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Ideathon at Ofunato

HeisePhilipp

On the 15th of September we went to Ofunato with Yamadera-san, where on the 16th of September an ideathon about revitalizing the local fishing industry was held. In this blog we will talk a little bit about our experiences, in aspect of the nature and of course of the topics related to the Ideathon.

Arrival in Ofunato

During our arrival we saw the still destroyed landscapes, which were caused by the tsunami in 2011. Some places still look like a desert, it’s only a flat, brown area of nothingness. One single tree and some ruins of big buildings are the only remainings of the former civilisation. To prevent the damage of the possible next tsunami, they are building big walls around the coast. On one hand, the wall offers more safety for the people and the environment, but on the other hand it destroys the otherwise beautiful scenery.
Then, after a about 5 hours long car trip, we arrived in Ofunato. Since we were at the coast and participate in an Ideathon about the fishing industry, the whole trip was themed around fishes. So the first thing we did, when we arrived was going into a restaurant to eat fresh summerfish sashimi. This was the first time we have eaten sashimi and it was really delicious. After our lunch we met the other participants of the Ideathon and went to visit the Abecho fish factory.

You can see the big wall all around this harbour

Abecho fish factory

To investigate, which processes the fish goes through, after it got caught, we went into a fish factory. There we first got some basic information about the company and some clothing for the tour. Before we could enter the halls, we needed to do several hygiene measures.
The factory itself has two distinct areas, both seperated by floors. The first floor is for fresh fish. There, the fish is sorted by their size automatically. Also a lot of low temperature fridges are located in this area to store the fish. Some even have up to -50 degrees. Part of the tour was to step into one of those fridges. It was so cold, that a wet towel froze in seconds and hot water, which was thrown into the air, froze immediately.
The second floor is for preparing and packaging the fish. There, with help of a lot big machines, the fresh fish will be filleted, frozen and packaged without air. There were also machines to get rid of some fish oil, which is later used for fish oil products. Sadly we don’t have pictures of the factory, because we left our phones in our baggage to prevent it from any damage by the freezer.
Link to Abecho’s website: http://www.abecho.co.jp/

Premeeting

In the beginning we have to say, that everyone was speaking Japanese. One of the guys there tried to translate most of it to English, but it was very sparse. So we hope we got most of it right and there are no misunderstandings or wrong information.

After our factory tour, one of the Abecho’s presidents told us about the local fishing industry problems. He was talking about a dead end in the local fishing industry and that new ways to sell are needed. They can’t focus on other areas, because they are a big company. Their main focus is on squids, but as a side business and to survive, the focus is on vegetable tempura, too. They even sell shrimp oil, which has omega 3 fat and is very high end. Second problem is the inflation and that consumers have more power than the producers. Consumers have a lot of other choices to buy fish and when the price is too high, they just choose another seller to buy the fish and that’s often from another country where they have less standards. Following from this, companies have to sell their fish very cheap, even when the quality is really good. As an example for the standards he mentioned fish bones. Japan has very high standards with fish bones, but they are hard and costly to remove. Western countries don’t have high standards with removing fish bones so they can sell their fish cheaper. The last problem he spoke of was, that farming is not so successful at the moment, because there are many fishing places and there is no need to farm them right now, even if they have a huge problem with overfishing.

BBQ

To complement the day, we went to an old fisherman to have some BBQ. But first his wife gave us a quick presentation about the damage that the tsunami dealt. It was really unreal and scary how big the tsunami actually got. There was an entire village directly at the coast, that is now completely gone and rebuild further up in the mountains.

The wall was built, where the village was located before the tsunami

One purpose of the BBQ was to get to know all the other participants of the Ideathon. So there we talked a lot with other people and enjoyed the seafood (at least most of it…). Also the old man taught us, how to make summerfish and scallop sashimi. At the end of the day we went to a Ryokan, with a nice ocean view and finished our day with an nicely onsen, where you were able to hear the sound of the ocean.

Fishing

The night was quickly over, because at 5 AM we went fishing. We drove to the nearest harbour and assembled our fishing rods. We fished for about two hours and didn’t catch a single fish to eat. One member of our group was skilled (or lucky) enough to catch a small one, but it was later reused as a bait. With empty hands we made our way back to the Ryokan and got ready for the Ideathon. On our way to the location where the Ideathon was held, we stopped at a viewing platform, where we had a beautiful view of the city and the ocean. There were also a lot of big and colorful spiders in the forest.

