Dialogue

    #31 What is Kinan’s “Port”? -Koza Culture and Rockets-

    ◆Kinan Art Week Dialogue #31

    <Guest>

    Koza MORI Corporation
    Representative Director/Chartered Accountant
    Naoya Sakamoto
    Born in Odawara City, Kanagawa Prefecture. While serving as the general representative of icube, which supports the expansion of Japanese companies into the Philippines,  Sakamoto moved his base to Koza , Kushimoto in 2020  and opened a satellite office in a renovated house. He is deeply involved in the rocket business as a guide for the Nanki-Kushimoto Tourist Association.
    https://www.icube.ph/

    <Interviewer>

    Yuto Yabumoto
    Kinan Art Week Executive Committee Chair

    What is Kinan’s “Port”? -Koza Culture and Rockets-

    Contents

    1. Introduction of Mr. Sakamoto
    2. Why did you choose the Koza  area?
    3. Unique townscape and historical background
    4. Culture and function of the port
    5. “Port” to space
    6. Rockets and art
    7. Future challenges and prospects

    1. Introduction of Mr. Sakamoto

    Yabumoto:
    Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today. Since I have the opportunity to talk to you, I have been doing some research on Kozagawa  and it is a very interesting place. I would like to talk to you about the historical background of the land, but first of all, please introduce yourself and tell us about your activities.

    Mr. Sakamoto:
    It has now been a year since I started running my own company called Koza  MORI in a place called Nakaminato in Koza , Kushimoto Town. Originally, I lived in Tokyo and for many years I was involved in the business of helping Japanese companies to expand into the Philippines. As well as helping companies expand into the country, I was involved in building the infrastructure to build an underground system in Metro Manila and used my overseas experience to work with the Sri Lankan and Egyptian governments on projects such as industrial development.

    I am currently doing such work by teleworking and running the Satellite Koza , the southernmost shared office in Honshu. Satellite Koza  is home to a design company and a public space with a library of local books. We are based there, in Nanki in real life and in the Philippines by telework. Although I am a qualified chartered accountant, I do not do much accounting work.

    Yabumoto:
    Is that so? Could you tell us more about that in depth?

    Mr. Sakamoto:
    At icube, we believe that we are doing our job to improve the region. We support people who want to do new things in the region through investment in various private companies. On the other hand, we believe that we can work with local people to attract private companies to work with us. Of course we provide accounting and taxation support, but we also focus on the preliminary stages of setting up a business in the Philippines, such as providing information and running rental offices.

    Yabumoto:
    I see. In that sense, you are involved in a wide range of businesses and you have gone beyond the accounting industry. Why did you choose Koza as your destination?

    Mr. Sakamoto:
    There is a gap, in a good way, between the image of Koza that many people imagine and the charm of Koza that I feel. This gap is similar to the gap between the Philippines and the countries of the former Yugoslavia where I have worked. Therefore, I feel that I can give back to Koza my practical experience of working abroad, which is to promote investment by bridging the gap between the (bad) external image and the actual impression when you visit the country.

    Yabumoto:
    In that sense, You’re  of a producer than a player.

    Mr. Sakamoto:
    That’s right. There are already many people doing interesting things in the southernmost part of Honshu, including Nanki-Kushimoto and Kozagawa. I would like to be a producer who can introduce their activities, tell people about the background and the future potential of the place, and be able to logically put it into words.

    2. Why did you choose the Koza area?

    Source: Photo AC

    Yabumoto:
    Next, I would like to ask you why you moved to Nanki-Kushimoto and Koza area.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    I moved my residence to my current base in August 2020, but it was 13 years ago that I started to get involved in the community. Actually, I was browsing the internet from the Philippines at the time when I saw a mountain in the Kozagawa basin listed on Yahoo Auctions. At that time, the minimum bid was 2,000 yen and I thought it was a wilderness scam (laughs).

    Yabumoto:
    I’ve certainly seen some features in the media recently about buying a mountain, and it’s a real thing (laughs).

    Mr Sakamoto:
    It all started when a forest bank, which originated in Kozagawa, put the mountain up for sale and I decided to go and have a look. When I actually went there, I found that they were seriously engaged in brokering the sale of the mountain and the river was very clean, so I bought the mountain. Every time I came back to Japan, I took my family to visit my mountain.

