Yonezawa engages visitors by offering a taste of their city through ‘Furusato Nozei’

This mountain-ringed city in Japan’s Tohoku region has long been happy with its repute as a producer of top-quality Yonezawa wagyu beef, world-class Yonezawa-ori fabrics, sake, hidden onsen, and its historical association with the Uesugi clan. Now, this gem of southeastern Yamagata goals to spread the word about its hitherto under-the-radar charms – starting by telling their story through their unique “Furusato Nozei” products and making the system more accessible to Japan’s international community.

Shirakawa Dam sunken forest near Yonezawa Photo: © PLAT YONEZAWA

An “Asiatic Arcadia” is how intrepid Nineteenth-century explorer Isabella Bird describes the plain of the Yonezawa basin in “Unbeaten Tracks,” her account of her travels around Japan at the tip of the Nineteenth century. Much could have modified within the two centuries since Bird’s visit, but, looking over the fertile fields that stretch to the snow-capped mountains that surround the small city of Yonezawa, you possibly can still see what she meant.

In Bird’s time, Yonezawa was a thriving “smiling and plenteous land”, thanks particularly to its position as a middle of textile production. But this had not all the time been the case. Town owed its prosperity to 18th-century leader Uesugi Yozan. Unlike the good warrior Uesugi Kenshin, who used military prowess to place the clan on the map, Yozan made his mark through forward-thinking economic and social reforms, rescuing the tiny domain from the brink of bankruptcy and laying the muse for growth. His approach to statecraft was much admired by U.S. President John F Kennedy and he has been a source of inspiration for a lot of Japan’s top business leaders.

Today, like many areas in Japan, Yonezawa faces the challenges of declining birthrates and rural depopulation, but a brand new generation, instilled with Yozan’s can-do spirit, is taking the reins of family businesses and coming together to construct a brand new future for his or her town. Lots of  Yonezawa’s legacy businesses have been running for a century or more. The young business leaders participating on this initiative can due to this fact leverage the wisdom and strength of generations of business acumen to hold their hometown into the long run.

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Toko premium Ginjo Umeshu Photo: © PLAT YONEZAWA

Tourism is one pillar of their revitalization plan, and the recently launched Yonezawa City DMO is taking a novel approach to raising awareness in regards to the area. The long-term strategy is to make use of big data to develop tourism policies. But, as a part of the initial phase, the DMO hopes to succeed in the international community via Furusato Nozei with their specialty items. They hope it will encourage people to make a journey to the “other side of the mountain” to enjoy its mountain hot springs, back country mountain climbing, fascinating history, and snow sports, including skiing and snowshoeing.

Japan’s Furusato Nozei “Hometown Tax” program allows tax-payers to make use of a portion of their income and residence taxes to support independent producers in rural areas across the country. The thought originated from a hope that city-dwellers would eagerly redirect their taxes to their hometowns. Nevertheless, people can select other areas as well, and receive unique and sought-after products in exchange for his or her contribution.

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Yonezawa Komon Photo: © PLAT YONEZAWA

Yonezawa produces a few of Japan’s most highly rated Japanese wagyu (Yonezawa beef), boasts the thirteenth oldest sake brewery in Japan, world-class Yonezawa-ori textiles and far more. There’s even a special gelato made with locally grown beans! All of those products are included within the Furusato Nozei program. Yonezawa’s DMO hopes that, along with raising awareness of their city, it can support local producers and start to draw a gradual stream of international visitors to the charming city.

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Yonezawa beef Photo: © PLAT YONEZAWA

Yonezawa DMO hopes that international residents of Japan, most of whom don’t have a robust “hometown” affiliation to any particular locale, will make the most of this chance to find Yonezawa from the comfort of their very own homes. The team is confident that a taste of Yonezawa beef or the realm’s top-class sake at home will prompt many residents to hop on the shinkansen for the roughly two-hour ride from Tokyo to this hidden gem, and make Yonezawa their furusato (home town) away from home.

© Japan Today

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