National

On infrastructure tours in Japan, the road is the destination

Kyodo

Looking for an extraordinary experience in Japan? How about climbing to the top of the world’s longest suspension bridge for a panoramic view of the city, or a walking tour on an expressway yet to be completed?

So-called infrastructure tourism is an emerging segment of the wider tourism market that has drawn interest from both sightseers and travel organizers alike — especially as the number of construction projects increases ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge, which links the port city of Kobe and Awaji Island, is a popular destination for such tourism. Participants get a spectacular view from the top of a 300-meter-high pylon.

The bridge tour, organized by Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway Co., starts with a presentation that provides an overview of the structure at an exhibition center nearby.

After the lecture, visitors walk about 1 kilometer along a maintenance way that extends underneath the highway. During the walk, a construction engineer explains the bridge’s history and construction. Visitors can look down through the metal mesh walkway to see ships passing under the bridge.

Started in 2005, the tour attracts about 10,000 participants annually, including close to 2,000 foreign visitors.

One participant reported being “blown away” by the experience of reaching the top of the tower, where people usually cannot enter. Another said the informative lecture “made me want to learn more about this bridge.”

The tour is held on Thursdays through Sundays and national holidays from April to November.

Participants must wear nonslip shoes and be at least of junior high school age, which is usually 12 or 13 years old. Regular admission is ¥3,000, and ¥1,500 for students accompanied by an adult.

A tour of an expressway is another big infrastructure-tourist attraction.

In February, Tokyo-based tour agency Club Tourism International Inc. organized a sightseeing bus tour to drive through a section of the Metropolitan Inter-City Expressway, which circles outer Tokyo from Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, to Chigasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture.

As part of the experience, about 500 participants enjoyed a 1-kilometer walk on the expressway near the Joso interchange in Ibaraki Prefecture.

The tour previewed the segment of the freeway before it was officially open to traffic in February. Currently, only vehicles are allowed access.

“It was good to learn from an expert (about the road’s construction plan). It helped me deepen my knowledge,” one participant said in February. “I am thrilled to see the road when it opens after going through this amazing experience,” another participant said.

Club Tourism International plans to hold expressway tours in September and October at a Tokyo Bay undersea tunnel of Route 357. The tour plans to include a tour of Haneda airport’s international terminal.

An official at Club Tourism was confident that the “one-time only” experience will satisfy the participants, mostly family tourists and residents.

“As many roads and facilities are slated to be built ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, I believe tours at these sites can draw interest,” the official said.

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