Govt buildings as tourist draw: Scenic views, restaurants used to attract visitors

Govt buildings as tourist draw: Scenic views, restaurants used to attract visitors

NARA - "That's Mt. Wakakusa. And that's Todaiji temple." Tourists who arrive at the rooftop of the six-story, 23.8-meter-high Nara prefectural government's main building are amazed at the spectacular view of the ancient capital just in front of them.

The prefectural government planted grass on the rooftop in 2008 and opened the top of the building to the public.

Since then, with its commanding view of the Great Buddha Hall at the Todaiji temple, Mt. Wakakusa - known for its annual grass-burning event - and the five-storied pagoda at the Kofukuji temple, the rooftop has become a new tourist spot.

Nestled marvelously amid the surrounding deep green, the temples are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

As admission to the area is free, it attracted about 100,000 people last fiscal year.

In light of the area's popularity, the government has decided to open a restaurant on the top floor of the building to give tourists a chance to enjoy the scenic view while dining.

The government is also planning a project to promote Nara's night view.

Behind the moves are government efforts to attract more tourists, with the hope of tempting them to stay overnight in the city.

Although Nara has many tourist spots and is known as a tourist city, in a 2013 survey by the central government the city ranked second from last in terms of the number of tourists who stayed overnight. Most tourists from far away places, in fact, stay overnight in nearby Osaka and Kyoto.

The prefectural government building is located near Nara Park. Building structures taller than 15 meters in the about 2,800-hectare area encompassing the building and the park have been banned since 1970 as the zone was designated a scenic preservation area.

The prefectural government building was not subject to the ban as it was built in 1965. Nonetheless, a restaurant on its sixth floor is rarely used by members of the public.

This fiscal year, the prefectural government set aside 30 million yen (S$335,491) for designing the new restaurant.

At a cost of 300 million yen, to be funded next fiscal year, the about 2,100-square-meter sixth-floor area of the building will be remodeled into a restaurant with an about 590-square-meter space and a cafe with an about 170-square-meter space.

Their interiors will be made fashionable, paneled with timber such as Japanese cedar produced in the prefecture, according to a prefectural government official related to the project.

The government is also planning to have the restaurant stay open until 10 p.m. so that diners can enjoy the beautiful night view. The authorities are also considering keeping the facility open on weekends and national holidays.

"Nara is good at making use of the merits of old things," said an official at the prefectural government's department in charge of Nara Park.

"At the restaurant, we'll serve dishes using local delicacies, in addition to ordinary dishes. We hope visitors will enjoy both the beautiful view of the ancient capital and the local dishes."

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