Koichi Sunaga at Yahoo Japan Corp. believes information technology will help turn the tide for Ishinomaki's struggling fisheries.
The Internet service firm will open an office in the city on July 30 to develop an "IT fishery," an online market for the region's fish and seafood.
The region in and around Ishinomaki, in Miyagi Prefecture, is one of the world's richest areas in the variety of fish species and amount of catches. Before last year's earthquake and tsunami, the factories of several large fish and seafood companies operated around the city, generating total annual sales of several hundred million yen (one hundred million yen equals roughly $1.28 million).
By comparison, an online market to sell local specialties would bring in just several million yen.
“I was afraid that nobody would take it seriously,” Sunaga said.
Fishermen and business groups, however, took to the new idea.
Even before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the local fishing industry was struggling in the face of flagging retail prices, and many young people looking for jobs moved to Tokyo and Sendai.
After the disaster, local people were even more desperate for change. Rather than rebuilding factories and returning to a failing business model, they wanted a way for buyers outside the area to recognize the value of their products.
By combing the area's natural abundance with online marketing, such as sending out information on which fish are in season, Sunaga said Ishinomaki has the potential to create one of the Internet's premier fish markets. He said it could be comparable to Tokyo’s Tsukiji market, a world-renowned tourist destination.
Sunaga, 45, will move to Ishinomaki from Kanagawa Prefecture to lead the office, leaving his family behind.
Since early spring, he has visited temporary housing in Ishinomaki and talked with officials at NPOs, local media and business groups about the project.
The office, to be manned by five officials, including a sales representative and an engineer, will welcome anyone interested in the new business, he said.
Success here could be good news for other struggling areas as well. Once a mechanism to nurture business in a recovering town is developed, it can be applied to other beleaguered towns, Sunaga said.
The project by Sunaga and his team is not just a philanthropic one. Sunaga said his company’s president told him he has one year to make the business profitable.
But he is ready to work with the people of Ishinomaki for even longer.
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