Faculty & Leadership Blog / Faculty in the News

Global Mega City Vs Small Regional City

I had been with Professor Brush to attend the JASVE conference in Niigata, Japan.(See her two recent blog entries – #1 and #2).The conference’s theme for this year was “New Venture Creation and Regional Economies (roughly translated),” and it is certainly a reflection of the long-held concerns about bi-polarization of economic development and activities between Tokyo, the mega city, and the rest of Japan.

As Prof. Brush noted, the physical distance between Tokyo and the Niigata, the host city of the conference, is not much – it’s only 90-120 minutes, depending on the train you take, for 300 kilometers (or about 190 miles). Interestingly, it is just about the distance between Boston and New York.On the scale of the United States, 190 miles is insignificant, but it is in the context of Japan because of its small physical profile (i.e., 190 miles in a small land vs. a big land).


The distance can be felt in many different ways if you live in Tokyo and visit Niigata, or vice versa.It is the difference between a “Global Mega City” and a “Small Regional City.”Here is a quick look at the two prefectures on a few economic and demographic dimensions:


“GNP” of Prefecture

Per Capita Income

% of population 65+


2.4 million

$91 billion




12.7 million

$923 billion



Japan (as a whole)

127.8 million

$5,038 billion



For many of us, the differences are ‘understandable.’Tokyo is a huge city, with many people and many businesses (big and small), inhabited by young people (relatively speaking, in Japanese standard!) and producing more goods and services.No big deal.


But it is a big deal for the policy makers and business leaders in Niigata.It has been an irreversible trend that young people migrate to Tokyo as soon as they graduate high school for college and work.It has proven almost impossible to convince people to return to Niigata once they go to Tokyo.The businesses are so concentrated in Tokyo – 18% of the GNP is made there with 75% more income than people in Niigata (note this is nominal per capita income difference).The population in Niigata is rapidly aging and faster than the average rate in Japan, which is quite fast to start with!Niigata can use any help and imagination.

But the 190 miles distance is there.For Niigatans, it is an easy distance to go (only 90-120 minutes to Tokyo) but a long distance to come back (from 18% of GNP, 75% more income).Niigata, however, is not without gems – real gems.It produces arguably the best and most premium rice crop in Japan.In Niigata, steamed rice actually sparkles in bowl.It also produces the best “sake” in Japan with 96 local breweries.It is a coastal city on the Sea of Japan, where quality and freshness of fish and sushi are better, and cheaper, than in Tokyo.

But Niigata probably should not “fight” the distance. It will lose.Niigata should pick a fight where distance is not a relevant variable.Maybe Niigata should look at overseas market – for “sake” and the sparkling rice export.Niigata should also pick a fight where distance works for them.Tourism there seems under-conceived, under-developed and under-marketed.With fish, rice, sake and hot springs (I almost forgot), it’s a right distance from the Mega City.Does this take entrepreneurship?Marketing? Finance? All of the above? Niigata has no time to worry about it.They need anything and everything.

At the end of the conference, Prof. Brush and I each received a gift of bottled sake from Mr. Ikeda.He secured those precious bottles from his friend, a brewery owner. Those bottles were picked from the brewery owner’s private collection, indeed.On our way back to the train station in the taxi cab, we realized that neither of us brought a large suitcase to pack the bottle in, for this trip was only 4-day long.That much of ‘liquid’ cannot be brought in as carry-on.Ah… We asked Mr. Ikeda’s colleague to explore any means to ship them to here.Such a distance is no big deal. Period.

Kenichi Matsuno, Associate Professor
Chair – Marketing Division