1. Local tasks
Rural areas are remote from capital cities but have many problems in common, including.declining population, advancement in the mean age of the population, and declining employment opportunities, Local development is required to resolve these problems. To resolve these problems requires the strengthen of existing local industries or creation of new ones. Either way, if implemented successfully, employment opportunities and the local working population will increase.
There is one relatively easy way to improve local development and that is via tourism. The tourist industry involves many people and also various other industries, and so has the potential to exert broad effects on the local community. Many areas already try to attract tourists but they have problems such as tourism resources that lack charm or are on a limited scale, hampering the ability to attract large numbers of tourists.
Some areas clearly recognize the importance of the tourism industry and try to find new resources or develop existing ones.
2. Tourism resources relevant to the Teizan Canal
(1) The tourism industry
It is said that tourism is the biggest growth industry of the 21st century. When people have sufficient basic necessities (food, clothing and housing), they gain an interest in travelling. When economically emerging nations improve their average wealth, the people begin to travel abroad, and in 2017 this resulted in about 30 million tourists visiting Japan. The Japanese government is planning to increase this number to around 40 million, making Japan a major tourist destination.
Tourism is potentially a very important industry for rural areas. If rural areas can attract large numbers of tourists, whether local or from abroad, it will increase interaction among different nations and will improve the local economy. However, even if Japan becomes a major tourist destination, it is of no use to rural areas if the tourists only visit the main capital cities, so rural areas need to make greater efforts to attract these tourists.
Tourist resources are composed of many aspects such as nature, historical heritage, traditional culture and crafts, and food. Some rural areas do not have such tourist resources but it is to be expected that such resources exist so it is necessary to discover new resources or reassess and polish existing ones and take advantage of them.
(2) Canals and tourism
The aim of the Teizan Canal Research Institute is using the canal as a tourist resource and (along the way？) to contribute to the development and activity of the local economy. Generally speaking, is it possible for the Teizan Canal to become a tourist resource?
In the West, many canals were constructed until the era of railway transportation. However, canals were essential to carry cargo from ports to the interior of the country. In Japan, too, many canals were constructed, centred around ports or to connect different river systems, and these are among the reasons why the Teizan canal was constructed.
However, the railways became the main mode of transportation and took over the role of the canals, which were subsequently abandoned. Later, people began to consider using canals for tourism and leisure.
In the middle of the 18th century in England, a several-thousand kilometre network of canals was constructed to transport coal and goods. Recently, this canal network and its narrow boats have been revived for leisure purposes.
The medieval city of Bruges in Belgium flourished as a centre for woollen goods and has a network of canals. Boat cruises along the canals of this city have become very popular and attract many tourists. This is a very interesting example of a city in decline being revived through the use of canals.
There is one successful example in Japan: Otaru Canal in Hokkaido. This canal is a very short (only 1.3km) constructed in the Taisho period (1912-1925) but it has been developed, along with its traditional warehouse buildings, as one of the major tourist destinations in Hokkaido.
These examples indicate that there are many possibilities for canals to be used as tourist resources, which have the dual charms of historical heritage and as a place for boating leisure.
It should be possible for us to take advantage of the canal’s potential as a tourist resource.
(3) The Teizan Canal and tourism
The above examples demonstrate that it is possible for canals to be used as a tourist resource, so this should be applicable also to the Teizan Canal. As mentioned above, the Teizan Canal has unique characteristics among the canals of Japan: it is the longest canal in Japan; it has a unique historical heritage; and many local areas are involved, each with their own charm and not available on other canals in Japan. There is no as-yet-untouched tourist resource like the Teizan Canal so now in this new era it is time to begin its development.
In Miyagi Prefecture, there are many well known tourism resources, including its three largest hot spring resorts (Akiu, Sakunami and Naruko), in addition to Matsushima and Mount Zao. However, if we depend only on these existing tourist resources in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of tourists will soon reach saturation, so it is necessary to develop new tourist resources to improve the local economy. If a different type of tourist resource is developed, such as the Teizan Canal, this will greatly improve the tourist industry for Miyagi Prefecture.