With 2011 stretching ahead of us, all signs suggest that this will be an auspicious year for Fukuoka! The completion of the Kyushu Shinkansen, connecting Hakata and Kagoshima, will strengthen links both within the island and, on a larger scale, between east and west Japan. Simultaneously, the opening of JR Hakata City, a massive shopping complex above Hakata Station, will spark a dramatic revitalisation of the Hakata area – possibly even giving Tenjin a run for its money. At this exciting time, a new leader has emerged: 36-year-young, Mayor Soishiro Takashima. The former local TV announcer defeated the incumbent Mayor Yoshida by a decisive 13.3% spread at the polls on November 14. Fukuoka Now’s Editor-in-Chief, Nick Szasz spoke with him briefly at City Hall.
Feb. 10, 2011 – Fukuoka City Hall
Nick: So, straight off the block, why did you decide to run for Mayor?
Takashima: I’ve been interested in politics since I was very young. In elementary school, I was curious as to why there were wars – I remember thinking about how they could be avoided. Upon graduating, I looked for a job in media as I thought this could get me involved in social issues, at least as an informer. So while working in media, I began to prepare and think about how to become involved in politics. When the election for Fukuoka City Mayor came up, – well, it was my chance.
Nick: You’ve just started, but what do you hope your legacy will be?
Takashima: I hope to be remembered as fair, straight-forward and easy to understand. Currently, Japanese politics are considered very unclear and difficult to comprehend. So I will be open, clear and move faster. This will be a new age of accessible, personal politics.
Nick: I heard you have travelled overseas quite a bit. Do you speak any foreign languages?
Takashima: English?, Well, I speak a bit. (shy laughter)
Nick: Did you have any important experiences overseas?
Takashima: As a student, I travelled many times to Egypt, – at least ten times. If you live in Japan and travel, for example, to Korea or to America, you use the same measurement scale. But in places like Egypt, where a completely different system is used, you’re forced to deal with things from a new perspective. One learns that there are other value sets and, importantly, that you can choose your own values.
Nick: So you would recommend young Japanese people to travel overseas?
Takashima: Definitely, but not only young people. This January, when I addressed City Hall staff, I ask them to travel as much and as far as they could. By getting outside of your own world, you better see and understand your own.
Nick: As the youngest-ever mayor of Fukuoka and former employee of a television company many consider you to be very media and IT and savvy. How will you use internet from now on?
Takashima: City Hall has had a website for some time now. However, instead of text which requires a fair amount of processing, I believe visual communication is the future. Text is ideal for when someone knows what they want and can search for it, but when we want people to engage with a message that they need to understand, a visual approach is more effective. So, we will use more video. Also, our current website attempts to serve local citizens, overseas visitors and disabled people all from one home page. There’s lots of information and it’s difficult to navigate. We will split these up and use the most effective delivery method for each. Personally, I will continue to use Twitter and encourage others to do so too, as a way to personalize communication.
Nick: Fukuoka has been very lucky to receive visits by cruise ships carrying thousands of Chinese tourists each year. However the city has been criticized for lacking tourists attractions and infrastructure to support these visitors. Is this of concern to you?
Takashima: Yes, Fukuoka is experiencing an increase in the numbers of overseas visitors and they are enjoying unique attractions such as yatai and our good restaurants, but, to date, Fukuoka’s city planning has not paid attention to tourism. Since becoming mayor, I’ve tried to include outsider’s perspectives as much as possible in policy-making. For example, it’s still difficult for tourists to figure out our bus system and how to get from one tourist site to another. Currently, most information for visitors is limited and divided into areas such as Tenjin, Nakasu and Hakata, which might be adequate for visiting business persons, but not for general tourists. I plan to initiate major improvements in this area.
Nick: What are some of your favorite places in Fukuoka to show visitors?
Takashima: Well I like to take visitors out for delicious meals, and personally I really like Ohori Park. To have such an expansive green space in the center of the city, with the modern buildings of Momochi in the background, is impressive. I also recommend a trip to Uminonakamichi, with sea and beaches on both sides of the road.
Nick: Many people talk about the need for Fukuoka to become more international. What do you think?
Takashima: I think of “internationalization” as an all-inclusive issue. Everyone should be able to enjoy visiting or living in Fukuoka, including the disabled, children and elderly. For that reason, we’ll need more and better guide maps and digital signage in many languages. Also, projects such as creating a free WiFi network covering all of Fukuoka and an information system with practical advice on where to go and what to see need to begin. Another idea is to initiate a program in which foreign students act as guides for visiting tourists. The students can benefit from the income of a part-time job and visitors can enjoy a deeper experience of the city. However, current regulations prevent the hiring of foreign students, so we need to work on having those regulations changed. It’s a shame that more foreign student cannot find employment here after graduation. Perhaps through the establishment of a “tokku” (special deregulation zone), current national regulations which make it difficult for foreigners to be hired can be bypassed.
Nick: Unfortunately we’ve run out of time. But before we close, I’d like to pass on a printout of feedback and questions we’ve gathered via the Fukuoka Now website and Fukuoka Now’s Facebook page. Twenty-nine foreigners participated and there’s some very interesting points and ideas, all from an “outsider’s” perspective.
Takashima: Really? Thank you very much!