Confluence: Hirosaki, Music, Apples, and Gastronomic Tourism

This is the second editorial published by Last year we uploaded a multi-part series on eel (unagi), which culminated with an editorial exhorting Hamamatsu to use its reputation for eel to attract high-end tourists. The piece begins as follows: “The Japanese tourism industry was thriving until the crisis of 2020. Even during those boom times, though, it was difficult for some smaller cities and towns to attract foreign tourists in significant numbers. Considering the fact that many first-time travelers to Japan are under both time and financial constraints, it is not surprising that they gravitate to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji. Yet there are other places in the country that should prove equally attractive, if not for the general tourist, then for certain cohorts; e.g.,…gastronomes… Pre-2020, it appeared to us that a more imaginative approach to marketing such locations to these specialized cohorts would result in much higher numbers heading to those places.” Interested readers can read the whole editorial here.

confluence: def. 2) A convergence or combination of forces, people, or things. [Wiktionary]

Recently, one of us here at had the opportunity to attend a private shamisen (Japanese three-stringed instrument) concert at which a renowned performer electrified the audience with his virtuosity and passion. He also demonstrated how the instrument can be used in the performance of non-traditional genres; i.e., jazz, rock, classical.

The shamisen is closely associated with Hirosaki City, which is located in Aomori Prefecture, northern Japan. The annual Tsugaru Shamisen World Cup will be held there on May 3 and 4 this year. This entry is being written on May 1. How is that for confluence? Hirosaki is also renowned for apples. Indeed, it is the largest apple producer in Japan. Japan produces a great variety of apples, and they are of the highest quality.

On April 23, 2023, the English-language version of the Mainichi published an article from Kyodo entitled “Japan Eyes Shift to ‘Quality’ Experiences as Inbound Tourism Recovers.” This sentence caught my eye immediately: “For the longer-term, Japan needs to focus more on ‘quality’ experiences, industry experts say, with some areas already promoting…gastronomy tourism.” The article went on to quote Shintaro Inagaki of Mizuho Securities as follows: “The focus of foreign tourists has shifted to the quality of experience rather than buying goods…. Spending per foreign visitor tends to decline in the countryside, so attaining…200,000 yen goal while promoting more tourist flows to rural areas will not be easy.”1 I was, of course, elated when I read this because these are the policies that I have been advocating for years, in my lectures, on my blog, and in my publications. I might add at this point that I hold a graduate certificate in Gastronomic Tourism from Southern Cross University/Le Cordon Bleu and am also a Certified Cider Professional.

What If? Moment

What if Hirosaki combined its shamisen musical heritage and reputation for quality apple production and related products in such a way as to attract both foreign and domestic tourists? How might that be done?

Here is how: The Hirosaki Apple-Cider Song Contest

My Reasoning: 1) First, Hirosaki produces a large variety of apples suitable for cider. Second, the drink is low in alcohol, which should make it attractive to certain cohorts; e.g., young people, women. Third, it is delicious and refreshing. Fourth, Japanese consumers to a large extent prefer eating apples that are aesthetic. Misshapen or cosmetically imperfect fruit is not likely to command a high price. Hence, what may be unsuitable for the table may be perfect for the glass. Note: JR is marketing its own cider from Aomori. It was introduced at FoodEx. The cider market is likely to expand in the future.

My proposal in brief: 1) Hirosaki sponsors a song-writing contest open to foreigners and Japanese. The song must be about cider-making, cider-drinking, and/or apple production. Preferably, there would be two winners: one for lyrics written in Japanese, the other for lyrics written in English. After the winning lyrics have been chosen, the two songs are set to music and performed on shamisen. Prizes are awarded to the winners in a well-publicized ceremony.

Rituals and songs are very good marketing tools. The United Kingdom is a major cider producer. The Wurzels are a Scrumpy and Western band from Somerset, UK. Their most famous song is “I Am a Cider Drinker.” This song does for Somerset ciders what the winners of the proposed Hirosaki song contest can do for Aomori ciders. Their website is as follows: . However, I suggest readers watch the “I Am a Cider Drinker” video on YouTube:

To the naysayers out there who say “It cannot be done.” “It’s a waste of time.” “Nobody would be interested in something like that!” I think a little history lesson might be in order. An unnamed MGM executive wrote in a memo after viewing the Wizard of Oz: “That rainbow song is no good. Take it out.”2 Or how about this quote? “You have a chip on your tooth, your Adam’s apple sticks out too far and you talk too slow.” That is what a film executive told Clint Eastwood in 1959.3 And most of our readers probably know how Decca Records treated The Beatles in 1962. If you don’t, check it out.

A few Mutsu for spice; And some Granny Smith would be nice; I won’t keep my Rome Beauty on ice! No dice!

1“Japan Eyes Shift to ‘Quality’ Experiences as Inbound Tourism Recovers,” Mainichi, April 23, 2023.

2Pile, Stephen, The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures (London: Bloomsbury House, 2011.)


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