Zoos open at night. A Ferris wheel still running past midnight.
Such scenes are becoming more common at leisure facilities as revenues continue to decline.
Take Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo’s Taito Ward for example. Aiming to stem a decline in visitors, the nation’s oldest zoo from Aug. 15 to Aug. 17 remained open until 8 p.m., three hours longer than usual, and offered special events at night.
“We hope visitor numbers recover from the long slump, and we want people to reacquaint themselves with the zoo, by offering different scenes,” zoo public relations official Masanari Ono said.
Ueno zoo, operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, began staying open longer in midsummer a few years ago. But since that did not work, the zoo planned the special nights of operation this summer, Ono said.
At night, zoo officials told visitors how many animals look sleepy during the daytime, including wolves, boars, and sloths, as they lie in front of their cages. Visitors were allowed to enter off-limits areas so they could take a closer look at bigger animals, including elephants and lions.
To attract adults, the zoo also served beer at a garden along Shinobazu Pond, where pelicans are kept.
More than 4,000 people visited during the extended hours over the three days, despite rainy weather.
The night hours were part of efforts to reduce the metropolitan government’s ballooning deficit, an official said.
The annual number of visitors to the zoo peaked at around 8 million in the early 1970s soon after it received two pandas from China, a gift commemorating the establishment of bilateral diplomatic relations. But the number has declined since, hovering around 3 millions in recent years.
The zoo may also stay open later next summer as well, but total hours of operation per day will not be extended because it would stress the animals out too much and threaten their health, the zoo said.
Tokyo Tower, run by a private company, is also targeting night owls. In April, the capital’s 333-meter landmark started to stay open until 10 p.m., even in winter. In the past, it closed at 9 p.m. in the summer and 7 or 8 p.m. in winter.
The extension was intended to attract not just tourists but also the after-work crowd in their 20s and 30s. The tower also renovated its observation decks and opened a cafe offering live music. Visitors have since increased by 20 percent to 30 percent, a spokeswoman said.
But 10 p.m. may still be too early to ride a Ferris wheel in Tokyo’s Odaiba waterfront district. Beginning this year, it runs until 2 a.m. from March to September.
The Ferris wheel, built in 1999, used to stop at 11 p.m. in summer.
Riders have increased by 10 percent to 15 percent due to the longer hours, said Nobuhiro Kuwako, an employee at ST Co., which runs the wheel.
“Like many in the industry, sales have declined every year. So we need to come up with new ideas to attract people,” Kuwako said. “I get the impression that more people are going out late at night, not just people hanging around in Odaiba, but those coming over from downtown Tokyo later at night.”