Today I want to tackle the first two questions I posed in my previous post, in regards to Japan’s sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution (JMIR). As a reminder, they are:
1. Getting There: What is it like to access the site as a visitor?
- How easy is it for a visitor to actually get to the site? Can you get there via public transportation or do you have to rent a car?
- How easy for is the visitor to figure out how to get to the site?
- Once at or near the site, is it clear what the visitor must do to access the full site, including related intepretation?
- Are local visitor centers or related cultural/historical institutions well informed about the UNESCO sites?
2. Price: How much does it cost to access this site?
- What is the base cost of entry?
- How much does it add to take public transportation?
- Are there optional elements that can be added on to a baseline experience?
Japan has gone to a great deal of trouble to secure the JMIR UNESCO inscriptions. Although UNESCO status confers a great deal of prestige to a site, it also obligates the managing country to preserve the site and keep it up. Making sure that these sites are accessible to interested visitors is key to providing a revenue stream to support ongoing maintenance. Additionally, the system of managing admittance via paid tickets can, if well managed, can work to support site preservation efforts and the employment of staff.
It should be noted, that all of these observations are representative of my own experience only. Accessing these sites if going to be very different if you’re a Japanese-speaker or have a car. These are just the thoughts of one very determined foreign visitor on a mission of industrial heritage.
As I noted in my previous post, the primary map and website about Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution makes it seem as though all of the sites are functionally equal—they are accorded an equal amount of page space and importance regardless of where they are or the actual content of their physical remains. Once I started actually trying to get to each of the sites I visited though, I quickly discovered that this was not the lived reality at all. Some of the JMIR sites are well integrated into the tourist infrastructure of their immediate surroundings, while others really take a significant amount of effort to access. Without the motivation of a fellowship about industrial heritage, it’s easy to imagine that most visitors (particularly foreign and non-Japanese-speaking) might be unwilling to undertake the research to figure out and then execute the complicated transit necessary to reach some of the more obscure sites on the list.
These are some frequent and recurring issues I encountered when trying to access the JMIR sites:
- Lack of information about transportation. In some cases, the information on the main JMIR map was either out of date or insufficient. Bus schedules and bus station arrangement seem to change relatively frequently in Japan. Further, some buses are municipal and others are operated by private, local companies. GoogleMaps and AppleMaps sometimes have the correct, updated bus information, including private bus lines, but there seems to be no hard and fast rule for determining when online transit information is going to be accurate. The best bet is to find a visitor’s center and ask.
- Long or complicated transit. Some of the sites required several train transfers, a bus, and some walking to access. In Omuta, for instance, we transferred from the Shinkansen onto a local line, and then ended up using the city bus, walking, and taking a taxi between the component sites. In the vast majority of cases, the transit time far outweighed the amount of time I spent at the sites themselves.
- Site located on private property. Because many of the JMIR sites from the late 19th century and early 20th century were developed by private companies that are still around today (Mitsubishi, for example), some of them are still on company land and as such, are not accessible to the public or are accessible only by advance booking.
- Unexpected closures or schedule changes. Showing up to a site and discovering that it was closed has not been an infrequent feature of my time in Japan. Rarely is this information accessible in English on any kind of website.
I’ve limited the list below to sites I actually attempted to visit. Those that I skipped I mostly did so for reasons of transportation difficulty (or poor weather).
- Shuiseikan complex, Kagoshima: Easily accessible via the main city sight-seeing bus in Kagoshima. The only tricky part was finding the Foreign Engineer’s House, which is not part of the main complex.
- Glover Gardens, Nagasaki: Walkable from downtown Nagasaki.
- Hashima, Nagasaki: Lots of tourist infrastructure is in place for Japan’s “battleship island”. Booking a ferry online in English is easy. The museum and ferry location are walkable from downtown Nagasaki, or via easy public transit.
- Hagi Reverberatory Furnace, Ebisugahana Shipyard, and Shokasonjuku Academy, and Hagi Castle Town; Hagi: Hagi is a bit off the beaten path, but once you’ve committed to going there, it’s not so hard to get to the sites, all of which are in walking distance from stops on the city sight-seeing bus.
- Imperial Steel Works, Kitakyushu: An easy train ride from the main station, and then the site itself is easy to find thanks to ample signage.
- Mitsubishi Pattern Factory, Nagasaki: This site is on Mitsubishi property in Nagasaki. It requires an advanced reservation, which can only be done over the phone in Japanese. I had to first have a friend who reads Japanese translate the page for me, and then ask our very kind and patient hotel concierge in Nagasaki to call and make the reservation for me. A special bus picks you up at the Nagasaki bus station, and takes you onto company property. You have about an hour to see the museum before the bus takes you back.
- Omuta Mines and Port: This one is partially on me, because Omuta’s sites are within easy biking distance from one another, and I haven’t ridden a bike since about 1995. But Omuta itself isn’t easy to get to—it’s off the path of the Shinkansen and so one must be prepared to take a local train line. Omuta seems really proud of its UNESCO sites (and hopeful that they will contribute positively to the local economy), so signage was plentiful and it was easy to get a helpful map and transit directions at the town’s train station visitor center. But the sites themselves seemed disconnected from each other—docents at one coal pit didn’t know if the other coal pit was open, for instance.
- Takashima coal mine: Virtually no tourism infrastructure; getting here involved a local ferry and a long, hot walk around the island. There is purportedly a circulator bus that runs once an hour, but good luck finding the schedule for it. Ferries to and from Nagasaki are infrequent and a bit pricy.
- Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshio Leat, Kagoshima: Read my recent blog post “In the Land of the Forest Docents” for the full story on this one. There was no way I could have done this without help from the folks at the Kagoshima bus station visitor center, and even then, the experience was still a little harrowing.
Let’s talk dollars and yen. Right now, if you’re going to get to any of the JMIR sites listed above you’ll either pay with time or money. Generally, the more obscure the site and the more difficult to access, the lower the chance that there would be some kind of entrance fee at the site itself—most of these sights are technically “free” and open to the public. This was the case at Takashima, the Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate, the Omuta Mines, the Imperial Steel Works, and the bulk of the Hagi sites. Easy-to-access sites were also those with developed tourism infrastructure, and these often required an entrance fee. By far the most expensive JMIR experience I’ve had was Hashima. For about $60 US, you can get a ride to and from the island on the special charter ferry (though there is no guarantee the boat will be able to land on the island), a ticket to the Gunkanjima Digital Museum, and a reservation at the “HoloLens Experience,” a truly bizarre augmented reality game offered at the museum. By contrast, getting to the Hagi Reverberatory Furnace cost only about $2 of bus fare (once we were actually in Hagi, which was in itself a pretty significant time committment).
Is all of this time and money worth the effort? I’ll turn to that question in the next post when I talk about the material and architectural content of the sites themselves.