Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Travel Agency Aims to Link Urban, Rural Areas

Newspaper article The Daily Yomiuri (Toyko, Japan)

Travel Agency Aims to Link Urban, Rural Areas

Article excerpt

Under an inconspicuous house nameplate, Yokohama resident Shigeru Sakurai has attached a sign with a more eye-catching appellation -- Ontana Tours Co., the travel agency that the 62-year-old started after taking early retirement at age 55.

Sakurai's business mainly focuses on senior citizens. His tours take them from the Tokyo metropolitan area to rural areas, with the goal of serving as "a bridge to connect urban areas and the countryside."

Born and brought up in Nagano Prefecture, Sakurai moved to Tokyo to attend university. As a young man he entered the manufacturing and sales division of a semiconductor business, staying at the job for more than 20 years.

Whenever he heard media reports during those years about underpopulated or depopulated communities where more than half the residents were 65 or older, Sakurai would always get the urge to go there and help out.

When he turned 50 and post-retirement plans became a must, Sakurai began to give serious consideration to his idea. He'd paid off his housing loan, and his three grown children had already started their careers. Sakurai's wife was not opposed to his ambition, as the couple could expect to receive enough pension money to make a living even if he took early retirement.

Around that time, Sakurai discovered a book on the tour business while perusing titles at a store. Even though he had no experience in the tourism sector, the book inspired him to embark on a new business: taking baby boomers to the countryside.

For Sakurai, who was working as a salesperson at the time, building networks through organizing tours looked appealing.

"I made up my mind to study hard for one year to get a qualification," he said.

Sakurai spent his commuting time reading textbooks and study guides for the Certified General Travel Services Manager examination. He passed the exam on his first try at age 52, even though the passing rate stands at just 30 percent.

Sakurai also took seminars in business management and financial planning. To establish a network of customers, he did not hesitate to approach and speak to people he had never met before. It took three years of legwork to lay the ground for his business.

Sakurai launched his first company at age 56 with a consultant he met at a seminar for entrepreneurs. …

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