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Report on 15th SDGs Seminar: Michinoeki Becoming Active in Southeast Asia: Municipality Initiatives for International Cooperation and the SDGs


Guest speaker Mr. Fumio Kato

The 15th SDGs Seminar, held on December 6, 2021, addressed the topic of "Michinoeki Becoming Active in Southeast Asia: Muncipality Initiatives for International Cooperation and the SDGs." Mr. Fumio Kato, former planning director general of Minamiboso City and now CEO and vice president of Chiba Minamiboso Co., spoke to us about international cooperation by municipal authorities. We learned from his experience with Michinoeki ("road stations") as a local initiative leading to assistance to Southeast Asian countries that opportunities for involvement in international cooperation can arise from close to home.

 We learned first that Michinoeki, which have become popular in recent years as easily accessed tourist spots, are also providing mechanisms for solving local challenges, including boosting producers'  self-reliance and smoothing out the number of tourists.

For example, in the case of Michinoeki Tomiura Biwa Club, with which Mr. Kato has been involved for many years, local authorities have actively provided personnel, goods, and information, succeeding in managing the whole community via this road station. Keeping the requirements for recognition as a road station rather broad—just that they have the functions of rest facilities, local partnership, and information provision—has given communities the flexibility to put their own spin on their road stations, which is why Michinoeki have evolved so successfully.

 Scene from the seminar

Mr. Kato also used specific support cases to illustrate how Michinoeki have been received in Southeast Asia. Vietnam's road stations are realizing two of the major characteristics of Michinoeki, which are for producers to fetch reasonable prices for their goods through direct sales and to ensure food safety, helping to boost local standards of living as a result. It seemed that the similarity in challenges faced by both the Japanese countryside and developing countries has been a major factor enabling the Michinoeki concept to work in Southeast Asia. We learned that having developing countries shoulder some of the risk, such as asking them to cover part of the cost, has also helped locals take ownership of the assistance provided.

Mr. Kato's experience of throwing himself into resolving local challenges based on his motto that "getting over the risk between a commodity's potential and actual value in the marketplace" (originally from the word of Karl Marx) led to his involvement in international cooperation. His description of road stations as his “only trick” in a crowded space including local authorities and NGOs exemplifies the way in which continuing to build one’s expertise is the first step toward global-level engagement.

(Rena Uzuki, fourth-year student, Global Studies for Inter-Cultural Cooperation,
Department of Languages and Culture, Faculty of Letters and Education)

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