April 1, 2008｜Russia
Chief, Sakhalin Representative Office, Hokkaido Government
On 18 February last, people concerned with Sakhalin’s food distribution and tourism industry licked their lips with relish at foodstuffs from Hokkaido. The number one target was soy-sauce-flavor and miso-flavor Hokkaido ramen. Those people, who were accustomed to Japanese pot noodles, just had bulging cheeks from cramming down the noodles, boiled before their eyes, and the piping-hot soup.
In fact these noodles were one item for food-tasting which Hokkaido and the Hokkaido International Trade and Industry Promotion Association had brought in, and some 20 other products with the taste of Hokkaido, including miso dressing and onion soup, were introduced to the people of Sakhalin.
In terms of Hokkaido firms taking an interest in Sakhalin to date, they have taken the “Sakhalin Projects” as a great incentive, as is to be expected, yet amid the development of Sakhalin I and II taking a breather, now, in a trend toward the “Post-Sakhalin Project” situation, food is drawing attention.
Hokkaido’s reassuringly safe food is praised by people all over the world, headed up by the “Tokachi Kawanishi yam,” sought-after in Taiwan, and Hokkaido scallops which are favored even in Europe. The flip-side to the remarkable rise in incomes is that in Sakhalin, which is dependent on the bringing in of much of its food, it is a waste not to make best use of that strength.
Unfortunately, however, most of the Japanese foodstuffs being distributed in Sakhalin come in by way of Vladivostok, and the current situation is one where those which are brought in directly from Hokkaido are few. The advantage of having regular air and sea routes is not being fully utilized. One of the reasons for this is that the importing companies that would act as partners in Sakhalin are of extremely small size, and their number is also small. Another is, I feel, that there are problems in the attitudes of companies on the Japanese side.
Currently most of the products from Hokkaido are ones on which the Sakhalin side has made the approaches. The business talk from unfamiliar Russian firms is initially dealt with half in doubt, and the lots are small and the profits not large. In such a case, an enterprising attitude will not come into being among the sellers on the Japanese side. Meanwhile, although firms which are fired up to try selling goods in Sakhalin have increased, there is no post-sale follow-up, and as they are for Russians, the tendency seems to be that leftover and somewhat less good-quality products are all right—and unfortunately this is only giving a glimpse of the whole picture.
Here, I think the necessity has arisen to loosen the “in some way strained mindset” vis-à-vis Russia. Above all, a viewpoint of “fostering” importing companies on the Russian side is of foremost importance. I think that also a position of providing an unfaltering answerability to the Russian consumer and goods of thoroughly good quality, as domestically in Japan, is becoming important, to link through to tomorrow and beyond.
Nevertheless, on the opposite, Sakhalin side with its small market, it is probably the case that they too aren’t going to become proactive. What always comes to mind when I hear such things are the words of Babe Ruth: “whenever I hit a home run I make certain to touch all four bases.” Sakhalin, which lies so close and where human exchange is progressing, is nothing other than the “first base” for Hokkaido firms in business with Russia. Even if you hit a home run, if you fail to touch the first base it won’t become a run; conversely, if you plant your foot firmly on first base, the potential widens for the following bases—toward the continent and Europe.
This year, Hokkaido and Sakhalin Oblast are marking the tenth anniversary since they concluded the Friendship and Economic Cooperation Partnership. Using this occasion, I would like, while first vigorously taking steady steps on the close-to-hand base, to continue with the challenges, in a manner able to go on connecting to the developments to come after that.