“Azemichi” cooperative produces “Karinto”, Japanese cookie, in Amagase, Hita city, Oita prefecture, Japan. “Azemichi” means “a path between rice fields”.
History of “Azemichi” cooperative starts in 1974. At that time, it was very difficult for women to leave their hometowns. 3 local women got together to start something new to generate profit to improve their inconvenient lives. They started to grow and sell burdock and kidney bean after harvesting season of rice. In 1974, they organized “Azemichi” group with 14 local women. They started to raise and sell taro and red bean, utilizing fallow fields, and to sell rice with local beans and vegetables. “Karinto” was farmers’ snack during their farm work, which was made with flour, egg and sugar.
In 1983, “Azemichi” cooperative was officially established. A new processing factory was built under the support of the Japanese government and they started to sell “Karinto” as their products. There were 6 crews at the beginning of the establishment of the cooperative and Ms. Akiko Watanabe, who was the youngest in the cooperative, become a leader. In 2008, all the crews except for Ms. Watanabe were changed and the new “Azemichi” cooperative of 2nd generation started with 7 crews in total. Average age of the current members are 68 years old.
Ms. Watanabe has been leading local women for more than 40 years. The most important policy for her to lead the organization for such a long time which is composed of crews with different ages, different characteristics and different strengths is “Ring the 5 Bells”.
- 食べる (Ta-Bell) : Eating. Sit around the table with crews and have meals together.
- しゃべる (Sha-Bell) : Talking. While having meals, talk a wide variety of things.
- 比べる (Kura-Bell) : Comparing. While talking, facilitate mutual understandings and recognize strengths of colleagues.
- 調べる (Shira-Bell) : Examining. Consider and examine by yourself what is needed to improve yourself.
- 差し伸べる (Sashino-Bell) : Supporting. Reach out a helping hand to colleagues in need.
Ms. Watanabe is sure that “Ring the 5 Bells” is the key success factor for the crews to get closer to each other, to feel a sense of unity and to keep working together for a long time.
“Azemichi” cooperative is now recognized as one of the most successful models of One Village One Product movement in Japan. A lot of local leaders and even national leaders from all around the world are visiting there to learn from their accumulated experiences.
Website of “Azemichi” cooperative (in Japanese) : http://www.azemichi-group.com/index.html