Thursday, April 03, 2008

We Will Cut Off Our Heads to Cure Our Dandruff

A bit overwrought, but this Yomiuri Shimbun article gets the point across: improving transportation links between the urban core and the rural districts will put the more isolated rural business centers at a disadvantage.

A bridge too far for Shikoku / 3 links provide more advantages to Honshu side
The Yomiuri Shimbun

The three routes linking Honshu and Shikoku across the Seto Inland Sea have had a significant impact on the tourism and distribution industries in the Kansai, Chugoku and Shikoku regions, but while Honshu has benefited, Shikoku has received the short end of the stick.

According to the Shikoku District Transport Bureau, 3.96 million people shuttled between the Shikoku and Kansai regions by bus in fiscal 2006, taking one of the three routes. The figure nearly equals the population of the Shikoku area, which stands at 4.04 million.

But despite the increased flow of people and goods, the bridges have contributed to declining sales in the Shikoku region. A Tokushima Economic Research Institute estimate shows Tokushima Prefecture lost about 23.4 billion yen in consumer spending to other prefectures in 2007.


One-third of the stores are shuttered on shopping streets in Sakaide, Kagawa Prefecture, located near the southern end of Seto Ohashi bridge.

Twenty years ago, Goro Ono, a former official of what was then the Shikoku Industry and Technology Promotion Center, warned of such dangers. The center has since been renamed the Economy, Trade and Industry Shikoku Bureau.

Attending a meeting with employees of financial institutions just before the opening of the Seto Ohashi bridge in 1988, Ono said he thought the bridge would cause the economically weaker Shikoku region to be further overwhelmed by the mainland.

To make his point, he drained an iced coffee with a straw, showed the others the glass with only the ice cubes remaining and said, "All that will be left in Shikoku will be the ice cubes."


Trucks are constantly going in and out of the Okayama Synthesis Distribution Center in the hills of suburban Okayama. The 200-hectare center, located three kilometers north of the Hayashima interchange connecting to the Sanyo Expressway, was developed by the Okayama prefectural government to take advantage of its proximity to the Seto Ohashi bridge and is now used by 113 firms, including warehouse, wholesale and transport companies.

Okayama Prefecture has the largest amount of warehouse space in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions, and the distribution center, which plays a key role in the prefecture, owes its success to the bridge.

The Hiroshima prefectural distribution center in Onomichi is located at a crossing point of the Shimanami Kaido route and the Sanyo Expressway. Most of its plots have been purchased by 36 firms. The area around the center is expected to develop along with the Onomichi Matsue route through a mountainous region in Chugoku when it opens in a few years.

Shikoku presents the other side of the coin, however. Whereas most of the Honshu plots have been purchased, a third of the plots at the Nishinagamine industrial park in Awa, Tokushima Prefecture, remain unsold.

Prefectural governments in Shikoku say the reason for the gap between Honshu and Shikoku is the high tolls on the bridges, which increase distribution costs for firms based in the Shikoku region and Awajishima island.


As each bridge opened, visitors to Shikoku's four prefectures increased. The number is currently more than 20 million per year, far greater than the number before the Seto Ohashi bridge opened.

However, the bridges have led to fewer overnight guests. In Tokushima Prefecture, only 12 percent of visitors to the prefecture stayed overnight in 2006, a record low. Only 17 percent of Kagawa Prefecture visitors stayed overnight with the number decreasing by nearly 500,000 over five years.

At Dogo spa resort in Matsuyama, 1.38 million tourists stayed overnight after the Seto Ohashi bridge opened. But in 2007, the number fell to 810,000.
Now I am not sure the bridges are to blame for the fall in overnight visitors in Tokushima and Ehime Prefectures. Likely as not, the easier transit across the Seto Inland Sea means more visitors are staying overnight in Kōchi Prefecture than before. I also sense a bit of statistical flim-flammery in the Tokushima and Kagawa figures since the "record low" percentages could be result of a huge increase of the total number of visitors, many of whom might have never visited at all had it not been possible to make the trip in a day.

Nevertheless, the "straw effect" on local business centers--where customers get sucked down the tubes--was predictable. Humans will take advantage of increased choices, if accessibility is improved.

The bridge promoters on the Shikoku side believed Japanese would never abandon their neighbors in search of better service elsewhere. Or perhaps because the construction firms got their contracts and then swung around to provide donations and votes to the politicians, the promoters just did not care about the knock-off effects of the mega-projects...

...all of which does not explain how the Yomiuri Shimbun can print both this article and editorials demanding that the Democratic Party of Japan grit its teeth, annoint itself with ashes and accept the Liberal Democratic Party leadership's capitulations to the Road Tribe.


For ever-changing views of the Honshū-Shikoku bridges, visit the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Company, Ltd.'s website.


Jan Moren said...

And, on the other hand, if you didn't have the bridges, Shikoku businesses could fairly complain that they lack access to wider markets, and the result could be gradual draining of local industry as businesses elect to expand, then move to the Honshu side.

In the end, I wonder how large this net effect really is, and to what extent the connectivity has anything to do with it. If only they'd had the foresight of putting up a high wall right across the island and population centers and only build bridges to one of the halves, so we'd have a proper control case...

MTC said...

Herr Morén -

I agree with your critical assessments.

What interests me is the guileless printing of an article offering a view seemingly diametrically opposed to the main editorial "see no evil, speak no evil" stance as regards the ruling coalition, given that the Yomiuri slants everything else toward slavish loyalty to the Cabinet, up to and including polling results.

Philosophically, the quoted article is an Asahi Shimbun article (both for its anti-LDP undercurrent and its impossible-to-justify quoting of cherry-picked statistics). How did this article get printed in the Yomiuri? Is the mother ship preparing to shift course, following new guide stars?