Access and Price Structure

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
The industrial sites of Shuiseikan are mostly connected to a popular imperial garden complex. Access is as easy as hopping on the main city sight-seeing bus, which runs about every half hour.


  • 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.
The Hagi Reverberatory Furnace. Thanks to the prominent signage nearby, this was an easy site to find after we got off the sight-seeing bus at the Sea Port stop. Getting to Hagi in the first place is a kind of a trek, however. 


  • 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.
The Mitsubishi Pattern Factory. After a friend translated the website, I had the hotel concierge call. A small bus picked us up from the Nagasaki bus station on a rainy Saturday and delivered us here, to the museum inside the 1898 Pattern Factory, on Mitsubishi company land.



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.

Encountering Japan’s Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution

In preparation for my next SAH Blog Post, which will deal almost exclusively with the topic of Japan’s newest UNESCO additions, I wanted to do a little public brainstorming. This will also serve as a behind-the-scenes look at my writing process and the sort of analysis that goes into thinking about all of the sites I’ve been visiting over the last few months.

Introduction to Japan’s Sites of the Meiji Industrial Revolution

In 2015, a collection of 23 separate sites in Japan was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage list, which are grouped into 8 distinct geographic areas. Together, these Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution (JMIR) tell the remarkable story of Japan’s rapid industrialization, in (as so many site docents have told me) “just fifty years.” Most of the sites lie on the Japan’s southernmost major island, Kyushu, and relate to the country’s development of heavy industry—shipbuilding, coal mining, and iron and steel manufacturing. Chronologically, the sites have been grouped into three periods:

1. Trial and Error Experimentation, c. 1850s-1868. Before Japan officially opened its borders to trade with the advent of the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the country had very little exposure to Western technology. That which they did, mainly came via the Dutch, who were allowed to trade with Japan on a limited basis via the port of Nagasaki, provided that they stayed sequestered on the small, artificial island of Dejima. Japan’s first attempts to build modern warships and cannons like those they had seen on Commodore Matthew Perry’s ships (which had first arrived in 1853) used copies of Dutch textbooks and existing Japanese craft skills. While some of these early sites were able to produce the ships and cannons they intended, many proved unsuccessful and were mostly significant as prototypes of later construction.

A model of Dejima on Dejima island in Nagasaki.

2. Direct Importation of Western Technology, 1868-c. 1900. After the Meiji Restoration, Japan sought out the expertise of Western experts, bringing in European and American engineers to teach and train a new generation of Japanese industrialists. Additionally, a small set of Japanese students traveled to the West to learn skills such as shipbuilding and factory design, skills which they then brought back and applied.

Thomas Glover was one of many Westerners who came to Japan following the Meiji Restoration to facilitate the development of Japanese industry (and get rich doing so).

3. Full-Blown Industrialization, c. 1900-c. 1920. This final period represented in the UNESCO listing marks Japan’s emergence as an industrialized nation, no longer dependent on Western outsiders. Based on the sites that I’ve visited, it is clear that those who have written the interpretation regard this period as the true realization of the modern nation-state of Japan. If technological development can be said to follow an evolutionary model (which is, of course, in itself problematic), this is the moment at which Japan “breaks free” from the supporting trunk of Western influence and begins to grow its own evolutionary branches. I discovered that interpretation at sites belonging to this period frequently claimed to have pioneered the first “wholly Japanese X” (where X is a shipyard, steel foundry, textile mill, etc.).

The Mitsubishi Pattern Factory museum is very explicit about the point at which Japan no longer has to rely on Western engineers in its naval architecture and engineering.