    Source: Photo AC

    Yabumoto:
    Did your wife have any objections?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    She likes nature too, so she said “That sounds fun “. I wanted to set up a base close to the station so that more of my friends could visit, and about two years ago I was offered a studio, warehouse and main building by a retired carpenter at a reasonable price. The timing was right for us to be selected for a subsidy for entrepreneurship to solve local issues from the Wakayama Prefectural Government, and we started running a satellite office.

    Also, to change the subject a little, it was said that there are many people in the Koza area who are well versed in geology, history and culture and who have long been erudite bookworms.

    Yabumoto:
    I see. There are beautiful places all over Japan, but perhaps there is some unspoken reason or attraction that draws the intellectually curious to Kozagawa.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    This area has always been a “global” place. People have come here from a variety of locations, such as the influx of gunsmiths from the Saika Ikki and Kumano Navy during the Warring States period, or the flow of nuns from the Kumano SanzanThere is also the legend of Jofuku, which says that the fleet of ships sent out by Qin Shi Huang in search of the elixir of immortality arrived at Shingu.

    ※in order to raise  funds for the operation of the Kumano Sanzan, a nun  travelled around the country preaching the Kumano faith.

    Yabumoto:
    In a sense, it functioned as a “port”. The Sea of Japan is probably the inner part of the country when viewed from the Chinese continent, and the area around Koza is the entrance to the Pacific Ocean, which is the frontier. 

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Perhaps it was a base of operations. Japanese food culture, such as soy sauce, bonito flakes, and pickled plums, was introduced from the Kii Peninsula to Kochi and Chiba, because there was a flow of people going out from here.

    On the other hand, Wakayama is being campaigned as “a land of water”, and when I told this to a person from Toyama, he said “Toyama is also a kingdom of water ” (laughs). But the Toyama people told me that the way Wakayama sees water is mysterious and almost like a belief. For example, the water is used for purification, or as a place for mountain priests to practice asceticism. In that sense, I think Koza was the intersection of the mystical and the global.

    Yabumoto:
    That is exactly what the Kozagawa River was also called, “the purification river”, and it may have been a kind of path connecting mountain and marine beliefs. We often hear about the natural beauty of water, soil and mountains in various parts of Japan, but I feel that looking at water from the perspective of mystery and faith, it becomes more ideologically profound.

    3. Unique townscape and historical background

    Images taken by Kinan editorial team

    Mr Sakamoto:
    In Wakayama Prefecture, the Kumano Kodo is the focus of much attention in terms of culture, but what should not be forgotten is the economic aspect. The culture of whaling, which was practiced from the Edo to Meiji period, is also said to have enriched many people economically if one whale was taken. Furthermore, some of the houses along the river around Koza Port have scaffolding that makes them look like they are floating on the river.

    Yabumoto:
    Indeed. I think I’ve seen scenes like that before in South East Asia…!

    Mr Sakamoto:
    A little further upstream there was a lumber depot. Originally, this area was an industrial centre with sawmills, woodworking workshops and many shipbuilders and carpenters. Moreover, there was a shipyard located in the middle of the river where the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 was built. This was one of the ships that was damaged by atomic bomb testing at the Bikini Atoll. It was originally a skipjack tuna fishing boat, and was converted into a tuna fishing boat.

    ※Reference: Tokyo Metropolitan Fukuryu Maru No.5 Memorial Museum

    Yabumoto:
    I see! I didn’t know that! So those streets and houses are a form of convenience to receive the lumber brought from upstream.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    So this landscape is a “cultural landscape” that is organically linked to the history and industry of the time. In addition, the people who hold the Kawachi Festival in this area are the villagers of the estuary of the Koza.

    Yabumoto:
    It’s a festival with patterned whale boats! 

    Images taken by Kinan editorial team

    Mr Sakamoto:
    That’s right. There is an uninhabited island called Kuroshima Island on the other side of the red bridge at the mouth of the river, and we take the tide from there, go up the river and deliver it to Kawachi-sama in the middle of the river.

