Terrie's Take 986 (Tourism Edition) - Creating Tourist Traffic for a Museum in Kasama

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Mon Apr 1 21:11:57 JST 2019

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie Lloyd, a
long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan. (

Tourism Sector Edition Monday, Apr 01, 2019, Issue No. 986

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+++ Creating Tourist Traffic for a Museum in Kasama

Over the last couple of months I have been asked to help assess the
viability of a number of remote or "not-so-accessible" prefectures looking
to attract more foreign tourists. It's kind of hard to believe that with
the flood of foreigners coming into Japan that there is any part of the
country which is untouched by their presence - but yes, there are still
some who haven't figured out how to attract outsiders. In fact in FY2018
some prefectures even experienced a fall in the number of inbound

In this latest project, in early March, I headed up to northwestern Ibaraki
(Kasama City) which is not far from the Prefectural capital of Mito.
Ibaraki is a relatively flat coastal prefecture that has for centuries been
a food supplier to Edo - and thus it has had a modest but steady flow of
income resulting in some very wealthy local families. You can tell this by
the art collections in the area, such as the Hasegawa family collection at
the Kasama Nichido Museum of Art. This small museum has an amazing array of
Monets, Renoirs, Degas, Picassos, and even an early Van Gogh - all of which
you would never know were there. My guess is that these art works are worth
at least JPY10bn. Hasegawa was an art collector who got started in the
1920's - obviously a good time to be buying impressionist paintings.

Kasama itself got started in 1771 as a post town on the main coastal route
north, but which then converted to pottery when substantial clay deposits
were found nearby. Although Arita, Imari, Bizen, and other pottery towns
are more famous, by virtue of its proximity to Tokyo, Kasama has been able
to grow by focusing on the production of every day kitchen ceramics from
the iron-rich clays. I was excited by the prospect of visiting, as I have
fond memories of visiting Koishiwara in Kyushu, a cute town with over 50
pottery studios that are in easy walking distance of each other. And since
Kasama is only 90 minutes by train and connecting bus from Tokyo, I was
hoping that it might also become a natural destination for foreign tourists
- providing sufficient marketing and transport links were made available.

Alas, it's not going to be that easy. Although I discovered that set in the
foothills where Ibaraki starts to turn into Tochigi, Kasama city is a nice
sleepy rural town that is indeed well-populated by artists, the problem
here is that the artists are hidden away from the public, working their
magic in hill-top studios or behind walls and hedgerows. Instead, their
works are displayed in a cavernous central facility, called Kasama
Geijutsunomori Koen (called "Craft Hills" in English), which is antiseptic
and run bureaucratically in a way that for westerners at least is far
removed from the passion or spontaneity you want to get from the artists
themselves. Now, I'm not saying that these people working at the park are
not professional nor that they are not dedicated to their job - I'm sure
that they are - but it is pretty obvious that they are a skeleton team run
on a skeleton budget, and that the main investment has been the buildings
and not the "software" to make it work.

This is such a common problem in Japan, not just Kasama, that there are
museums everywhere, where no one really understands how to make those
facilities perform properly. In fact, I often wonder why the central
government doesn't have a "museum assets utilization improvement" team
whose job it would be to travel the country analyzing under-performing
cultural assets and diagnosing how to get them fired up again.

In the Craft Hills facility, I'm going to guess that the main buildings
probably cost around JPY5bn-JPY10bn, and the operating budget is around
JPY1bn a year. While the original mission of the facility was probably to
provide a focal point for the Kasama heritage and sales for the current-day
ceramics industry, what appears to have happened in the intervening 30
years is that the facility has atrophied into survival mode. Again,
surmising just from what I could see, there are really only two main
audiences for the facility, apart from the ceramics university elsewhere in
the park and which I didn't get to. These audiences are retired people
wanting to get their hands on some cheap clay and create pots, and school
kids who will go there once then forget the experience - in other words,
neither audience is conducive to making profits that can be reinvested for
the future. It is only natural, therefore, that the local bureaucrats would
want to cut costs to the bone and spend almost nothing on content, program
management, marketing, project development, attractive decor, landscaping,
a decent restaurant menu, etc. I feel this is an age-old trap for Japanese
museums - splurge on the hardware then cut all the software - which is the
exact opposite of the spending patterns that are actually needed to attract
visitors - as Disneyland and Universal Studios well know.

So how to fix this bad circulation?

[Article continues below...]
------ Terrie's Slow-Poke Cycling Tour - Kyushu -------

Last year we threatened to run a cycling tour for readers, but got too busy
to actually do it. So this year we're making amends. The first tour, which
will happen in the third or fourth week of April (just before Golden Week)
will be a 5-6 day ride in Kyushu - most likely in the Nagasaki region. This
tour, and a Hokkaido tour in late August or early September, will have a
common format.

