03 Nagai City
This area session was held in a corner of Nagai City Hall, where panelists and audience members alike enjoyed lively discussions on the theme of "play."
Nagai City boasts the highest production of competitive kendama (a traditional Japanese skill toy) in Japan, and many citizens hold a fondness for kendama - it is even recognized as the "City Art" of Nagai. Nagai has also been attracting popularity with tourists through different outdoor activities leveraging the rich nature and aquatic environment of the area - an environment that thrives throughout the four seasons. Recently, as part of a Nagai-wide push to create a techonologically-advanced city, efforts have also been made to revitalize the region through the promotion of esports, with pioneering initiatives such as the creation of a permanent esports facility within the city. In other words, Nagai City can be considered a place blessed with unique ways to play. In the area session titled "Update Nagai! ～Communicating with the World through Play～", participants exchanged opinions on the creation of new boundary-transcending ways to play and the potential for interaction with the rest of the world.
Kendama, outdoor activities, and esports each have their own special charm, and each garner many enthusiasts. To attract people to Nagai through harnessing these three elements, it was pointed out that "it is necessary to create something that is unique to Nagai alone." While each of these activity genres are appealing inividually, there is not much collaboration across them. To make the region even more attractive through play, a suggestion was made to "leverage lateral connections and implement mechanisms where addition becomes multiplication", creating a synergistic effect and building on the popularity of each genre of play.
Through this session, it became clear that the "play" found in Nagai City is an unparalleled tool when harnessed to enhance the city's branding power.
Opening remarks were made by Tamaki Saito, Vice Mayor of Nagai City.
Advisor Yuji Umetsu explained the history of kendama in Nagai City and efforts made to popularize the skill toy among citizens.
Shingo Harada spoke about outdoor activities such as yuki-ita, or snowsurfing, which involves sliding on snow using binding-less boards made from thinned wood. He actively plans and promotes tours that utilize unique local elements.
Shelby Brown, shown here demonstrating his kendama skills, was captivated by kendama after coming to Japan and even tried his hand at yuki-ita after coming to Nagai.
Nick Gallagher, 2018 Kendama World Cup Champion, came to Nagai because he knew that there he could "make a career out of the kendama (he) love(s)."
Kir1n, who works as a professional esports analyst in while also studying at Yamagata University, spoke about the popular esports trends that transcend generations and borders.
Tougo Utsugi, a student at Nagai Technical High School, spoke with a twinkle in his eye about his dream is to become a professional esports player.
Makoto Suwa, also a student at Nagai Technical High School, spoke about her experience working as support at an esports tournament. She noted that "kendama is something we take for granted, but (through this area session) I was able to see its appeal anew."
Facilitator Ken Miura suggested innovative city branding through leveraging the connections between different types of play to create new elements of fun.
Panelists smile while holding kendama.
During the networking event after the session, participants exchanged information while challenging themselves to try kendama.
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Regional Forum Area Session
～Communicating with the World through Play～
AdvisorPresident and Representative Director of Yamagata Kobo Co., Ltd.
Born in 1985 in Nagai City, after graduating from the Faculty of Economics at Chuo University, Yuji Umetsu joined the Metropolitan Police Department. In October 2008, he joined Yamagata Kobo Ltd. and he currently serves as the company's representative director and president. Yamagata Kobo Ltd. was founded in 1973, starting out manufacturing wooden toys, but and now boasts the largest production volume of competitive kendama in all of Japan.
PanelistGeneral Incorporated Association Yamagata Arcadia Tourism Bureau Tourism Exchange Section Nogawa Manabikan Section Chief
Born in Hokkaido in 1980, Shingo Harada lives in Nagai City and loves his home. At Nogawa Manabikan, located at the foot of Nagai Dam, he is involved in planning and guiding experience plans for SUP, water bicycles, buggies, shower climbing, and snowboarding. Every day he works had and does his best to make the area around Nagai Dam a place that everyone in the family, from children to the elderly, can enjoy and he is the proud father of two children himself.
PanelistSPIKE 3rd generation manager / Nagai City Regional Revitalization Cooperation Team
The incredible, amazing, and beyond talented Shelby Brown hails from from Arkansas, USA, but came to Japan as an assistant language teacher working in Fukushima Prefecture. During his time in Fukushima, he discovered the wonders of the kendama for himself and as he improved and grew as a player, began posting videos and interacting with the kendama community all over the world on social media. After having his nervous passion for kendama recognized at the Kendama World Cup, he was offered a role as a SPIKE administrator in Nagai City where he lives today.
PanelistSPIKE 4rd generation manager / Nagai City Regional Revitalization Cooperation Team
Kendama-champion Nick Gallagher is from Washington State, USA and took the world by storm when he won the Kendama World Championship in 2018.
Nick's kendama journey started at the spry young age of 11, and from there his kendama career skyrocketed with him winning title after title. Nick was introduced to Shelby via social media and after graduating university, he joined the SPIKE family here in Nagai.
Born in Tokyo in 2002, Kir1n currently lives in Yamagata and while she may seem just like your standard university student, her other life is as an analyst for the professional e-sports team FENNEL. In 2022, their team ranked top eight in the world, and in 2023, they rose to number one in Japan. Her role is to utilize data to optimize player performance and she also helps spread tournament information on social media and streaming that is easy for beginners to understand and that even advanced players can enjoy.
Students from Nagai Technical High School
Born in Yamagata in 1993, after graduating from Nihon University Yamagata Senior High School, Ken Miura studied abroad at the University of Washington in the United States. After consulting for sole proprietors, he ended up working in brand strategy consultation development for corporations. Currently, he mainly works on helping small and medium-sized enterprises formulate their missions and visions in order to discover and verbalize their unique values. His services cover a wide variety of fields including websites, advertisements, new business development, and recruitment,all of which lead back to him providing a total brand strategy that instills a strong internal company philosophy reflecting their values as companies.
Born December 28, 1974, in Yonezawa City, Yamagata Prefecture, and raised in Kawanishi, Naoko Inoue is currently a proud resident of Nagai City. During her time as a student at Kunori Gakuen Girl's High School in Yonezawa, she transferred to Glendora High School in California, USA in 1991 before going on to study at California's very own Citrus College. In 1998, she returned to Japan after experiencing working at a travel agency in LA and trying her hand at the media talent industry.
Naoko has worn many hats over the years: Radio DJ, commercial narrator, lounge DJ, bilingual English and Japanese event MC, a TV reporter for YBC Yamagata Broadcasting, TUY, and SAY Sakurambo TV, magazine model (Bi Story), interpreter, and to top it all off, she is currently active as a preschool English teacher as well as performing as one of the Yamagata Maiko. In addition, she is one of the instructors of the Yamagata Prefectural Board of Education's "Learn from Professionals" program.