International Cooperation and Japan’s Local Innovation: (4) A New Era of International Cooperation Co-Created from Local Innovation


Kimata Yoichiro Representing Director for Eastern Hokkaido JICA Hokkaido (Obihiro)

This is the final installment of this series, which we have published almost monthly since September 2023.
In this final installment, I would like to talk about how we can change international cooperation from Japan's local innovation perspective.

Muslim-friendly connections generated from Tokachi's resources

Obihiro City has adopted "Food Valley Tokachi" as a regional development policy to revitalize the local economy and industry by connecting with other parts of Japan and even overseas through the agriculture, food, and nature that Tokachi has to offer. Since 2014, the Obihiro Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been supporting the implementation of the Food Valley policy in Thailand and Malaysia through JICA Partnership Programs. What is unique about this initiative is that the effects of the cooperation have not only been seen in Thailand and Malaysia but have also spread to businesses and society in Tokachi area.
Specifically, Tokachi Seika Co., Ltd. delivered a training course on how to process dairy products and make confections, which is one of Tokachi's strengths, and this exchange between companies led to the joint production of "Halal Daifuku" with a Malaysian company, certified as safe for Muslims to eat. Later, they obtained the same certification at their own factory in Japan and are now manufacturing and selling Halal Daifuku in a technical alliance with another local partner company. In recognition of these efforts, the company also received the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award in 2018. Eventually, the company is considering developing its own business in Malaysia to promote the export of Hokkaido's agricultural and marine products.
Kunaw Publishing Inc. (formerly Sogo Printing Co., Ltd.) published a free paper that introduced the slow lifestyle of Hokkaido to the local community in Malaysia. Unfortunately, this business was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the company established a travel agency separately to provide tours for Malaysian market to make the most of Hokkaido's natural resources.
In addition, Obihiro Chamber of Commerce and Industry created a "Muslim Friendly Map" which maps out places where Muslims can dine and pray in peace.

These developments have led to a proposal from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Halal Development Corporation Berhad, who came from Malaysia to study food hygiene, that he would like to produce halal-certified products from agricultural products in Tokachi.
Thus, encouraged by international cooperation, it is hoped that Tokachi's resources will be utilized to attract businesses and tourism to Malaysia and, in the future, to the Muslim market, which is estimated to be more than 1 billion people.

Circulation of tourists and visitors by mutual promotion of tourism between Kushiro and Thailand

Many of you may be familiar with JICA's Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). Then, did you know that there is a similar program in Thailand? So far, the volunteers have been dispatched to the neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Laos. To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Friends From Thailand (FFT) program, Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA) sent its volunteers to Kushiro as the first ever Thai volunteers to Japan.
Even though she was a volunteer, she had a previous experience of studying in Japan and was fluent in Japanese. Furthermore, she had worked for a Japanese travel agency in Japan and Thailand, and was an influencer with 200,000 followers on her social media.
For three months from September to December 2022, she mainly stationed in Akan area. Her innate cheerfulness attracted the local businesses. She also collaborated with the Community-Reactivating Cooperator Squads working in the area to communicate the charms of Lake Akan's nature and Ainu culture in Thai and created a proposed travel tour for Thai people.

The city of Kushiro was so impressed by her achievements. At the time of her departure, she was appointed the first foreign "Cool Kushiro City Tourism Ambassador.”
And in February 2023, Kushiro City staff members traveled to Thailand to see her. Thanks to the appointed tourism ambassador’s introduction, Kushiro City staff was able to participate in a travel fair in Thailand, building a relationship with the travel agency she worked for, and formulated strategic PR activities to attract tourism to Kushiro.
In September 2023, Young Leaders Training Program in the field of tourism promotion from Thailand was held in Kushiro, and from January 2024, a JICA Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) candidate who is scheduled to engage in tourism community development activities in Thailand is expected to spend about three months in Kushiro to work on the tourism promotion as a part of the Glocal Program. What’s more, the second FFT volunteer from Thailand is expected to arrive in Kushiro around February 2024 who is expected to work with JOCV who will be posted to Thailand.
Collaboration between Thai and Japanese volunteers in Kushiro and, in the future, in Thailand enable to plan attractive tours to Kushiro and Thailand. Many tourists from Thailand to Kushiro and from Japan to Thailand can be expected.

International cooperation connects "Mutual Local Innoavation”

As the above examples show, international cooperation is no longer just a project that benefits developing countries but it has become a "Mutual Local Innovation" project with a view to "build mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships with Japanese rural regions" beyond international cooperation.
We will grasp local charanges and possibilities from a global perspective, transcending national borders to connect the local (region) with another local in another country. I would like to keep the excitement of developing plans from the field while thinking about what themes and value we can co-create next.


International Cooperation and Japan’s Local Innovation: (1) Connection between “International” and “Local”
International Cooperation and Japan’s Local Innovation: (2) A Global Bond Born Two Decades Ago
International Cooperation and Japan’s Local Innovation: (3) Lessons Learned at the sites striving for Revival from Great East Japan Earthquake

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