Revitalizing Tokyo's rival
May 8, 2017
Osaka is the biggest city in western Japan and is seen as a rival to Tokyo. But with most businesses choosing to set up in Tokyo, there has been an outflow of workers from the Osaka area.
Over the past 25 years, about half a million people have moved to Tokyo and its surrounding areas.
Especially alarming is the number of people between their teens and their 30s who have been leaving.
The main reason behind this trend is jobs. Many young workers have headed to Tokyo because they believe it offers better career prospects. Companies in Osaka and the surrounding area are taking measures to turn things around.
Osaka is the metropolis of western Japan, and it has long been known as the city of merchants. Many large companies have their headquarters there.
But when we asked young people where they are trying to find jobs, many of them said Tokyo.
The Osaka region is losing valuable human resources because many talented young people are moving elsewhere.
To stop the outflow, a forum has been established to come up with ideas for new businesses that can attract young workers.
Knowledge Capital allows entrepreneurs, university professors, and artists to meet and interact.
There are about 2,000 members, mainly from Osaka and its surrounding areas. They pay an annual membership fee of about $900.
"It's a good place to bridge the barriers between industries," says a member.
Staff members called communicators work to facilitate collaborations among people from different backgrounds.
The aim of the forum is to facilitate the creation of new businesses and industries.
Hiroyasu Koma is a local entrepreneur who has used the contacts he made at Knowledge capital to expand his business internationally. He is the president of a firm that developed and sells Japan's first electric sports cars.
Koma is meeting with Takahiro Fukuda, the president of a software company.
Fukuda's company is developing a wearable computer that can send wireless commands to cars, electrical appliances, and other devices.
They speak about whether this technology can be applied to electric cars.
"I don't want to confine myself to the car industry. I think we can create totally new things by interacting with IT firms," says Koma.
The role of communicators does not end there. They give briefings on prototypes shown in the exhibition room to visitors.
"Women don't like low seats. It would be great if you could adjust the height of the car," says a visitor.
The communicators collect both positive and negative feedback from the visitors. Then, the communicators give the feedback to the creators to help them further develop their products.
"That suggestion could be useful in our next generation of cars," says Koma.
Up-and-coming startups are emerging from Knowledge Capital, and expectations are high that those firms will attract young people in the region.
Already-established companies are also stepping up their efforts to stem the exodus of young talent.
A joint information session is being held, where each company is the best in its industry.
"Information about excellent small and mid-sized companies is not reaching students. We want them to understand that there are wonderful local companies out there," says Hideaki Shiga, the event organizer.
Some local companies promote their work-life balance policies.
One company makes and sells, among other things, crane hooks used at construction sites.
The recruitment manager Takayasu Kiba has come up with a new strategy for this year.
He plans to promote the fact that they don't work overtime, as well as other benefits that make working for the company more attractive to jobseekers.
Kiba starts attracting the attention of the students straight away.
"The working conditions are important. You’re free to do what you want when the day is done," he explains.
He also responds to a question from a student about maternity leave and childcare programs. The students give Kiba the kind of reaction he is hoping for.
"When I mention paid vacation days, I can see their eyes sparkling. I think I got their attention," he says.
NHK World's Kyoko Tashiro is joined in the studio by Kansai University Professor Eriko Oka, a researcher on cities and living environments.
Tashiro: What are your thoughts on Osaka and its surrounding area’s efforts against population drain?
Oka: As we just saw, Knowledge Capital is a place where various people meet, or companies meet to create something new. We haven’t had a place like that in Osaka up until now and I think it is an excellent initiative.
When you go there you see many people from overseas, and I didn’t know that so many people from overseas were in Osaka, I was very surprised.
Tashiro: The place is made available to young people and students, but not many know or make use of it. Why do you think that is?
Oka: That’s right. Many of them don’t know about it at all. Students today really don’t go out to experience things for themselves, or don’t look for jobs by themselves.
Rather, they sit at their desks and use their computers to apply for jobs. So what that means is that they don’t find really good unique companies. They can’t find them because those companies come low in the search results. So, there are not many hits.
Tashiro: There are many only-one companies in Osaka and the surrounding areas, right?
Oka: Yes, there are many. There are many globally competitive companies, but they are very small and not really visible to many students.
Tashiro: These companies are not able to attract attention of the students like the big companies?
Oka: That’s right.
Tashiro: There were mentions of creating ideal working conditions. What are your thoughts?
Oka: Up until now, work would be decided first and then people would live in a place that the company told them to live. But now, women need to look after children, and they need to think about work-life balance as well. So they’re looking for a place that they can work and a place that they can enjoy living, or that’s comfortable to live in. Those are the kinds of places where towns need to be built and it’s something I always am thinking about. So there will be people who are coming back to their hometown or coming from Tokyo.
Tashiro: So work selection comes later?
Oka: That’s right. First, they’ll live in and around Osaka, and then look at what kind of work there is in that area. I think there are more people doing that.
Tashiro: In that sense, Osaka and its surrounding area could have competitive advantages over the Tokyo area?
Oka: Of course, in and around Osaka, we have a long history. There are many cultural sights, the mountains and the sea are close by, and it’s reasonably priced. It’s easy to live in and also everything is close together so you can experience many things and get to places quickly.
Tashiro: And how can you promote these efforts going forward?
Oka: I think it’s important to actively promote the attractions of Osaka and the surrounding cities around the area to people in Tokyo and let them know what a good place it is to live in.