《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko》
From the town of Niseko in the Shiribeshi sub-prefecture, where many migrants gather, we introduce stories surrounding the ‘choices’ of people who decided to relocate.
《Hokkaido: the migrants’ choice – from Niseko》① Kamata Satoshi, who quit the prestigious Toray company to become a ‘local vitalization cooperator’ in Niseko
Shouts of “Nice batting!” can be heard as dusk approaches at a baseball ground in Niseko. It’s late October, and Kamata Satoshi (35) – who became one of Niseko’s ‘local vitalization cooperators’ on October 1 – calls to junior high school pupils while tossing balls during batting practice. Originally from Akita City, Kamata studied at Hokkaido University where he immersed himself in skiing. He considered finding employment in Hokkaido but eventually took a job at Toray, one of Japan’s top material manufacturers. “It was probably because I liked making things, or maybe it was because all those around me were getting jobs in Tokyo.”
Until the end of September this year, Kamata was responsible for the sale of plastic film at the company’s Tokyo headquarters. His clients were all world-famous enterprises, from the Toyota and Nissan motor corporations to overseas businesses. Amid strict international competition, Kamata would spend his days summarizing the demands of clients while coordinating specifications with technical teams at the company’s factory in Ibaraki prefecture. For 12 years he gave his all to his work in creating ‘state-of-the-art’ products. He lived in a prime district of Tokyo and enjoyed a stable salary. However, he chose to throw away his lifestyle as an employee of an elite company and relocate to Niseko.
Even if he were to be promoted into a managerial position, it would be over 10 years before he could reach a position in which he could make a real difference to his job. He developed a sense of distance and lengthy timelines, and suddenly began to question is existence, commuting on packed trains. “I like my hometown of Akita and Hokkaido, too, so why am I in Tokyo,” he thought.
Toray is located in a 39-story high-rise building in the Muromachi district of Nihonbashi, Tokyo, where other large enterprises congregate. Work started at 9 o’clock every morning and finished at around 9 o’clock at night. As a single man, he often drank with clients and colleagues after work, and it was often after midnight when he returned home. Kamata found his job ‘rewarding’ but would be faced with more managerial work from his late thirties.
What never really changed was his love of mountains. However busy he found himself, he would drive to Nagano prefecture at the weekends to hike in summer and ski in winter. His desire to return to a rural area became even stronger. Amid all the subdivision, he began to question if there was still joy in creating ‘interesting things’, and wondered if he could create products related to his beloved outdoors, away from Tokyo.
Kamata conceived a business model that combines ‘craftsmanship’ and ‘skiing’, two things that he loves. At first it was ski gloves made from Hokkaido sika deerskin. He searched the length and bread of Japan for skilled businesspeople and built a supply chain. The reason he chose the international ski resort of Niskeo was because he wanted to make an original brand of ski equipment with such a world perspective. Kamata realized that there are few ski equipment makers that embody Niseko’s values and thus saw a chance.
With his friendly smile, Kamata reduced the distance between him and the people of the town and soon blended in with the community. One step toward ‘Niseko’s dream’ – the challenge from the center of Tokyo has, this winter, only just begun.