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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Trending with Tradition

Mar. 17, 2016

Savvy businesses in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto are taking advantage of the city's popularity and traditional resources to find success.

The city in western Japan attracts more than 50 million tourists a year. Kyoto is famous for its breathtaking scenery throughout the 4 seasons. The ancient capital also boasts a history of over 1,000 years.

Cerca Travel Company is run by 4 women, and Yukiko Inoue is the president. Their specialized tours for women are crafted with hospitality or "omotenashi" in mind.

Participants can experience Kyoto's many attractions. The travel agency creates itineraries with details in mind. At restaurants, for instance, participants learn how the intricate cuisine is presented.

Satomi Hirano from Tokyo took part in one of the most popular of the company's tours. It's called "Solo Wedding." Participants can choose a wedding dress and idyllic Kyoto location where they will be photographed.

Hirano married 16 years ago. But at the time, she couldn't wear a wedding dress.

"I always regretted not wearing a wedding dress, and wanted to change that. This tour gave me that chance," she says.

The photography session took place at a tranquil, traditional garden, normally closed to the public. Inoue's company received special permission.

"She must be very nervous, as she came here by herself. I make it a rule to be very attentive with my clients, especially on this tour, so they feel comfortable," Inoue says.

Hirano realized her dream at last, 16 years later.

"I'm delighted beyond words. I feel so energized, and can now enjoy my family life even more. I'm so happy I came here," Hirano says.

"Women are feeling more independent these days, but sometimes they struggle with their self-esteem," Inoue says. "I hope my tours help women feel a renewed sense of confidence."

A Kyoto firm founded over 200 years ago is also gaining success with their new take on paints. The paint manufacturer once sold colors used in ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints.

The company has manufactured the Japanese-style paints for centuries. They began marketing a new product 6 years ago: bottles of nail polish.

Company executive Yumi Ishida led the team that developed the product. The polish contains a white pigment used in Japanese painting. Called "gofun," it's made from powdered shells.

Ishida focused on calcium carbonate contained in the shell layers. The result was a substance that produced a pearl-like gloss.

The nail polish became a hit. Not only is it pretty, it's toxic-free, without irritating thinners or odor. It doesn't harm the nail, and it's easily removed with rubbing alcohol.

Ishida was inspired by an elderly woman she met during a volunteer activity.

The woman told her that cosmetics tended to irritate her skin. Ishida learned that many elderly women are in the same predicament.

"The woman told me she really wanted to wear makeup. I was sure, that if she could, she'd become more beautiful and smile more often. I wanted to create a product that women like her could enjoy," Ishida says.

She first consulted a cosmetics firm. She then spent a year researching ways to make the polish less harmful to skin and nails.

The polish is selling well at one hospital, where many patients are very ill. Putting on nail polish cheers them up.

One of the patients there, Michiko Yamamoto, has kidney disease and must receive dialysis. She began wearing the polish 6 months ago.

"My fingernails are breaking and turning black, probably because of the medicine I need to take. I was resigned to having ugly nails, but I found the nail polish. As a woman, I'm very happy to have beautiful fingernails," Yamamoto says.

"Women are always happy to look beautiful, regardless of their age or situation. I hope I can develop more products that make them happy," Ishida says.


Chie Yamano, chief producer at Innovation Center Osaka, joined NHK World's Kyoko Tashiro in the Osaka studio.

Tashiro: Ms. Yamano, what are the features of this new business model using Kyoto traditions and culture?

Yamano: Let me see, the second company in the video goes back 265 years. In Kyoto, there are many companies that go back 200 or 300 years. So these long-established companies are also a traditional resource of Kyoto. And Kyoto's long-established companies, they have their antennae set up. So they utilize their strengths, capture new information and try to change. They're very proactive.

Tashiro: So, like that travel agency, new companies are joining in. Is that a new feature?

Yamano: Yes. Venture companies like that are partnering up with old establishments, enjoying synergies, mutually creating new value. There are lots of examples like this.

Tashiro: Creating new value -- can long-established companies easily adopt such ideas?

Yamano: Well, I don't think it's that easy. The old establishments, for generations, have tried to preserve their brand and their reputation. So if they make a mistake in trying new businesses, they can destroy that value in just an instant. So what they want to maintain and what they want to change -- it's a very subtle balance between the two. Based on that, they're trying new things.

Tashiro: What are some examples among the companies we've just seen?

Yamano: The Japanese paints company, it developed nail polish, though it didn't develop the flashy kinds that teenagers use. They could have but they didn't. What they did was they've come up with stylish products that value their brand image and selective young women and older women too that find their products attractive. They've managed to come up with this, which is very interesting.

Tashiro: So it's not just the colors themselves it's also the packaging as well.

Yamano: Yes, though this is a product from a long-established company. You can tell at a glance. I think we can learn from this.

Tashiro: These new business models takin advantage of Kyoto's traditions -- I hear some of them are targeting foreign visitors too.

Yamano: Yes, Kyoto is famous for producing Japanese green tea, and there's a company that produces green tea that has a tradition that goes back 800 years in Kyoto. This company accepts foreign students as interns and the interns help with the growing and the harvesting of the green tea. Plus, through social media they talk about the good points of Japanese tea in their home countries. So what's unique about this company is the value of Japanese green tea is the same but they've changed the way they communicate.

Tashiro: They have so many different ideas, don't they?

Yamano: Yes, in Kyoto there are not only companies, there's culture that goes back several centuries and Kyoto wishes to continue and preserve these for a long time and they are willing to change. You can feel the passion of the people supporting this.