The Kamoenai Village Promotion Research Group is comprised of 24 volunteers living in the Village. The group shares information on the village via SNS, etc., and organizes a tourist event in May and an Obon Festival dance in August, etc. every year. Young people in their 20s to 30s gathered and established the Research Group in 2012.
“I have only 14 classmates from elementary and junior high school. The Research Group started when we got together for the first time after a while and talked about starting a Facebook account for a town renewal project,” recalls Matsumoto Yu, President of the Research Group.
Mr. Matsumoto wanted to do something in Kamoenai for a while.
One reason was because he felt his home village was destitute after returning from Sapporo where he spent his school days. He also noticed something as he traveled around the country for ten years while working for a travel agency.
“Tourists would eat a fancy dinner while traveling. In contrast, the tour conductors and drivers would eat a different meal. Those ordinary foods, such as local pickled vegetables and traditional stewed foods, are filled with local wisdom. I wanted to discover and share such attractiveness.”
The original project of the Research Group, Cherry Salmon Curry, was born from that idea.
In Kamoenai, often called an out-of-the-way place, curry is made with cherry salmon, which available in the spring, instead of hard-to-get meat.
Thinking that this local taste would be popular, the group organized a tourist event and started to research Cherry Salmon Curry. Ikemoto Miki, a classmate of Mr. Matsumoto’ and Secretary General of the Research Group, took the lead. She also manages an inn in the village and handles local seafood.
One year after its establishment, the Research Group held an event at a Michi-no-Eki (roadside station). 150 servings of the first Cherry Salmon Curry quickly sold out, becoming the talk of the country.
“We have two wishes. We want people to come to our village and we want the local people to have a good time.”
The Research Group also plans and organizes the Kamoenai Promotion Festival held in August. At the event, the Obon Festival Dance which ended in 1991 has been revived with everyone dancing to Kamoenai Ondo (dance song), which was facing extinction.
Okada Junji, Vice President of the Research Group, remarks.
“The most wonderful thing is to see older ones in the village participate in the Festival and having a good time. Love for my home village is fundamental to my continuing these activities. And besides, I myself think these activities are fun.”
Mr. Okada’s main business is managing a retail store, Okada Shoten. His father is currently company president. He went to high school and a university outside of town, worked for a company in Sapporo after graduation, and then returned to the village to manage the store.
“If we just stand by and do nothing, we will be unable to escape the fact that the entire village is declining due to a rapidly decreasing population and a growing super-aged society. It is important for us to give the impression that we are actively playing our part. This may be the last chance.”
Mr. Okada focuses on the development of specialty products. One is the commercialization of natural seaweed (iwanori) from Kamoenai. The seaweed grows on the reefs of Shakotan Peninsula, etc., and harvest season arrives in the dead of winter, from December to March. Only about ten people engage in processing the seaweed in the village. Mr. Okada obtained a license to collect seaweed on the reefs, learned practical skills from a master, and also made his own tools to process and sell the seaweed. Moreover, he makes seasonal nori bento (seaweed box lunch) and organizes a hands-on seaweed processing experience tour for tourists.
Mr. Ikemoto spoke to us at the end.
“I worry if we will be able to continue to live in this Village. The meals at the inns use local seafood, but if all the fishermen are gone, there is no reason to operate the inns here. From now, I must act first, in order for us to live in our much loved Kamoenai and for our children to return to their home village. Everyone plays an important role in this tiny Village. When we produce results, everyone notices. I hope you will keep in mind that if you visit Kamoenai, you can meet the people of this village.”
The Kamoenai Village Promotion Research Group