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As Japan’s tourism industry reels from the effects of the pandemic, some areas of the country are launching plans to lure tourists using cultural assets under a related law enacted last year.

The Tennozu area in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward and the city of Sakai in Osaka Prefecture, in particular, are beefing up preparations in the hopes of a tourism rebound in a post-pandemic world.

Last month, a museum named WHAT opened in Tennozu, near Tokyo Bay, showcasing contemporary art pieces held by collectors. The new facility is operated by Warehouse Terrada, which, on top of its warehouse operations, offers a service that preserves artwork. The museum allows visitors to enjoy private collections of works created by a wide range of artists, including well-known figures and up-and-coming artists.

The company is aiming to revitalize the Tennozu area by turning it into a modern art base, with WHAT at its center. “We hope to propose a lifestyle in which people not only look at works of art, but also buy them and exhibit them in their houses,” Warehouse Terrada President Kohei Terada said.

In partnership with other companies in the district, Warehouse Terrada has produced large paintings on external walls of buildings, opened an art-themed cafe and built a promenade, as part of its efforts to create a community in which people can appreciate art while they are out for a stroll. Warehouse Terrada is also planning to beef up its moves to attract foreign visitors once the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

Under the legislation, established in April 2020, the Japanese government offers support to areas working to promote tourism utilizing museums and other cultural facilities as hubs.

In fiscal 2020, 25 areas were selected as recipients of government support under the regional culture tourism promotion law. The law is aimed at helping tourists from both at home and abroad deepen their understanding of Japanese culture. Using financial assistance from the state, designated areas are to showcase exhibits in multiple languages and disseminate information.

In July 2019, a group of kofun (ancient burial mounds) in Sakai, including one for Emperor Nintoku, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Sakai is also striving to lure tourists by utilizing its rich history as a major trading city from the Muromachi to Edo eras between the 14th and 19th centuries.

Sakai, which has struggled to compete for tourists with the neighboring city of Osaka and other popular destinations in the Kansai region, is specifically working to help visitors feel close to Japanese culture by offering experience-based tourism in cooperation with traditional local industries. For example, visitors can sharpen traditional Japanese kitchen knives and make wagashi (traditional sweets).

The city also plans to sell tickets for a tour around its sightseeing spots, which will include opportunities for people to check out the burial mounds from 100 meters up from a hot air balloon and see what Sakai was like in the past as a prosperous trading city through the use of virtual reality technology.

The city hopes the new attractions will encourage tourists to stay longer.

“In a post-coronavirus era, tourism will certainly see a shift from large group travel to small group trips,” an official at the Sakai city government said.

Aiming to double the number of foreign tourists in 2025, when the World Expo will be held in the city of Osaka, Sakai will try to attract solo travelers by providing them with cultural experiences.

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