second to Hong-Kong only.
One of the issues that Japan and the world in general is facing is the gap between the average life expectancy and the health expectancy. The World Expo can contribute to solve this problem.
For these reasons, in the upcoming months, Japanese government bodies of all level (national, prefectoral and municipal) as well as the private sector must work together to make sure that Osaka is chosen. The G20, the most important international forum in the world, will take place in Osaka next year. Being selected as a host country will provide Osaka the opportunity to gain momentum.
For more information about Osaka City, please visit the official website: www.city.osaka.lg.jp.