Mr. Akira Kawamura, General Manager of Space Good Business, Social Good Division/ Mr. Kimihoro Minoguchi, MUJI Naoetsu store
When talking about "Revitalization of rural area", "Local production for local consumption" on TV or in a newspaper, many people might wonder "what can I do for the local community?" In this month’s Ryohin People, we interviewed Mr. Kawamura (Social Good Division) who supported the event "Naoetsu Umimachi Art" to bring Naoetsu town and contemporary art together, and Mr. Minoguchi who is in charge of Naoetsu Ryohin Shokudo in MUJI Naoetsu.
■How the event was organized
Opened in July 2020, MUJI Naoetsu's efforts to revitalize the local community began with Lifestyle Organizing School held in October 2019. Mr. Furuya, the community manager, and Mr. Hayashi, the shop manager, have been leading various initiatives to benefit the local community since the store opening.
On the other hand, there are still many challenges that we are facing. For example, revitalizing of the shopping street in front of the station, and attracting people who visit MUJI Naoetsu and the nearby aquarium Umigatari. We thought it would be a good idea to work together with Joetsu City, citizens, and local businesses to create a project that could be a catalyst to solve these problems, and so we planned "Naoetsu Umimachi Art". The event was realized not only by simply planning this exhibition, but also approaching the idea from different ways, such as working together with city hall, and explaining to local businesses how they could support it.
■Bringing Naoetsu and contemporary art together
Every town has its own history and culture. This is also true for Naoetsu, which flourished through marine transport as a port of call for Kitamae ships. We thought it would be a good idea to bring out the local charm of Naoetsu and to encourage local people to look at it again, so that people could come and go around the town and it would become lively again. The aim of "Naoetsu Umimachi Art" was to create new encounters and interactions, and to rebuild connections through the creation and appreciation of artworks.
■To increase the number of people involved
MUJI is considered an outsider except for Tokyo's Toshima ward. As an outsider, we think it is important to discover the charms of the local area, to have the local residents rethink those charms, and to increase the number of people involved in the town.
It is not easy to get people involved. As it is a city-wide project, we have received various opinions about the purpose and the direction of "Naoetsu Umimachi Art". In order to reconcile these opinions and make them understand, it is necessary, just like in business, to confront each other. So, we tried to face up to the opposing opinions and respond to them sincerely.
Just before the event, we went around the businesses in Naoetsu, one by one, with people from the city hall and asked them to put up posters and distribute flyers. In addition, Mr. Furuya discussed the project at the event of the shopping street association, and Mr. Minoguchi explained the objectives of the project "Naoetsu Umimachi Art" to the members of the restaurant association. By communicating with everyone together, the blue logo filled the streets of Naoetsu, and the citizens' gallery was opened. The shopping street, the morning market and the local people have become involved in the events linked to "Naoetsu Umimachi Art".
The fact that families who are unable to go out due to the COVID-19 pandemic are participating in the event, and that many people are gathering at the beach to watch the sunset in Naoetsu was one of great results of the increase in the number of participants in Naoetsu. In fact, visitors to the event said that they were happy to see the changes in the town. The fact that there are now more opportunities to exchange opinions through the artworks of "Naotesu Umimachi Art" is a big change in this area. Above all, we feel that the local people have become more attached to the town, and the gradual increase in the participation of neighbors in the beach clean-up is a sign that the local people's awareness is increasing.
■What We notice as an outsider
(Mr. Kawamura) I always try to enter the region with a neutral perspective, without thinking about whether the region is good or bad, whether there is something or nothing. I also try to consciously look for the great things that people in the area take for granted.
When I went to the Naoetsu shopping centre Elmar for the first time two years ago, café on the first floor was full of people, while other tenants had closed down and the building was half empty. I felt that “this place had become a place for the locals to communicate”, and I thought, "then there is a possibility that many people will gather here again!” I thought to myself. In Naoetsu, Elmar has been a place for people to gather for over 30 years.
Also, Joetsu is known for its rice. You can go to any restaurant and the rice is always delicious. This year, Mr. Furuya and Mr. Minoguchi started to grow rice to serve at the Naoetsu Ryohin Shokudo in the terraced rice fields of Azuka, a mountainous area more than 30 minutes away from Naoetsu.
(Mr Minoguchi) The reason why we started growing rice in the mountainous area was because we happened to stop by at a restaurant and we had rice which was really delicious! When I asked the owner about the rice, he told me that he dealt directly with farmers. When I asked about other restaurants, I found that many of them had the same direct business with farmers, which made me feel closer to the farmers and motivated to try and make rice for Ryohin Shokudo myself. I was invited by the town office and now I am cultivating in a farmland that has been chosen as one of the best 100 terraced rice fields. I myself am experiencing the story of production while worrying about transplantation, the circulation of spring water and weeding, etc.
(Mr. Kawamura) We would like to create a platform where store staff are all workforce so that MUJI stores all over the world can be involved in the local community as a community center and contribute to solving social and local issues, urban development and local revitalization. And the Social Good Division will be a team that constantly creates new value!
(Mr Minoguchi) We would like to set up a food distribution structure using roads and trunk lines to revitalize the local area, and a sales channel development dynamic that takes advantage of the location to strengthen the ability to collect and sell products through cooperation between producers, and work towards a market that emphasizes added value in response to demand. In addition, we would like to create a food distribution structure with zero waste by making the operation more efficient and rational than ever before.