Anime brings the buzz back to Kochi

It's fair to say the worlds of cosplay and credit unions don't appear to have a lot in common. But a trail-blazing businesswoman in western Japan has a way to link the two in a mission to reenergize her community with creative young talent.

Yamasaki Kurumi, the 65-year-old head of Kochi Shinkin Bank, organized an anime event in April that attracted 16,000 people from all over the country. It was part of her ongoing campaign to tackle population decline in the prefecture by establishing it as a hub for the industry.

Kochi Animation Creator Festival 2024 in April drew more than 16,000 people.

The crowds of cosplayers and other visitors who turned out learned about the different elements of anime production and got a close-up look at some new technology.

The event drew cosplayers from across the country.

The festival also included a competition to discover talented young creators, with a 3-million-yen or about 19,000 dollars cash prize for the winner that was largely funded by Kochi Shinkin Bank.

Yamasaki Kurumi is the Board Chair of Kochi Shinkin Bank.

"The outflow of young people is a major issue here," says Yamasaki. "So I came up with the idea to foster anime to address the challenges facing our prefecture."

Shrinking economy needs a new focus

Kochi Shinkin Bank was established in 1923. It operates in a prefecture where the population is shrinking: from nearly 900,000 back in the 1950s to less than 670,000 in the present day.

Kochi is bordered by mountains and the sea, and is far from Japan’s biggest cities. The locals are known to welcome a challenge.

Yamasaki started out as a bank teller after finishing high school and gradually worked her way to the top. She became Japan's first female credit union chief 13 years ago.

She has stayed ahead of the curve ever since, introducing ATMs with biometric authentication ahead of other banks nationwide.

Credit unions typically focus on loans. But Yamasaki has broken the mold by focusing on securities investments too.

She says industries like anime can revitalize regional economies. That is especially important for credit unions that operate locally.

Kochi has given Japan several famous cartoonists, and Yamasaki wants to capitalize on that.

Creating a cycle of prosperity

Efforts led by Kochi Shinkin Bank look to be bearing fruit.

Figurine manufacturer Yoshimoto Daiki, 28, recently relocated his company from Kobe to Kochi. He says a decisive factor was the support he receives from the credit union.

He started hiring in April and is expanding operations. "My company is small and had less contact with people at publishing companies with decision-making power," he explains. "But I was connected with them with the help of the credit union.

"That has led to new projects which has created a cycle of increasing employment in Kochi."

Yoshimoto Daiki is the president of figurine maker Yoshimoto 3D Factory.

Yamasaki hopes businesses like Yoshimoto’s represent just the beginning of a long-term rebound.

"I think credit unions can play a new role," she says. "I believe it's very important to help communities in Kochi hold on to young people."

Kochi is one of many Japanese prefectures struggling with a falling population, but local institutions that are invested in their communities are showing they can make a difference.

Watch video 3:19