Taking “Brand Japan” Global

Fukuoka-based NNR offers a wide range of services to inbound tourists in Kyushu.
The company is now launching a new phase of overseas expansion.

In 2014, the number of inbound travelers to Japan soared to almost 13.5 million, a hefty 30% rise over the previous year. Fully one-tenth of them—or some 1.3 million people—went to Fukuoka, Japan’s sixth-largest city, which sits on the northern tip of Kyushu. Geographically closer to Seoul and Shanghai than to Tokyo, Fukuoka is a particular favorite with Asian tourists.

One Fukuoka-based company that is successfully riding Japan's tourism boom is Nishi-Nippon Railroad, or NNR. The 108-year-old company got its start operating trams, passenger trains and freight trains in Fukuoka and Kitakyushu, but has since expanded into other fields including logistics, hotels, leisure, and real estate. “We’re active in a wide range of businesses, but they are all synergistically linked,” explains NNR president Sumio Kuratomi. “Trains and buses are NNR’s backbone, but we are an ‘integrated lifestyle business.’ We’re closely intertwined with the community and provide support to many aspects of its everyday life.”

Tourists visiting Fukuoka will experience first-hand just how deeply ingrained NNR is with local life. For example, when visiting popular tourist sites like Yanagawa—an old-world castle town with a system of canals—or Dazaifu—Kyushu’s self-proclaimed “city of ancient culture,” with shrines, temples, ruins and museums—they will reach both destinations on NNR-run train services. Equally, when exploring Fukuoka itself, they’ll probably hop on to one of NNR’s open-top double-decker sightseeing buses, or if they fancy the night view of the city from the sea, take a dinner cruise on NNR’s luxuriously appointed Mariera cruise ship.

But transport is only part of what NNR has to offer. Tourists in Fukuoka can also stay in one of NNR’s five hotels in the city, ranging from the upscale Nishitetsu Grand Hotel and Solaria Nishitetsu, to the more affordable Nishitetsu Inn. “Thanks to the surge in inbound tourism, our hotels are experiencing record rates of occupation,” Kuratomi declares.

Asian tourists consistently rank shopping as one of their key motives for visiting Japan. Here again NNR is stepping up to the plate. Its commercial buildings like Tenjin Core, Solaria Stage and Solaria Plaza in central Fukuoka are home to shops selling everything from trendy fashions to international luxury brands, not to mention numerous fabulous restaurants. And if children get tired of traipsing around the shops with their parents, they can be cheered up with a visit to one of NNR’s two local amusement parks or its aquarium with its 20 varieties of shark!

Outbound Expansion

The world may be coming to NNR in Fukuoka, but NNR is also moving aggressively into the outside world. Here the international logistics business, which accounts for around 20% of NNR’s non-consolidated net sales, is a major focus. NNR’s logistics arm currently has bases in 95 cities in 24 countries, but Kuratomi is looking to expand the network to 109 cities in 26 countries by 2018. “Our specialty is transporting delicate things like electronics and car components for Japanese manufacturers to their factories abroad. We’re the only Japanese logistics firm with Authorized Economic Operator certification. It’s proof that we’re seriously focused on quality and service.” While NNR is already strong in shipping to and from Japan, Kuratomi believes that strengthening its ability to ship between foreign locations is the key to growing the business long term.

He’s following a similar strategy with NNR’s hotel business. After expanding inside Japan with new hotels in Tokyo’s Ginza district (2011) and another in the cultural capital Kyoto (scheduled opening, 2016), the firm is also opening one Solaria hotel in Seoul in 2015 and another in Bangkok in 2017. How will NNR differentiate itself in these crowded markets? “Being a Japanese hotel brand is a major competitive advantage. People associate Japan with reliability, quality and honesty—basically doing things properly,” says Kuratomi, who hopes to spark a “virtuous-circle effect” with visitors to NNR’s overseas hotels using its hotels in Japan, and vice-versa.

The company is also dipping its foot into overseas property, teaming up with Vietnam’s Nam Long Apartment Development Company to build condominiums in the capital Ho Chi Minh City. Japanese know-how is once again the selling point. “In Japan, we have experience in creating high-quality, space-efficient living spaces,” says Kuratomi. “There is demand for this residential ‘Japan Brand,’ especially in ASEAN countries.”

Whatever business NNR is doing in whatever country, Kuratomi stresses that a common theme runs through them all—providing direct benefit to the local community. “As we expand overseas, our goal is to provide services for which there is a specific need in that particular place and to provide those services carefully, scrupulously and honestly,” he concludes. “We want to make people’s lives better—hence our English slogan, ‘Connecting Your Dreams.’”


Sumio Kuratomi, NNR president


NNR started life as a tram company in 1908


Tourists can explore Fukuoka on NNR open-top buses.


Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel in Ginza, Tokyo


NNR specializes in shipping delicate car and electronics components.


NNR’s Global Logistics truck in London


Corporate Profile 2016

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1 Chome-11-17 Tenjin Chuo-ku, Fukuoka