If you visit Tokyo’s prestigious Ginza district right now you might come across a shop selling products featuring the official mascot of J-List’s home prefecture of Gunma, named Gunma-chan. The purpose of the shop is to promote awareness of our prefecture’s many wonderful products and teach Tokyo-ites about Gunma, which is located in the exact center of Japan’s main island of Honshu, about 100 km northwest of Tokyo. Gunma’s “brand” has been suffering over the last few years, coming in last place in a popularity ranking of Japan’s 47 prefectures, and when most people in Tokyo are asked what comes to mind when they think of Gunma, they can’t think of anything beyond onsen hot springs and maybe a few ski resorts. Over the years I’ve met several business partners in Tokyo who were amazed that J-List was located in such a quaint and out-of-the-way place, as if we were based in Kalamazoo, Michigan instead of a brief shinkansen hop from Japan’s capital. Although Gunma’s mascot Gunma-chan has a lot of fans, we’re definitely losing out to Kutamoto, whose popular prefectural mascot Kumamon brings in an incredible $300 million in tourism and trade to Kumamoto Prefecture annually.
Our home prefecture tries to improve its image.