1. The tours are potluck, not professionally run. No complaining. Jokes and
helping each other out are mandatory.
2. There will be no support cars or spare bikes or guides. Instead, we use
Google maps and take the most scenic routes to arrive at our hotels each
3. Our bags will be relayed by couriers so you can ride light. Yes, we will
have inner tubes and other basic spare parts.
4. Terrie is a slow poke, so while we will indeed be covering 80km-100km a
day, it will be take 6+ hours each day, with plenty of time for lunch,
photos, drinks, etc.
5. No hill climbing! Terrie is allergic to tall mountains.
6. Although the rides will run 5-6 days, people wanting to cut out at 3
days will be able to do so.
7. Our bikes will go with us on the Shinkansen. Terrie can show you how to
prepare and break your's down for simple transport.
8. If you don't have a road bike, you can rent one at
https://www.gsastuto.com/. [Excellent supplier, great prices.]
9. Anyone over 16, any gender, welcome.
10. There will be a JPY20,000 organizing fee per rider.
11. Other costs will all be at cost. Usually this works out to about
JPY13,000/day plus Shinkansen tickets.

If you're interested in a long, slow, fun, potluck cycling tour in Japan,
contact Terrie today and he will work with you and the rest of the group to
set the final dates and routes. For those readers who have already
responded, we will be in touch shortly with the proposed travel

For more information, email: terrie.lloyd at japantravel.com
[...Article continues]

Firstly there needs to be a clear mandate from the people paying the bills
that they want the museum to be invigorated and made profitable again
(assuming as I am, that it isn't profitable now). In making that decision,
there also needs to be investment made in marketing management and actual
marketing, along with work done on access and "content". What a visitor
wants with a place like this is an immersive experience, with activity and
energy, plenty of variety in the things to see and do, thoughtful
high-quality amenities (yes, the cafe needs to be privately run), and
access to the pottery masters who are creating the works of art. In short,
the same sort of "software" that makes a theme park like Disney run. This
of course is not cheap to do, so investment and courage are required, while
the staff will probably need training so as to refocus on the needs of
their newly empowered paying audience, while of course still satisfying
their current core visitor group. That paying audience will probably
include foreign tourists and moneyed visitors from Tokyo.

How to do this? Here are some action points that I noted to myself as I
toured the facility:

* Hire a theme park specialist, but mandate them to not do cute and instead
focus on heritage and sophistication - for the audience that will actually
spend money here. Kids and young females can already get "cute" in a
thousand places closer to Tokyo.
* Hire a marketing professional who knows what audience to target and give
him/her a budget for at least 2 years to get to the agreed KPIs.
* Do the actual marketing, particularly targeting Experience ("Taiken")
sites by selling tickets to events - meaning of course that the Marketer
needs to step up the creation of attractive events and shows.
* Use all parts of the facility, leaving no part vacant and empty, and turn
the place into a hive of activity. Empty spaces in a public facility create
a dark vibe that puts people off.
* Get the nearby university ceramics students who are internationals to act
as tour guides for the facility. Give them a trade-off for cheap rent and
courses. Train them, give them credits for the work, and ensure there is at
least one "tour guide" on duty all the time.
* Make the greater township around the museum part of the exhibit area.
Solicit artists to open their front porches and be more accessible. Map out
the cooperating studios and let them keep any profits from any street sales
made. Give them free credit card terminals.
* Make budget available to improve the frequency of buses, organize
self-drive rental vehicles, and even provide some electric bicycles for
tourists to get around on.
* Make the facility come alive by having a continuous roster of working
artists on site. Surely active marketing of a potter's goods could be
traded against their showing up a couple of days a month? There are over
300 potters active in Kasama, so it should be easy enough to man the
facility every day of the week.
* Invite international potters to take up residence at Craft Hills, for
3-month and 1-year study assignments. The requirement in return for study,
food, and board being that they act as representatives for visitors a
couple of days a week, and explain the site and its art.
* Work with Airbnb and do monthly rentals for visiting foreign artists
(e.g., create mini-internships of 1 month), staying at such iconic places
as this: http://bit.ly/2U7VBjr [Ed: Very nice Airbnb listing in Kasama.]
* Hold international fairs where visitors are hosted in local homes or
given cheap passes to travel around the area. Once they discover Kasama,
especially the artist suburbs, the word-of-mouth recommendations will
spread rapidly.
* Upgrade the restaurant at the site, to serve traditional or modern,
healthy dishes, with gourmet lunch/dinner options.
* Open up the facility at night and hold soirees and other functions there.
* Free WiFi everywhere. Maps and signage in 5 languages. Credit card

Well, you get the idea.

The problem is that even knowing what the problem is, how do I submit my
evaluation in such a way that it doesn't insult the people working there?
Yes, this is tricky and is probably a matter of timing, targeting, and
perhaps dumb luck. Essentially I need to have the recommendation read by
someone international enough to listen, senior enough to take action, and
mature enough to realize that my intent is to help, not to create mayhem.
Of course, that influential person also has to feel the need to change, and
so it's important that I try to find a "receiver" and "champion" who is
already activated. Hopefully there won't require too many late nights
drinking! It would certainly help if the local community is under fiscal
pressure, but not so much so that they are one step away from closing down.
Further, what kind of political quicksand will my team be walking into?
What local sensibilities and sensitivities are at play?

Note here that I'm not saying that any of these conditions necessarily
exist in Ibaraki, just that in the past I've stumbled across many of these
challenges - with the emphasis on "stumbled".

Lastly, thanks to those people pointing out last week that Ichiro is 45
years old, not 51. The number "51" was his shirt number. Silly me.

...The information janitors/

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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