    Yabumoto:
    Are you saying that the local youth associations are involved in this, and that the culture of youth groups and young people’s groups, which is so important in southern culture, still exists?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    That’s right . There is a famous young people’s lodge in Gomeisha. Even now it passes on lion dance culture. Although he has already graduated, there is a person who has been active in the youth association for a long time, and he once won the top prize in the national contest of the youth club of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

    Yabumoto:
    So there’s someone to pass it on to the next generation! We hope that our activities at Kinan Art Week will also be a place of education and succession for the next generation, which will be passed on like DNA.

    4. The culture and function of the port

    Source: O-DAN

    Yabumoto:
    In a previous conversation with Mr. Morishige of Nanki-Shirahama Airport, we had a discussion about how to rethink the port of Kinan.  What do you think about the culture and function of the port, Mr. Sakamoto? I’m afraid it’s an abstract question, but I’d like to deepen it and link it to the discussion on the future.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    The only kinds of ports that I use are airports, so there are a lot of things I don’t know, but from the  view of those going out to sea, it’s a place where you leave and don’t come back for months. 

    Yabumoto:
    Of course, going to space is the best of them all.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Even if you get a call to come back after some months, it doesn’t mean that you will come back to your home port. My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was an engineer on an ocean-going ship, and even though his family lived in Noto, when he came back to Kobe port, his whole family would go to pick him up. I think that the moment of separation between those who risked going out and those who sent them back must have been repeated many times.

    Yabumoto:
    How do you relate to the festival?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Although not directly related, there may be a connection. And places that are easily visible from the sea, such as halfway up the mountain, are sacred places so that people can pray that they will not be lost when they go out to sea, or that they will be able to pray for a big catch when they go fishing. It is said that Nachi Waterfall is also a deity that has been worshipped because it is a landmark when seen from the sea.

    Yabumoto:
    That’s right. For example, the ” Danjiri” of the famous Danjiri Festival is also a boat, isn’t it? I thought that the Danjiri Festival existed to circulate power from the sea around the town, so maybe it has the same function.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Also, you are very aware of the power of the mountains. In the area around Koza, there are many terrains where the sea is just outside the mountains. My hometown, Odawara, is also close to the sea, especially Sagami Bay, which is so deep that it’s like living on a cliff. It is the same with the tip of Nanki. Because of the geological relationship with the Nankai Trough, mountains developed, and there were several ports in the mountains, and people lived there as if they were attached to the mountains.

    Yabumoto:
    I see. On the other hand, you mentioned the perspective of those who send people out, but what about the thoughts and ideas of those who are sent out? I think there are a lot of essentials for Kinan people to learn from the stories of those who immigrated to Australia.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Torajiro Sato, known as the King of Thursday Island (a small island in Australia), is from Kozagawa. Tahara in Kushimoto. It’s called the America Village of Kinan, and the neighbouring town of Taiji has close ties with Los Angeles.

    However, probably the main reason was that it was more profitable to go abroad to work in those days. It is said that those who went to Brazil to farm in the Meiji period had great difficulty in cultivating the thin land and growing crops. On the other hand, people who were involved with the sea dived into the sea in Los Angeles the day after they arrived in America and made a fortune by catching black abalone. With the money they made, they built a factory to process tuna and called it “Chicken of the Sea”. This is the original form of the sea chicken we know today.

    Yabumoto:
    The people of Kinan are actually a very global people.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    That’s right. Maybe the fact that there were lucrative jobs out there was the driving force behind taking the risk and going across the ocean.

    Yabumoto:
    In this sense, it is also connected to the economy. It is possible that the people who were good at diving in the port town developed their skills and exported them all over the world as people with special and sharp skills. Some of them became economically successful, and we are still trying to revive them today, which may lead to modern “ports”, airports and rockets.

    5. “Port” to Space

    Source: O-DAN

    Mr Sakamoto:
    The mayor of Kushimoto, Mr. Tashima, said that “Kushimoto is a town of the sea”. Within the town, the most important infrastructure is the “port”. On top of the important port culture that has been built up, “Space Port Kii” will be established as the “port” of the universe.

    Yabumoto:
    That’s fantastic. I’d love to hear more about that.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    In fact, I heard that the rocket project was not because Kushimoto wanted to enter the space industry, but because the conditions from the other side happened to be right.

