National | Regional voices: Chubu

Factory night views of Yokkaichi a tourist draw and a bitter legacy of pollution

Chunichi Shimbun

Factory night view cruises in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, are recently attracting visitors from across the nation. While the city’s tourism association hopes the tour will help make the city become a major tourist destination, people who suffered from industrial pollution in the 1960s say they don’t want the negative history to be forgotten.

One day in late November, participants of a night cruise in Yokkaichi were enthusiastically taking pictures of intricately tangled pipe-work and steam trailing from chimneys glowing in the dark on the riverbanks.

“It looks like Disneyland,” said a woman who joined the 90-minute tour on a 24.5-meter-long boat for 125 passengers.

Factory viewing gained popularity with tourists around 2007, when “Kojo Moe,” a photo-book featuring factories nationwide, was published. Hoping to get rid of the district’s image as a polluted city, Yokkaichi’s tourism association launched a factory night view cruise in 2010.

In the initial fiscal year, there were 1,123 passengers, but the figure rose more than fivefold to 5,944 in fiscal 2017.

Some people have mixed feelings about the factories being used to promote tourism in the city.

In Yokkaichi, many people suffered from asthma in the 1960s caused by soot and smoke from petrochemical complexes. The pollution was blamed for 1,046 deaths and six suicides. As of the end of October, there are still 350 asthma patients in the city designated by the government as air pollution victims.

“The factory lights look like my daughter’s tears,” said Teruko Tanida, an 84-year-old resident of Komono, Mie, who lost her daughter, Naoko, at the age of 9 due to pollution. “I still shed tears when I speak (about the pollution) in front of elementary school children, who are about the same age as my daughter (at the time).”

Yukikazu Noda, an 87-year-old resident of Yokkaichi and the only living patient plaintiff of a lawsuit filed by asthma sufferers and disease-stricken families in 1967 against petrochemical complex operators, said: “I can’t think well of the night views of the factories that made me suffer. Fewer people know the history (of pollution) now, and I feel the pressure of not being able to say anything about the factories except that they are beautiful.”

Officials of the city’s tourism association said university students who are writing about factory night view tours for their graduation theses started visiting the association from in and out of the prefecture in 2017.

Six students visited the association, but not many questions were asked about the pollution, according to the officials. “What is important in tourism is to make people feel happy. We consider pollution and tourism as different things,” one official said.

Factory night view tours are proving popular in other areas as well. Kawasaki, the most well-known for factory night viewing, attracts some 50,000 visitors yearly to its cruise and bus tours. In 2011, Yokkaichi and Kawasaki, along with Muroran in Hokkaido and Kitakyushu, began promoting themselves as the top four factory night viewing areas.

“Factory night views offer an opportunity for people to become interested in those areas,” said Masaaki Okada, a professor of Kindai University’s faculty of science and engineering who is well-versed in landscape engineering. “Local governments should lead efforts by the whole community to create a system to raise public awareness of the history of pollution.”

Okada suggested holding tours that include not only factory viewing at nights but also visits to a museum that show panels and videos on the history of pollution and other tourism spots in the city.

“Nowadays even locals show little interest in the areas they live in,” Okada said. “Local people should be the first to make this phenomenon the opportunity to learn about history.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 25.