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City Spin

Sakura Koyama

These days, we associate entrepreneurs with technology and innovation. But the two young businesswomen in our next story have found opportunities in traditional crafts and they're working in some remote areas of the economy.

Something is catching the eye of passing shoppers. It's a display of handicrafts and sweets.

Mayu Shono and Mika Yamamoto worked on the packaging and design. They set up a consulting company 3 years ago, while still at university. They specialize in traditional products from regional areas of Japan.

"We like happy, sparkling items, so we named our company "Happy Sparkling Factory."
Mayu Shono / Hapikira Factory

Shono and Yamamoto grew up in Tokyo. Their interest in local specialties started in their student days. They discovered the local regions had a lot to offer, but they also noticed an image problem.

"If we say, 'Local areas are nice and full of nature' city girls won't be interested. They like cute things. So we decided to raise their interest in the local products by focusing on cute things."
Mayu Shono / Hapikira Factory

The first product they worked on was a chestnut sweet, a specialty of Nagano. This is the traditional packaging.

And this is what the young advisors came up with, a design certain to catch the eye of Tokyo girls.

"This is so tasty, girls love the taste. The problem was the color and design, it didn't look cute to young girls."
Mayu Shono / Hapikira Factory

The repackaged sweets were ready in time for Valentine's Day. Sales for the two-week campaign were up 5 times from the year before. Next, the advisors turned their attention to traditional crafts.

This is masu, a measuring cup from the old days. Shono and Yamamoto told the maker they could design a product more appealing to young women.

"I was skeptical at first --they were dressed like young city girls. But soon I realized how serious they were. They had good business ideas and enthusiasm."
Hiroyuki Ohashi / President , Ohashi Ryoki

Shono and Yamamoto tried out their designs on potential customers. They even went to New York to test the overseas market. This is the result of their research, fluorescent masu. It makes an attractive display item, or an accessory case.

Word is spreading about the Happy Sparkling Factory. On this day, the consultants are meeting with officials of a prefectural government. The officials want to promote a nationwide market for local sweets.

The advisors recommended that the sweet makers team up and offer assorted products in a cute gift box.

"It can be hard promoting local specialties, even good ones, using the old methods. We think we can make them appeal to city people by acting as interpreters, and presenting them with a story. I think that is our role."
Mika Yamamoto / Hapikira Factory

Applying a modern polish to traditional gems. Two young entrepreneurs are revealing the bright spots in Japan's regional economies.

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