Rishiri Town, which is located on the northern side of Hokkaido, Japan, has created a web app to help prevent the extinction of kombu kelp.
Kombu kelp, or Kombucha as it is called elsewhere, is one of the most important ingredients in Japanese cuisine as it is used to make soup and is the seasoning for the rice to be made into sushi.
The ingredient is touted to disappear from the dining table in 20 years because of a labour shortage that Japan is going to facing due to its aging population. Drying kombu kelp requires physical labour, which is not appealing to the younger generation.
The situation is much worse in Japan in Rishiri Town, where there is an abundant of kombu kelp off the coast of Rishiri Island. As of March 2019, there are over 41% people over 65 years old.
That means the locals have not been able to collect and sell much as they do not have enough manpower and many part-timers leave in the middle of the kombu kelp drying season when they realise how much hard work it is.
With the help of Geometry Global, the town worked to address the situation with a web app called “Kombu Hosu! Hosu! Virtual Kombu Kelp Drying” to let people virtually experience kombu kelp drying and promote the task of ‘actual’ kombu kelp drying.
The web app uses game-style content allowing job applicants to experience the challenges and the beauty of the job. Users can dry three meter-long Kombu kelp, which is the average length of the actual Kombu kelp, by shaking the phone while keeping the phone close to them.
Once a user has started drying kombu kelp, a virtual fisherman captain guides the user throughout the drying process, encouraging in both a strict and sweet manner. After the mission of kombu kelp drying is completed, he tells the user to consider the seasonal job opening.
“Since junior high school, I’ve dried kombu kelp myself but nowadays young people are not into it anymore, because it is a tough job. The whole industry has been struggling with labor shortage caused by aging and depopulation,” said Toshiya Hiranuma, the supervisor of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Promotion department at the Rishiri Town Government office.
“We really need our younger generation to join in but didn’t know how to. Geometry Japan’s idea, fortunately, came in at the right moment and we enjoyed working with them to make this idea happen. I think the success factor is an unusual combination of drying kombu kelp and mobile technology. Hopefully, many people will experience drying kombu kelp and ultimately apply for the actual job, revitalizing Rishiri town.”