The Diet is making efforts to boost its appeal as a Tokyo tourist attraction, and members of the administrative staff who come up with good ideas have been pitching in and acting as tour guides.
Last December, the secretariat in charge of the building held a contest among its employees for the first time to improve the quality of its tours, which had hitherto been conducted exclusively by Diet security officials.
The office of the House of Representatives has prepared a guidebook in seven languages and even made sign language guides available, said Saki Kuroda, 21, a staffer on the team that won the contest.
On a recent tour, she greeted visitors in Japanese, English, Chinese and French while using sign language. The tour of the Lower House started in the gallery section, with Kuroda explaining about the chairs assigned to the speaker and the Cabinet ministers. She then noted that the politicians’ nameplates are reused by repainting them with black lacquer after each election.
The tour advanced to the luxury resting room for emperor visits, and then to the main hall, which has a towering ceiling that is so big that the five-story pagoda of Horyuji Temple in Nara could fit inside.
Tomoo Inoue, a 23-year-old Diet guard who won second prize, told visitors on his tour that the Diet building, completed in 1936, was built entirely from domestic materials with three exceptions — the British stained glass used in the main hall and other spots, and the U.S.-made mailboxes and door locks. Japanese materials could not be used for those items because of patents and technological difficulties at that time, Inoue explained.
The three-story building has mailboxes on each floor, and any letters or small packages put into them drop into the collection box in the basement, he said.
Masaki Kameya, 23, of the research section that headed the winning team, said he listened to the senior staffers to prepare for the contest.
Although he himself does not lead tours, he now teaches the history of the building to new hires.
“We try not to use difficult expressions for elementary school children and change topics in accordance with the ages of visitors,” said Inoue, one of the guards.
“We just hope that people feel closer to politics after visiting here,” he added.
Some 600,000 people visited the Lower House in 2013 and in 2014, which was up from the 500,000 or so visitors who toured the place in 2006.