The front line of manufacturing, factories are drawing attention as a regional tourism resource. One of the best ways to promote a region is to showcase its daily activities, and the public and private sectors are joining forces in a growing number of projects to offer "omotenashi" hospitality to visitors.
'Massan' draws crowds
YOICHI, Hokkaido - The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. distillery in Yoichi is the setting for NHK's popular serial drama "Massan," which is based on the lives of Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru and his wife, Rita.
About 460,000 people visited the distillery in 2014, a sharp jump of 60 per cent from the year before.
Aiming to capitalise on the drama's acclaim, the Yoichi town government and others formed a promotional committee and held nighttime factory tours in February that included shooting locations from "Massan." About 150 people joined the outings.
Together with whiskey, participants received such gifts as processed marine products from the area and newly developed local sweets - which were said to complement one another.
The Yoichi distillery was ranked as the No. 1 factory tour in the nation in 2014 on the website TripAdvisor. Especially popular are its nine buildings designated as national tangible cultural properties, and the tasting area where visitors can sample such products as whiskey and apple wine.
"We want the attractions of our town to be widely known," said Eiji Kobayashi, head of the Yoichi government's commerce and tourism department. His mind is now on devising the next plan.
Small firms boast big talents
HIGASHI-OSAKA, Osaka - Filled with small neighborhood factories, the Higashi-Osaka area of Osaka Prefecture is working to bolster "manufacturing tourism," led by the Osaka manufacturing tourism promotion association, comprising the operators of small and midsize companies, among others.
Seventy-two companies in Higashi-Osaka city and the eastern area of neighbouring Osaka city are participating. They accept 5,000 to 6,000 visitors a year on such factory tours as school trips and corporate research tours.
"Factory tours keep employees focused and let them show off their techniques," stressed an executive at synthetic rubber manufacturer Yamamoto Corp., which holds the global market's top share in material for wetsuits.
At the end of February, a group of five people, including priests from a shrine in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, avidly toured the factory.
Aiming to promote small and midsize companies boasting high-level technology in such areas as alloys, welding and chemical products, the Higashi-Osaka area began its efforts in 2008. Last September the association registered as a travel agency, and it is hurrying to prepare to receive overseas tourists.
"We want to champion our intricate manufacturing techniques as part of Japan's culture," said an executive of the association.
Touring by night
KITAKYUSHU - Home to such large factories as the Yawata works of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and TOTO Ltd. facilities, Kitakyushu is one place where public and private sectors are jointly promoting "industrial tourism."
The Kitakyushu Chamber of Commerce and Industry began one-day bus tours last summer of multiple factories, including some on the outskirts of the city. As of February, 13 such excursions had taken place.
"We want to heighten the appeal [of the tour] by arranging stops at a variety of small and large plants," said Hideyuki Kitano, 59, head of the city's industrial tourism promotion office.
On Feb. 17, a total of 35 people visited three locations, including the factories of Ryowa, which services hydraulic machinery, and Nissan Motor Kyushu Co.
"We got to see places that you usually can't get access to," said Masanori Furuno, 67, of Kitakyushu.
Nighttime factory viewing is also a selling point for the area. Kanmon-Kisen Co. has been operating regular evening cruises since last May, and taxi companies also offer tours of scenic nighttime spots.
Kitakyushu saw about 260,000 industrial tourists in 2013. Led by the Kitakyushu industrial tourism centre founded in July 2014, the region is hoping to boost that number in the future.