Japan turns to unusual tourist attractions

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The Independent Online

Chimneys belching smoke, factories where the sound is deafening and steelworks where the air is thick with fumes and sparks dance across the rutted floor.

This is a long way from the traditional Japan - of temples, shrines and geisha in elaborate kimonos - that visitors expect to see. But realizing that even the most eye-catching local color begins to pale after a while for many visitors, a number of local authorities have started taking tourists behind the scenes of Japan's phenomenal economic output.

One of those that has been quick to realize the truth of the old adage "Where there's muck, there's brass" has been Chiba Prefecture, which has a large industrial area alongside Tokyo Bay to the east of the Japanese capital.

"Chiba is famous for the Keiyo industrial zone beside the bay, which has long been an important area for chemicals companies, power firms and plenty of manufacturers," Chiharu Miura, of the Sightseeing Section of the local authority, told Relaxnews.

"Most of our visitors are Japanese who are interested in these unusual sights, but we also have a lot of school groups, corporate tour groups and more and more foreign visitors," he said.

Groups are able to visit the huge iron works operated by JFE Steel Co., the liquified natural gas facility that is operated by Tokyo Gas Co. and Nippon Otis Elevator Company's research and development centre.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has a number of thermal power-generating plants that are open to the public, while others are interested in the Ichihara Eco-Cement Co. plant or the pear brandy produced by Shiroi Nashi. Visitors to the Kikkoman Monoshiri Shoyu plant will learn all there is to know about soy sauce.

City authorities in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, are operating a similar tourism program in the Keihin industrial zone, where the Tama River enters Tokyo Bay. An important port for eastern Japan, visitors are treated to a skyline of industrial cooling towers, dockyard cranes and power plants that help keep the nation ticking over.

For further information: Chiba Prefecture Commerce and Industry Labor Division, Sightseeing Section. Ichiba-cho 1-1, Chuo-ku, Chiba City, 260-8667 Tel. +81 43 223 2418