On July 7, the day of the Tanabata festival, a craft cola made with organic ingredients was born, inspired by the legend of Tanabata in Katano City, Osaka Prefecture. The name of the drink is Katano Hoshino Cola. "Our cola has a refreshing taste that is blended to be good for your body. Packed with local appeal, the cola tells the story of Katano City, and it is the product of the passion of everyone involved in its development," explains Koki Akimori. Akimori worked hard on developing the cola, a joint project between the local media outlet he belongs to and a cafe in the city. The message he wants to convey is the hidden potential of a craft cola that is unique to the region and that was created by the connections formed between the city and its people. We interviewed him to see what drives his passion for this project.
Using craft cola to tell the story of Katano City
The city of Katano is rich in nature, with the Amano River and the Katano Mountains. Because his grandparents' house is in the city, Akimori has been familiar with the area since he was a child. When he was a first-year student at Ritsumeikan, he was given an opportunity to deepen his understanding of Katano City by participating in an internship program. By interning at the Katano City Hall, he reconfirmed the city’s natural beauty, but he also learned about the issues facing the city, such as the increase in vacant lots and houses, the decrease in green spaces, and the lack of recognition as a tourist destination.
"Since then, I've been working for the tourist association of Katano City, and I've been giving my all to contribute to the resolution of local issues if even just a little bit through initiatives such as a shared farm that we operate on a vacant lot,” explains Akimori. Akimori is also a member of the editorial team of a local media outlet called Katano Times, and there he works mainly on community-oriented activities. "I have fond memories of Katano from when I was a child, so I wanted to give something back to the city that still provides me with many insights, so I decided to create a new specialty product to help revitalize the community,” says Akimori.
In March 2021, when he was a second-year student, Akimori started a project with the members of Katano Times to develop a local craft cola. The project began as a joint effort with a café that specializes in herbs. "The city of Katano has delicious groundwater, and there were farmers and companies that could provide us with the organic spices that would be the key ingredients for the cola. There were also people with expertise in herbs, so by a twist of fate, Katano had everything we needed to develop a cola,” he explains. Development proceeded smoothly and the response was good, but the project hit a snag when it came time to promote the product.
Other craft colas had already started hitting the market. The new craft cola would get lost in the shuffle if the team did not do something to differentiate it from the other products on the market. “We looked at how we could make our cola have impact, and the answer we arrived at was the town’s nickname of Hoshi no Machi (town of stars),” explains Akimori. The Amano River that runs from Katano to Hirakata and the surrounding river basin known as Katanogahara are considered the origin of the Tanabata festival* in Japan. The team agreed unanimously to employ a design that would evoke an image of Katano as the “town of stars.” The logo of the product was decorated to give the impression of something out of a dream. In preparation for the release of the product, Akimori continued to communicate his desire to have more people recognize the appeal of his beloved Katano City through craft cola, to revitalize the region, and to have citizens participate in the process by using a newly opened social media account, and sometimes he even used his own voice to publicize the project. In July, the cola went on sale at two stores in the city and immediately generated enough buzz that other stores started inquiring about the product. In the future, the team plans to share the recipe with local stores and expand sales throughout Katano City, allowing each store to make its own tweaks.
* In the Heian period (794-1185), many waka poems were written about Tanabata, comparing the glistening white river sand and clear running water of the Amano River to the Milky Way (or amanogawa in Japanese). Even today, there are still many famous places and legends related to Tanabata in the Amano River basin region.
Using everyday inspirations to revitalize a region
In October, Akimori’s team will launch a crowdfunding campaign to make online sales a reality. “We have already launched a project to spread craft colas to other regions and use them to showcase those regions’ unique features. Katano Hoshino Cola is just one example of a local cola made with ingredients unique to the region, and the charms of the city and the passion of the people act as added ‘spices’. I believe that the thoughts and feelings of the people who drink it, and the conversations that arise from those thoughts and feelings will lead to more community development,” he explains
“I don't want people to feel like there are barriers to taking the first step toward community development, and I believe that community development is something that can be expressed in everyday life. This time, we did this in the form of a craft cola. What is important is to walk around the town and think about what would make it more attractive. If you wish there was a certain system in your community or if you want to create a certain kind of scenery, express these feelings out loud and communicate these feelings to other people on a daily basis. No matter how small, I would like to carefully nurture each inspiration I have and continue to give shape to these inspirations in the form of community development,” says Akimori. His challenge to tell the story of the region and expand his network of relationships has only just begun.
Koki Akimori, College of Business Administration, 3rd year
Akimori graduated from Ritsumeikan Uji Senior High School (Kyoto Prefecture). His hobbies include watching movies and traveling. He’s also a huge sneaker fan. He works as a content creator for the editorial team of the Katano Times local media site. After joining Ritsumeikan, he interned at Katano City Hall, Ibaraki City Hall, and Hirakata City Hall, and he is learning about community development and regional promotion. He also runs a shared farm designed to preserve Katano City’s farmland, and there he plans to grow the spices that will be used to make Katano Hoshino Cola.