    Yabumoto:
    What aspects met your requirements?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    There were a number of reasons for this, but the main ones were that the terrain was open to the east and south, there were no people living within 1km of the launch site, and the site was easily accessible. Acquisition of the site  is being worked on by the Kansai Electric Power Company in order to build a nuclear power station, but the project was scrapped due to huge opposition to the construction. The land was later donated to the town and is now the main part of the planned launch site. In detail, the railway runs just outside Route 42 in the vicinity of the proposed site, and the accessibility of the site is also related to the fact that it can be reached without crossing the railroad to the peninsula on the seaside.

    In addition, I heard that, thanks to the efforts of the town hall and the people involved, we were able to talk to individual landowners and fishermen one by one in detail, and that the approval of all of them and the welcome of the local people were decisive in passing the examination.

    Yabumoto:
    Is it about to be launched?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    I am told that the general control tower has been completed and energized, and that the rocket launch point and assembly building are now being constructed in the valley. Despite the COVID situation the construction schedule is almost on schedule, and they’ll be flying the first rocket by the end of this year.

    Yabumoto:
    This is an amateur question, but why do you fly rockets in the first place?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    In the national project that we are flying in Uchinoura and Tanegashima, we are flying satellites and also doing basic research to investigate more distant space, but I think what is important in the future is to see the whole country from above the earth, such as the Himawari weather satellite and communication satellites, and to build a communication network that can reach the whole country. In the Philippines, they set up a space agency two years ago to protect the entire country. If they have their own satellites, they can make a complete map of the whole country.

    The new communication infrastructure, from 4G to 5G, also requires less investment in satellite coverage from low altitude than building communication antennas all over the country.

    In the sense of those who are in the satellite business as a hub for modern human society, they imagine that they are creating a second surface. They say that by flying satellites over the surface of the earth, within a range of 100 to 500 km, we can create a sustainable society today, while also covering the communications infrastructure. In addition, I think there are many business opportunities for a new space base, such as being able to observe more things than from the surface. Of course, most of the land is still unexplored by humans, so people involved in the satellite business consider this “second surface” to be a frontier.

    Yabumoto:
    The idea is that we need rockets as a means of going to develop that place. By the way, who is running the rocket project in Kushimoto?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Spaceport Kii is the first private spaceport in Japan. It is operated by Space One, a joint venture between Canon Electronics, Shimizu Corporation and other leading Japanese companies.

    Canon Electronics has been in the satellite business for a long time, and now they are  building small satellites for low altitude operations. A geostationary satellite flying at an altitude of 36,000km would require a large, heavy rocket of 60-70m, but the rocket from Spaceboat Kii is only 18m high, about the height of a cedar tree, to carry a small satellite operating at low altitude, 100km above the ground. Incidentally, how much do you think it costs to fly a large rocket?

    Yabumoto:
    I have no idea. In a similar airport business, there is a certain amount of airport fee, but I wonder if it works in the same way.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    No, it’s the cost per launch. In fact, it costs 10 billion yen to fly one large rocket. That’s why it’s a national project. Today’s small satellites have better performance, smaller rockets, and are easier to launch. In that sense, rather than spending a lot of money to launch satellites weighing several tons on huge rockets, the idea is to launch a lot of small, light satellites to cover a variety of tasks.

    Recently, a lot of small satellites have been launched overseas, but some percentage of them will be defective, so there will be a need to replace them. I think this need will increase in the future, so Spaceport Kii will serve the niche market of people who want to launch just one satellite as soon as possible. Our business plan is to launch 20 rockets a year, within a year of receiving the order, at a cost of several hundred million yen, and we are aiming for a business model where rockets are launched from here every month.

    6. Rockets and Art

    Source: O-DAN

    Yabumoto:
    I believe that in a post-Corona world, the main reasons for going out will converge on ‘arts and entertainment’. I was at an airfield in Phuket the other day, and there were a lot of people there to watch the planes take off and land. So, if we can make it a know-how, we can export to the world that while flying a small spaceship, the place can also become an entertainment facility.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    That’s right.  We would like people to come to Koza to see the rocket launch. I also think that the artistic point of view is very important for people to come to Koza.

