Q: What are the unique characteristics of the Tsubame-Sanjo area?
Mayor Isato Kunisada of Sanjo: Sanjo is a suburban city located about 2 hours from Tokyo by shinkansen. The city boasts an abundance of nature with an expansive agricultural belt. Sanjo and its neighboring city of Tsubame are so culturally and economically tied together that we are often referred to jointly as Tsubame-Sanjo. We have a combined population of 200,000. In terms of industry, Tsubame-Sanjo has a rich history of metalworking. Blacksmiths who make swords and finishing hardware have assembled here since the early 17th century. Metal fittings made in our area are even used for the periodic rebuilding of Japan’s historic Grand Shrine of Ise in Mie Prefecture, a tradition that has continued every 20 years for the past 1200 years. The metalworking industry continues to support our economy to this day.
Q: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the traditional manufacturing industry, such as metal processing, often have lost competitiveness. How about in Tsubame-Sanjo?
Mayor Kunisada: Manufacturers in our region have been making efforts to differentiate themselves from the cheaper competition by employing unique product strategies. Snow Peak Inc. based in my city, for example, has established a joint venture with Obihiro City and produces some of the most expensive outdoor equipment in the world. Despite its extremely high prices, the company has successfully created a membership system where it directly targets 100,000 so-called “Snow Peakers” nationwide through one-to-one marketing. Additionally, the company emphasizes its responsibility for product quality and has avoided price competition by providing a lifetime warranty.
Q: The issue still lingers that SMEs, because of the sheer lack of scale, cannot brand themselves. How can they do that successfully?
Mayor Kunisada: Many of the products in my city are made by means of integral architecture. For example, one company will work with about 50 different cooperative factories in my city. They choose a group of cooperative factories, and then integrate processing technology to create each and every product.
Q: My last question is about a company, which has created a wind turbine. Can you tell us about it?
Mayor Kunisada: One of the unique products created by the government-funded cluster is a wind power turbine. In order to ensure highly efficient wind power generation regardless of wind direction and power, local companies collaborated at every step of the process, from the development of each metal material, designing of wings and coils, electrical insulation, and so forth. The project was fulfilled through the integration of the high-level metalworking techniques that local institutions have long cultivated.
Mayor Isato Kunisada
Mayor of Sanjo City. Born in 1972. Graduated from Hitotsubashi University. Studied in Beijing, China for one year as an exchange student during his senior year of college. Worked at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (Now the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). Elected as Mayor in 2006, at the youngest age in history.
Sanjo City is well known for excellent craftsmanship, as it has been the site of extensive manufacture of metal work including nails, swords, and saws since the early 17th century. Products manufactured in the region changed in turn from silverware and utensils to industrial tools, home appliances, and automotive components after the Second World War. Many local companies manufacture products not only at their own factories in Sanjo, but also at other metalworking facilities in the region that have skilled workers, equipment, and the expertise necessary to manufacture their unique products. The city is also creating a new industry founded on locally-cultivated metalworking technology. One city-funded project, for example, is to develop a small-sized wind power turbine, which can work with low wind speed and multi wind directions. Three local metal precision molding companies have teamed up with researchers and companies in neighboring prefectures to form a consortium to develop wings, coils, power generators, and control systems for wind electricity.
Population : 99,192 (as of 2015)
Area : 431.97 km²
Province : Niigata
Local GDP : USD3.5 billion
Infrastructure : See the map
Access by air : Seoul (120 minutes) from Niigata Airport, Shanghai (3 hours) from Niigata Airport
Access by train : Tokyo (120 minutes), Niigata (10 minutes)
Major industries : Metal manufacturing
Contact : Commerce and Industry Division
3-1 Asahicho2, Sanjo-city, Niigata 955-8686
The prefectures and cities that were highlighted here are just a few examples of Japan’s attractive and diverse regions. Readers will find a wide range of business opportunities in rural areas, if they visit and explore various regions on their own.
- Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO)
- Cabinet Office
- Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
Names and positions contained in this report are as of May 22, 2017.