Significance of the JMIR Sites

The JMIR inscription is unique among UNESCO heritage sites for the following reasons:

  1. Its status as a “group nomination.” The success of the nomination largely has to do with the fact that the cumulative impact and historical significance of these sites is far greater than the sum of their parts. There is little chance, for example, that the Ebisugahana Shipyard remains in Hagi would constitute sufficient historical significance or architectural integrity to warrant a UNESCO listing on their own. However, when understood in the context of the other sites, this element becomes critical in telling the story of Japan’s rise as a naval power beginning in the late nineteenth century. The configuration of this inscription is also indicative of a gradual change that seems to be happening across new UNESCO sites more broadly—moving away from isolated, extraordinary sites and towards more inclusive “heritage landscapes.”
  2. As an indication of UNESCO’s growing interest in industrial heritage sites, and a recognition that such sites have been heretofore neglected. Over the last fifteen years or so (following a report written in 2004), UNESCO has begun to address the severe underrepresentation of industrial sites in its listings, particularly in Asia, South America, and Africa.
  3. The international controversy over Japan’s framing of these sites in the nomination document, and in particular, the lack of any acknowledgement of the role of foreign forced labor (primarily South Korean and Chinese) at 7 of the 23 sites included.

There is significant documentation and literature about these sites available online, for instance here, at the main website for Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution. At this site, there’s also a smartphone app available for download with games and articles that can be opened from anywhere, as well as exclusive content that can only be accessed when your phone’s GPS indicates that you are actually at one of the sites. But, as I discovered, reading about these sites online is hardly a substitute for making the trek out to see them. Over the course of about 3 weeks in September and October, I was able to visit about 17 out of 25 publicly sites (some of the 23 sites have sub-sites, and so I’ve counted them separately). Arranged in chronological order of my visits, and by geographic region, below are the sites I was able to visit. I’ve also included the sites in each region that I didn’t make it to, with a brief explanation of why I skipped that site.


  • Former Shuiseikan Machinery Factory (built 1865; visited September 19, 2018)
  • Shuseikan Reverberatory Furnace (built 1857; visited September 19, 2018)
  • Former Kagoshima Foreign Engineers’ Residence (built 1867; visited September 19, 2018)
  • Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshino Leat (built 1852; visited September 24, 2018)
  • Terayama Charcoal Kiln (built 1858; skipped because public transportation was too difficult and I opted for the Sluice Gate instead.)


  • Miyanohara Pit, Miike Coal Mine (built 1898, visited September 25, 2018)
  • Manda Pit, Miike Coal Mine (built 1902, visited September 25, 2018)
  • Miike Port (built 1908, visited September 25, 2018)
  • Misumi West Port (built 1887; skipped because this one really required a rental car for transportation)


  • Takashima Coal Mine (built 1869; visited September 27, 2018)
  • Glover House and Office (built 1863; visited September 28, 2018)
  • Mitsubishi Pattern Shop (built 1898; visited September 29, 2018)
  • Hashima Coal Mine (built 1890; visited October 1, 2018)
  • Mitsubishi No. 3 Dry Dock (built 1905, not open to the public, but did see from Nagasaki harbor)
  • Mitsubishi Giant Cantilever Crane (built 1909, not open to the public, but did see from the bus on the Mitsubishi Pattern Shop tour)
  • Miutsubishi Senshokaku Guest House (built 1904, not open to the public. Mitsubishi employees get to have their retirement parties there, which seems to be its main use today!)
  • Kosuge Slip Dock (built 1869; skipped due to typhoon weather on planned date of visit)


  • The Imperial Steel Works, First Head Office (built 1899, not open to the public but visible from a viewing platform nearby, visited October 3, 2018)
  • The Imperial Steel Works, Repair Shop (built 1901, not open to the public, but did the iPad VR tour near the site, visited October 3, 2018)
  • The Imperial Steel Works, Former Forge Shop (built 1900, not open to the public, but did the iPad VR tour near the site, visited October 3, 2018)
  • Onga River Pumping Station (built 1910; too far from Kitakyushu to get there on the single day I had there)