    Of course, the cost, accuracy and success rate of a rocket launch are important, but another important factor is the flow of people. About three weeks to a month before the launch, people from the satellite industry come to Kushimoto for final adjustments. I heard that most of the other launch sites were in remote areas, but Nanki, where Spaceport Kii is located, has good food, sightseeing spots and hot springs. People from the space industry who came to Kushimoto to participate in the symposium said that they would be very happy if they could fly their own satellites from here. Unfortunately, final adjustments due to the limited number of staff , outdoor activities such as boat rides are not allowed, but art is one of the things that can be enjoyed.

    Yabumoto:
    Museums and art galleries. Thinking about what goes through the mind of the sender and recipient, understanding from the perspective of Kozagawa’s historical culture and cultural anthropology. I feel that there are works of art that express this somewhere in the world, so I would like to collect them and make them available for exhibition. Somehow, I think I can do it!

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Moreover, I think it would be a good incentive for the people who fly the satellites to come to the site, if there is a place where they can participate in writing a new page in the history of the site. Although I am an amateur.

    7. Future challenges and prospects

    Images taken by Kinan editorial team

    Mr Sakamoto:
    The Rocket Promotion Council, a group of local authorities, is located in the former Koza Town Hall. The headquarters of the council is there, and we are discussing traffic problems and disaster prevention.

    Yabumoto:
    It’s  important to manage the risk in case of a failure and the rocket falls.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    That’s also something to keep in mind. On the spectator’s side, we  don’t know how many people will come, so we need to think of a system about how we can accommodate them. The fireworks display in Shirahama attracts a lot of people and traffic is restricted, but if the same thing happens here, I wonder what will happen to traffic congestion in the surrounding areas. In that sense, people say to me that it’s a dreamlike story, but if we don’t consider the risks, it could become a mere nuisance.

    Yabumoto:
    What about the field side?

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Space One can’t take any risks or hold any major events on its own, because its customers are the ones who operate the satellite launch sites. There are also confidentiality issues with customers, and we don’t want them to interfere with the launch. It’s not a government project, it’s a private project, so there are business confidentiality issues, and I think the challenge for the council is to find a way to work smoothly with the operators and the local community.

    At the end of July, the town hall of Kushimoto Town was relocated and integrated to a higher ground, so the splendid building of the former Koza Town Hall, which is now used as a branch office of Kushimoto Town, will become vacant. So Kushimoto Town is planning to ask Canon, the parent company of Space One, to build a “visitor centre” where visitors can watch 8K video of the rocket launch at any time. However, if we are going to do this, we would like to make the centre not only a tourist attraction, but also a place where people like you, Mr Yabumoto who work in creative teams, and teachers who come to the field for research purposes, can gather.

    Yabumoto:
    Sounds good! In the future, as an extended version of this Kinan Art Week, it would be interesting if we could ask professors from Wakayama University who are researching immigrant culture and boat songs to contribute to the project, deepen the Kawachi Festival, and based on that, collaborate with contemporary artists who deal with boats in Kozagawa. 

    Mr Sakamoto:
    Great! By all means!

    If you want to do a video exhibition , you can use the 8K display we are planning to install, and the large projector to use the monolithic rock in the upper reaches of the Kozagawa River as a screen was purchased by the young team organising the “Film Festival Looking Up at the Earth”, who worked hard with crowdfunding.

    Yabumoto:
    That’s right! It would be interesting if we could put works related to boats by Chiharu Shiota and Yoko Ono, installations, and video works by artists who are making boats all over the world.

    Installation (artscape)

    Mr Sakamoto:
    The more Kinan can work together, the more reasons there will be for people from all over the world to come to Kinan for the Osaka Expo in 2025 and the various pre-events that will start the year before that.

    Yabumoto:
    This year’s exhibition is in an experimental stage, so the number of areas where it will be shown is limited, but we hope to increase the number of areas involved in the future.

    Mr Sakamoto:
    It’s a very good story that can be expanded to the next level. I think there are a lot of materials, so it’s a question of how to sublimate them into art. The aim of Kinan Art Week is also applicable to the area of Kozagawa and Kushimoto, so I would like you to hold this event with a long-term view, so that I can learn from you.

    Yabumoto:
    Thank you for your time!

    <Related article>

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