For Tokyo and other Japanese metropolises, the post-World War II
boom years were the best of times. Not so, however, for Japan's remote provinces and rural
areas. Here, incomes declined and populations dwindled as young people drifted away in
search of better lives in the city. Oita Prefecture, on the northeast coast of Kyushu
Island, was such a place. Once Japan's gateway to the outside world and an early center
for Western learning in Asia, by the 1970s Oita was merely a backwater. In a nation rising
quickly to wealth, Oita idled in relative poverty.
Governor Morihiko Hiramatsu has changed this.
Born in Oita City in 1924, Hiramatsu rose through local schools and served in the
Imperial Japanese Navy. Later he studied law at Tokyo University and, upon graduating in
1949, joined the powerful national ministry now known as MITIthe Ministry of
International Trade and Industry. There he helped to regulate and advise Japan's emerging
electronics industry and observed the world-changing impact of computer technology. In
1975, he returned to Oita as vice-governor. Four years later he was elected governor.
How to revitalize Oita? Solving this problem became Hiramatsu's passion. Certain
regions, he knew, had made a name for themselves by producing signature
productstangerines, pottery, shiitake mushrooms. Why not encourage every community
to devote itself to a single product in which it could truly excel? This concept became
the basis of Hiramatsu's innovative development plan: One village, one product.
Exploiting the spirit of local rivalry rooted in Oita's feudal past, Hiramatsu incited
competition among the prefecture's diverse communities as each one sought to identify and
perfect a product of its own: Kakosu limes, Himeshima prawns, Oyama plums, and Beppu
bambooware and hot springs. Building self-reliance was an important goal of the program.
There were no subsidies. Instead, Hiramatsu provided technical assistance to improve the
local goods and to develop "value-added" byproducts: sauces and jams from the
prefecture's cornucopia of fruits; chowders, dried sardines, and animal feed from its
marine life. The prefecture also publicized and marketed Oita's products. Governor
Hiramatsu himself became the prefecture's preeminent salesman.
Hiramatsu complemented the "one village, one product" movement by
aggressively recruiting high-tech industries to Oita and by building an infrastructure
commensurate with the prefecture's growing economy. Today, Oita's flowers and mushrooms
can be flown directly to markets in Tokyo"ninety minutes fresh." And
futuristic new towns called Greenpolis, Marinopolis, and Technopolis are being developed
as centers for forest, marine, and high-tech industries as well as centers for research
"Think globally, act locally" is a motto Hiramatsu repeatedly invokes. Oita
should not become an economic appendage of Tokyo, he asserts, but a free-standing
participant in the borderless economy of the globe. This is why Oita's signature products
are marketed aggressively abroad and why the governor has been vigorous in promoting
foreign exchange programs and special events that link its citizens to dozens of countries
around the world. Moreover, for several years now Hiramatsu has been preaching the
benefits of the "one village, one product" system to local governments near and
far. From Louisiana ("One parish, one product") to Fujian ("One village,
one treasure"), Hiramatsu's idea is catching on.
Meanwhile, life in Oita is getting better. Unemployment is down. Incomes are up. And for
Oita's young people, a good future now beckons at home. Little wonder that ever-smiling
Hiramatsu has been elected governor five times running.
In electing Morihiko Hiramatsu to receive the 1995 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government
Service, the board of trustees recognizes his awakening Oita prefecture to self-reliant
economic growth through the "one village, one product" movement and a spirited
call for local products with global appeal.