  • Shokasonjuku Academy (built 1856; visited October 5, 2018)
  • Hagi Reverberatory Furnace (built 1856; visited October 5, 2018)
  • Ebisugahana Shipyard (built 1856; visited October 5, 2018)
  • Hagi Castle Town (17th-19th century; visited October 6, 2018)
  • Ohitayama Iron Works (built 1855; too far from Hagi to realistically get to by bus within my time constraints)

Reflections and Analysis

As I’ve been reflecting back on my rapid tour through Japan’s industrial heritage, one of the things I was most struck by was how unevenly these sites have been developed for visitor access, and the current diversity of visitor experiences they provide. Check out the map linked here, showing the full listing of the JMIR sites. The impression of this listing, based on the fact that all of the sites are presented in the same font size is that all of the sites are effectively equal. That might be technically true under the prescriptions of the UNESCO inscription, but in practice, there is significant variety along the sites, both in their development for visitors and in their interpretive infrastructures. The following are a series of evaluative criteria that I think can elucidate some of the meaningful differences between the sites I visited:


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?
The Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshino Leat was a place I could not have accessed without asking at the Kagoshima bus terminal visitor center. Getting there and back was still somewhat of a harrowing experience.

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?
The Gunkanjima boat tour, plus tickets to the digital museum, plus the “HoloLens” experience came to about $60 US per person.

3. Visitor Infrastructure: What other services and amenities are available on site?

  • How has the site been developed to support visitors?
  • Are there are bathrooms, gift shops, restaurants, rest houses, etc. available on site?
  • Was the site developed for visitors before the UNESCO inscription or has the tourism infrastructure been constructed since 2015 in response to the inscription?
The ruins of the Reverberatory Furnace at Shuiseikan. This was industrial history in paradise – beautiful grounds and garden, plus one of the best museum dining experiences I’ve ever had.

4. The Site Itself: What are the physical elements of the site?

  • What is the degree to which there are physically intact remains at the site?
  • Is the site part of another historical site or is it freestanding and independent?
The Ebisugahana Shipyard is an active archaeological site. Right now though, there’s not much to see at the site besides the stone dock and the blue tarps.

5. Interaction with the Site Itself: To what degree can visitors access the actual built remains?

  • If the site includes an intact building (or buildings), can visitors enter it/them and under what conditions?
  • If archaeological remains, how close can visitors get to them?
  • In cases of restricted access, are there other means provided (photographs, VR, virtual tours, etc.) that help the visitor understand the experience of occupying that site?
  • How long does it take to interact with the site and the interpretation provided; how much time should a visitor allot for a visit to this site?
The Imperial Steel Works Office is only accessible from a viewing platform several hundred meters away. It’s also under repair right now, so I couldn’t even really see the facade.

6. Interpretation On Site: How much interpretation is available at the site and in what forms?

  • Is there a museum associated with the site?
  • What kind of signage is available?
  • Are there docents on site during business hours? A live guide who gives a tour?
  • How much of the experience is analog versus digital?
  • What multi-lingual support is provided?
Most of the interpretation for the Hagi sites is provided at a brand new museum at the center of the city.

7. Interpretive Narrative: The overarching methodological approach of the interpretation and its argument.

  • Is there an overarching narrative presented at the site, and if so, what is it?
  • How does this narrative link up with other sites in the geographic region? How much intentional coordination is there with other nearby JMIR sites?
  • How do the other interpretive materials at the site support this narrative?
  • How explicitly architectural is the architectural history included in the interpretation?
  • If the site relies on archaeological evidence, how is this interpreted or explained?
  • How does the interpretation available on the site line up with the website, app, and other JMIR materials that are accessible off-site?
You can learn a lot about Japanese industrial heritage just by paying attention to their cartoon character avatars. Here, Saigo Takamori (Kagoshima’s local hero, left) encounters Yoshida Shoin (Hagi’s local hero, right).


Over the next several days, I’ll be addressing each of these sets of questions in the course of a series of short posts. Stay tuned.