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Vibrant SMEs of JAPAN

Shipping Tiger Blowfish from a "Landlocked Prefecture" [Yumesozo]

Secret to Robustness
  • Local branding successfully created by focusing on local resource attributes.
  • Also contributing to employment opportunities for the younger generation in a town suffering from a declining population.
  • Expanding business through direct sales of cultivated expertise.

Fish shipped from the undeveloped woodlands of Tochigi Prefecture, one of the few landlocked prefectures of Japan, are attracting attention. That fish is the "Onsen Torafugu", a tiger blowfish being raised by the company Yumesozo in the salty waters of local hot springs in the town of Nakagawa in Tochigi Prefecture. Capitalizing on expertise for shipping fish in a highly delicious state, Yumesozo sells the tiger blowfish to nearby hotels and restaurants.
 Bato Hot Springs located in the town of Nakagawa has a sodium chloride concentration of 1.2%. This concentration is about one-third that of ocean water, and is close to the 0.9% concentration of normal saline. Therefore, compared to tiger blowfish raised in the ocean, tiger blowfish raised in Nakagawa expend less energy to regulate the osmotic pressure of their body fluids. In addition, because waste heat from the hot springs can be used, the activity of the tiger blowfish does not decrease during the winter months, and the body weight of the fish can be increased. When tiger blowfish are raised in the ocean, it takes a year and a half for the fish to grow to the proper size for shipment, but when raised in water from a hot spring, it takes only a year for the fish to reach the necessary size, and thus profitability is higher.

Revitalizing a Depopulating Town

In 1984 and at the age of 27, President Katsuaki Noguchi started the Environment & Biochemistry Research Institute in his hometown of Nakagawa where he is now conducting environmental analysis. The town of Nakagawa has a population of 18,446 (as of 2010), which is decreasing year by year, and with few places for employment, Nakagawa is experiencing an outward flow of young people and an advancement of an aging population combined with a declining birth rate.
 Seeing this situation occurring in his own hometown, President Noguchi felt a sense of crisis. However, he recognized that it would not be an easy task to increase the residential population, so he wondered if there was any kind of business he could start that would differentiate Nakagawa from other regions and attract tourists. With that, he focused his attention on the area's local resource, its hot springs. The Bato Hot Springs are chloride springs that are located in Nakagawa, and Noguchi came up with the idea of using the water from those hot springs to raise saltwater fish as a specialty. First, Noguchi experimented with raising flounder, but the flounder didn't fare well in the summer, and it took two years for them to reach the size necessary for shipment. On the other hand, the unit price of tiger blowfish is high, making it easy to run a business, and because the fish are robust, they are easy to farm. Noguchi received 100 hatchlings from the Fisheries Research Agency and began experimentally farming the tiger blowfish in 2008. Yumesozo was then founded as a fish farming company.

Spreading Know-How Nationwide with Plant Sales

A closed elementary school and a vacant lot from a swimming school are being used as the plant aquaculture facility, and the company is currently shipping 500 kilograms per month. In addition, because the fish are being farmed in a closed space, the risk of disease is minimized. Noguchi is also collaborating with local companies in efforts to cultivate new sales channels by devising products that combine the tiger blowfish with other local resources such as Hirezake, a hot sake with tiger blowfish fin. Noguchi also organized the "Onsen Torafugu Study Group" with members from different industries in the local area, and the group is considering ways to revitalize the town using the Onsen Torafugu. The town of Nakagawa provided the elementary school premises as well as subsidies, and President Noguchi is grateful for "support from all of Nakagawa."
 In May 2013, Yumesozo opened the "Ooginokan" in Nakagawa as a store to test sales of Onsen Torafugu products and attract tourists. Yumesozo is also contributing to job creation through efforts such as recruiting graduates from Tochigi Prefectural Bato High School (Faculty of Fisheries) in Nakagawa. According to Noguchi, "We want to try raising high-grade fish such as grouper and longtooth grouper," and as part of this expansion in product ideas, the company plans to begin shipping "Onsen Cherry Salmon" in the spring of 2014.

Aggressively Engaged in Academic-Industrial Collaborations

Yumesozo is aggressively focused on direct sales of the tiger blowfish breeding plant and currently operates plants in 10 locations, and President Noguchi has also expanded the company's business domain to include consulting. Noguchi stated enthusiastically, "We want to provide technology and plants to hot-spring areas suffering from depopulation like Nakagawa and to areas facing the problem of unused agricultural land so that we can contribute to revitalization of local economies and to corporate business expansion."
 Yumesozo is also aggressively promoting academic-industrial collaboration. The company has teamed with the University of Tokyo to examine the amounts of amino acids that contribute to flavor such as sweetness. The company is also working with both the University of Tokyo and Fukui Prefectural University to study technology that can be used to discern between male and female tiger blowfish by examining sex chromosomes. This is because a male tiger blowfish cannot be differentiated from a female by just looking at the fish, but males carry soft roe and can thus be traded at prices that are 1,000 yen higher than female fish. Yumesozo has also partnered with Utsunomiya University to research tiger blowfish with genes that make the fish easy to raise.

A vacant lot from a swimming school are being used as the plant aquaculture facility.

A vacant lot from a swimming school are being used as the plant aquaculture facility.


Successful Branding of the Local Area with a Flexible Idea

From the idea of just one man, a town suffering from a declining population has been branded as the "Onsen Torafugu Town" and now successfully attracts customers and tourists. President Noguchi recognized that before being able to increase the residential population of Nakagawa, he first needed to consider what could be done to "spark interest in Nakagawa" and to "get people to come to Nakagawa," and he then launched a new industry for the area. Currently, Yumesozo ships Onsen Torafugu to over 100 stores including restaurants and hotels within the prefecture, and the tiger blowfish is becoming a local specialty. The flexible idea of combining "hot springs" that are a local resource with "tiger blowfish", a saltwater fish, is the factor that has led to success.

Company Data

President: Katsuaki Noguchi

President: Katsuaki Noguchi

Company name Yumesozo Inc.
President Katsuaki Noguchi
Industry Type Aquaculture
Address 231-2, Kitamukada, Nakagawamachi, Nasu-gun, Tochigi Prefecture, Japan
Phone 0287-92-5723

Printing day:August 7, 2014

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