Ise theme park uses ninja, samurai in G-7 tourist pitch

Chunichi Shimbun

Ise Azuchimomoyama Bunkamura, a theme park in Ise, Mie Prefecture, that showcases traditional Japanese buildings and customs, is working on increasing the number of foreign visitors ahead of the Group of Seven summit in May.

The region will be in the spotlight when the G-7 event takes place in the Ise-Shima region in May, and park officials say they are eager to make use of the rare opportunity to promote Japanese culture and history to as many non-Japanese as possible.

The park is located on a mountain in the eastern part of the city, reproducing the image of a town in the Azuchi-Momoyama Period at the foot of a 43-meter-high symbolic replica of Azuchi Castle. Visitors can see actors dressed in samurai and princess outfits walking down the streets as well as enacting ninja fighting sequences.

After the park opened in 1993, it attracted between 1.8 million to 2 million visitors annually, but the number has gradually decreased as time passed.

In 2008, the park asked famous comedian Kinichi Hagimoto, 74, to serve as a mayor emeritus of the park and introduced hands-on activities such as warrior costume rentals and a shuriken (ninja stars) throwing game.

Their promotion campaigns have paid off as the number of visitors slowly climbed back up in recent years.

“Our continued efforts are bearing fruit,” said Ise Azuchimomoyama Bunkamura spokesman Yasu Saito.

After it was decided in June that the G-7 summit will be held in the prefecture, the park doubled its efforts to attract foreign visitors, cooperating with the Mie Prefectural Government to promote the region via travel agencies in Taiwan and Thailand.

The park created pamphlets in English and Chinese, and is preparing a Korean version as well.

It also submitted a proposal to the prefectural government for high school students attending the Junior Summit on the sidelines of the G-7 summit to visit the park and experience cultural activities, such as viewing historical dramas and dressing up in ninja, samurai and oiran (courtesan) costumes.

“You don’t need to know the language to enjoy a historical drama. I’m sure this is the kind of Japanese culture they will definitely enjoy,” a park official said.

Since the park is only 1.2 km from Sun Arena, which will be used as a foreign press center during the G-7 summit, and the replica of Azuchi Castle can be seen from the place, park officials hope it will also attract the attention of foreign reporters.

The park is also pushing for the prefectural government to use actors in samurai or ninja outfits to promote the region at the summit.

“We are grateful that these tourism facilities are actively working to provide information for foreign tourists,” said Hisanobu Higashiura, 47, head of the Ise-Shima Tourism and Convention Organization, which was set up by the prefectural and municipal governments in the region. “I hope we can work together more and more to attract the attention of the global media.”

On Jan. 8, the park’s actors participated in shooting a promotional video by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), introducing facilities at the park.

“The marketing effort we put in the past eight years to attract foreign visitors will bear fruit during the short period of the summit. We must not let this opportunity go to waste,” said Saito.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Jan. 13.