Ever imagined returning to hometown after college to devote yourself to hometown development? Perhaps it sounds daring enough for millennials, especially with the pressures to achieve a stable, affluent living.

In a situation that many millennials may feel familiar with, the main character of Sakura Quest, an anime series by the studio P.A. Works, is a fresh graduate named Yoshino, who has been unemployed for a while and in a dire financial condition to fulfill her needs. Despite that, she does not want to go back to her hometown, Manoyama, because she views that the city would better allow her to pursue her ambitions compared to working in her hometown, which has a low per capita income and less accessibility to technology and transportation.

©Alexandre S. D. Celibidache/ Sakura Quest Production Committee

And yet, having run out of money, Yoshino reluctantly agreed to what she thought would be a short part-time job as a spokeperson of Manoyama tourism department in hope of raising enough money before coming back to Tokyo. But due to a misscommunication, she found out that she was “appointed” to be a queen of “Chupakabura,” a made up micronation created to promote Manoyama. This micronation thing is actually similar to what happened in Japan during the 1980s, when small towns in rural Japan created their own micronations as a gimmick to promote themselves to increase the revenue of the region without actually possessing sovereignty.

With the minimal infrastructure development in Manoyama being depicted very clearly in the background visuals of Sakura Quest, it sets the challenge that Yoshino, a fresh graduate accustomed to the cultural, social, and technological development of Tokyo, faced in her task to advance Manoyama.

Attracting Many Tourists Do Not Necessarily Means Achievement

The population of Manoyama is mainly dominated by elders, who are also still doing productive work in agriculture, tourism, and handicrafts. These were the lifeblood of Manoyama’s economy prior to Yoshino’s arrival. In the beginning, Yoshino was convinced to stay and become a queen in Manoyama because of a special manju cake from Manoyama, made with local ingredients. Having such local product may seem promsing to grow the economy of Manoyama, but things do not go that easily.

Various ideas have been implemented to make the manju cake popular, from promotions on social media to cooperating with a film producer to use Manoyama as one of its shooting locations. It did increase the awareness of surrounding people and tourists to travel to the village. However, problems started to crop up, particularly at the time when it was planned to mass-produce the manju cake, a traditional cake for the locals, was planned to be mass produced. The plan was opposed by some of the representatives in the town council, including the trade representative who rejected it strongly. Their consideration was that the changes in budget allocation and mass-producing the manju cake can hurt the agriculture sector as it would need more raw materials than what the local farmers could supply.

Another large influx of tourists to Manoyama also occured when a band named Ptolemaios visited. But it caused new problems as there weren’t enough facilities in Manoyama to accomodate the increase in tourists, and a large amount of garbage was left behind after the concert. The concert itself did not leave the impression of Manoyama as a tourism destination, either, but only as a place that once happened to held a concert with a large number of audience.

Difference of attendees between a festival and music concert in Manoyama ©Alexandre S. D. Celibidache/ Sakura Quest Production Committee

Various regions in Indonesia have also experienced the same problems, where tourist coming in droves do not go hand in hand with improving the economy in the area. This is due to the lack of participation by the local community as they fail to compete with well-funded private sector that can mass-produce failities and services for the tourists. One notable case can be taken from the province of West Nusa Tenggara or Nusa Tenggara Barat (NTB). NTB has been famous for its beautiful beaches such as Lombok, Sengigi, and also Gigi Island that have wonderful views for local and international tourists. However, local community was left out in developing them, losing out to investors whose capital has created hotels, bars, and restaurants in the region. Though tourist are plentiful, data from Indonesia’s Central Statistics Body (BPS) recorded that the rate of poverty in NTB is 21.55% of the province’s population.

Next page: ethnobiology of regional development

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