From 21 – 25 August 2023 we had 21 GLOCALs attend the 2023 edition of the GLOCAL Summer School. This week-long school takes place at the end of students’ first year of GLOCAL. It is organised by a different partner university each year and includes visiting professors from associate partners from around the world. You can find out more about previous editions of the summer school here.

The topic is decided on an annual basis and relates to trends and issues of the moment. This year’s topic was ‘Transforming Kansai: Resilience, Revitalisation and Reimagining Growth in a Mature Economy’. Read on for more info on this summer school, and a special thanks to Laura Ortiz from our 2021-2023 cohort for the great photos!

As Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto is often (self-)promoted as a repository of Japanese traditional culture, or a ‘kimono-scape of wood, lacquer and manicured stone gardens’ in the words of the Financial Times. However, it’s also a strikingly modern city with a vibrant start-up ecosystem that’s home to many internationally competitive ‘hidden champions’ in the life sciences and creative industries. Together with the neighbouring Kansai cities of Osaka and Kobe, these three cities’ transformations into important hubs of economics, technology, and the arts afford us the opportunity to reimagine an alternative paradigm on growth.

Japan has been at the forefront of dealing with many challenges faced my mature economies, including population aging, social and environmental sustainability, and intense international industrial competition. Through all this, Japan has remained dynamic and resilient in renegotiating its cultural and economic relevance globally, amidst numerous risks and uncertainties, including natural disasters.

As for Kyoto itself, it is in many ways a ‘global city’. Since the late nineteenth century international visitors have flocked to Kyoto for trade and tourism and the city is now world-renowned as a repository of Japanese culture and craft, much of which is now recognized as “World Heritage”. Though Kyoto is better known as a centre of Japanese tradition, it is also a strikingly modern city boasting several leading universities and research institutes and has produced iconic companies such as Nintendo and leading international firms (among them “hidden champions”) such as Kyocera and Shimadzu.

Whilst all of this has emerged during a period of intense globalization, there is a sense that Kyoto has not fully taken advantage of the benefits of its status as a “global city” nor realized its vision in this regard. Kyoto, like much of Japan, has struggled to attract inward foreign direct investment (inward FDI to Japan was 5% of GDP in 2020 compared to an OECD average of 57.8%) and the city is on the verge of bankruptcy.

As a host to several protected heritage sites, including temples and shrines, the city is unable to effectively collect tax revenue from much of the urban landscape. Furthermore, whilst these heritage sites attract tens of millions of tourists to Kyoto each year, boosting the local economy, the city often struggles to cope with these numbers, a phenomenon described as “overtourism”. Residents (and some visitors) complain of problems such as the overcrowding of walkways, public transportation and facilities, as well as the sometimes-behaviour of visitors.

With all of this in mind, participants of this summer school were invited to observe and experience for themselves the current situation of Kyoto as a “global city”, offering their thoughts on the following question:

What can Kyoto (the city, its residents and businesses, etc.) do to better take advantage of the benefits of being a “global city” and alleviate the problems?

Participants were split into groups, with each group making a presentation on the summer school’s final day. They were free to select a format but encouraged to focus on the following:

  • Observations/reflections based on company visits and speaker presentations. What do they identify as problems/solutions for issues that Kyoto, the Kansai region, and Japan face?
  • Reflections from their own experiences living in other cities, including their hometown and other places they’ve lived (for example during their time with GLOCAL). They were asked to consider if there’s anything Kyoto is doing well or badly compared to those places, or if there were initiatives in those places that Kyoto can learn from
  • Reflect on the problem of “overtourism” in Kyoto. Groups visited a specific site on the Thursday and spent time in the city throughout the week, and were asked to comment on their experience, what could have been improved, and what Kyoto was doing well.
  • At the end of the week, students received a diploma upon completing the summer school which you can see in the photos below.

Finally, here are some more of our favourite photos of the week, thank you to Laura Ortiz for taking them.