Nikkei_SmallNikkei Newspaper (1st June 2016) had an interview with CEO Shotaro Tomita, who wants to be a captain of Kitamaebune in 21 century.

Kitamaebune (北前船) is boat trading that connected Osaka to Hokkaido via Hokuriku from 17 to 19 century. Hokkaido exported fish and Hokuriku exported rice. Osaka exported alcohol and salt back to them. Because each country has different products at that time, they were all benefited by Kitamaebune.

100 years later, Japan became the world third largest economy, and Tokyo became one of the world largest cities. But other cities where Kitamaebune connected a century ago lost powers.

Shotaro has seen such changes in Toyama Prefecture, 400km away from Tokyo. Toyama’s population decreased. Many shops closed or moved away from main streets.Shotaro struggled to manage his metal trading company. Metal industry peaked out in 1970s, and he had to find new business. Aluminum products had already been a commodity, and he could hardly make profits.

One day, Sanrio asked him to produce Hello Kitty products with
metal masters in Toyama. He introduced local manufacturers and made Hello Kitty products.

mirafexHe learned that such neue Kombination is key not only to his company, but also to local economy. No matter how wonderful skills metal masters have, they can hardly make profits. Because they failed to convince customers that their products have values for prices. They have skills, and Sanrio has brands and customers. When both work together, they can create values.

He saw the neue Kombination as the same as Kitamaebune, which connect town to town. Some companies go to Tokyo to pursue new ideas. Instead, Shotaro goes the other way. When he established Hokusei Europe, he did not go to Paris. He went to Stockholm and Helsinki. He then set up branch in Hokkaido, and a subsidiary in Okinawa. They are two of the farthest cities from Tokyo. Go to the U.S.? He did not go to New York. But he established a subsidiary in Portland, Oregon.

Sweden has a reflective called ‘Mirafex’. He made an accessory and sell it to Volvo Japan. Hokkaido’s designer used Toyama’s copper tiles and created kitchenware.

Okinawa has citrus depressa. He brought it to Finland and tries to produce a new beverage. Therefore, his kitamaebune got global and still is going on.