Ofunato from the Viewing Point

Ideathon

Problems

After visiting the viewing platform it was time for the main event, the Ideathon. First everyone introduced themselves and gave their motivation for participating in that Ideathon. After that everyone wrote down some problems of the local’s fishing industry on post-notes, which were then attached to a huge whiteboard. Then everyone marked the, in their opinion, most important ones and at the end the most marked ones were talked about by the entire group. For example:

  • Empty towns
  • Not so tasteful and common parts of the fish are thrown into the garbage
  • Lot’s of trash in the ocean
  • Fishing industry is a family business
  • Hard competition between local industries
  • Overfishing
  • Bad IT in government
  • Rules to follow
  • Even local people can’t explain the attractiveness of the place

and much more.

Solutions

After stating all of the problems and weighting them, teams of around 3-5 people were build to find ideas for the problems. We worked on solutions for the problem, that there are not many young people in Ofunato, which leads to empty towns and a decrease in profit for the local fishing industry. After some brainstorming and an cultural exchange, where we explained some experiences from germany related to that topic, we came up with some good ideas. Because of the language barrier, we could not do as much as we wanted, but I think we integrated well. Than after around 3 hours there was presentation time and each group had to present their solutions to everyone, followed by some feedback. There were a lot of good solutions for branding, environment for younger people, automation & machines, marine resources and other problems.
For us the most interesting and promising one was a solution for one of the other problems: To take the focus on camping cars, to attract people to come to Ofunato. Traveling to and in Ofunato by normal cars is hard, because Ofunato is mostly a countrie side. With a camping car Ofunato is way easier to access and way more people would come to the city. In Ofunato there are only few places to park. Therefore it would be good to build big parking lots for the camping cars at super markets or near fish markets. The parking lots should be open 24/7 to make them accessible all the time. Also some facilities to barbeque would be useful. Then it would be important to make maps with these parking lots, barbeque spots, camping places, routes and other information. Ofunato is a really good place for camping cars, because local people don’t care about them and the nature is very beautiful and it would be the first big place for camping cars, which would attract a lot of people. Additionally the camping cars should be manufactured with some build in tech, for example wifi or navigators. At the same time you could even hire local drivers, to drive these camping cars to get even more jobs.
As you can see there is a small overall investment needed for a possible huge profit. In the end of the presentation some asked about the problem, that camping people are sometimes considered as criminals, but a Airbnb like rating system would be possible to solve this problem.
Other solutions where for example:

  • To make the town more attractive with
    • Shopping centers
    • Sport activities
    • General free time activities
    • Guest houses with activities
    • Tsunami museum
    • Better public transportation
  • Start up support
  • Better advertising
  • Better automation and machines
  • Spread information on social networks and youtube
  • Use cheap things like garbage of the sea for art
  • Take advantage of small fishes
  • Selling local fish on other places
  • Tell local people how to brand right

and much more.
Eventually we said goodbye to everyone and at around 5 PM we drove back to Aizu and immediately fell into our beds after a long but eventful weekend.

Differences between German and Japanese Fishing industry

Because we are German interns on an internship in Japan we thought it is maybe interesting to list some differences between the two fishing industries:

Germany Japan
76% of the fish imported 34% of the fish imported
24% of the fish domestically caught 66% of the fish domestically caught
Per capita consumption 14 kg Per capita consumption 30 kg
Ancient Tradition Traditionally used to fertilize rice fields
Magnet for tourist activities Big political impact
Inland fisheries really common One of the world’s few whaling nations
1,8 million Hobby angler 220.000 fisherman alone
Offers more than 40.000 jobs overall More than 3.000 fishing ports
About 7.000 enterprises in aquaculture Advanced techniques of aquaculture
Medium standards with fish bones High standards with fish bones
Farming successful Farming not successful
Rules for overfishing (fishing quote) No law to forbid overfishing

Conclusion

On this weekend we learned a lot about fish in general and the japanese fishing industry. It was really interesting and terrifying how much damage the tsunami had really dealt to the land, the people and to the industry. Also it was really useful to take part in an Ideathon and get familiar about it´s process, because it will help us in our future job, when we have to do our own Ideathon. We think that the most solutions were really creative and could actually work in practical. Also we think, even though the language barrier, we could integrate well in one of the groups and we are happy that we could offer some help to them and together came up with some good ideas. Besides, the barbeque was one of the best barbeques we ever had and we tried so much new food. We are looking forward to experience more new and great things, like this weekend in Ofunato, during our stay in Japan.

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