Since the publication of the photographic book Kojo Moe by Ken Oyama and Tetsu Ishii in 2007 – featuring images of gantry cranes, steam power plants, steel towers and ironworks – industrial sight-seeing has been a growing sub-sector of the Japanese domestic tourism industry. The popularity of viewing factory structures has led to the growth of specialised bus and boat tours, including popular night-time tours (Kojo Yakei) in a number of Japanese cities such as Kawasaki, Yokkaichi, Muroran, Kitakyushu and Himeji. Participation – and the performance involved in participation – is closely linked to photography (typically through smart-phone cameras) as a way of recording the social experience and night-time industrial aesthetic.
I visited Japan in 2013 and 2014 to research the phenomenon. Data compiled in 2014 by the Department of Civil Engineering at Kinki University in Osaka detailed 31 factory tours operating in 17 cities. The densest concentration of tours is, unsurprisingly, in the Kanto region that encompasses the heavily industrialized coastal zones of Yokohama and Kawasaki. The tours can sell out for months in advance. When I had enquired at JNTOs (Japan National Tourism Organizations) in Tokyo City about visiting industrial sites, I was given a list of museums of technology and industry. As a foreigner, I am not the target audience for these tours. Kojo Yakei is marketed at Japanese city-dwellers and participants are mainly groups of young Japanese women and then some older men.
Kojo Yakei is promoted as a social experience, a night out, and not as an educational or informational tour. Some cruises provide buffet dinners, others cocktails. What they all offer is a spectacle. An alternate son et lumière to the neon and electric cityscape. At night security lights, office lights, portacabin lights and perimeter lights illuminate industrial megastructures on a Blade Runner scale. Smoke rising from chimney stacks adds to the effect. Kojo Yakei offers what we in the West call the industrial sublime and on these nights, tourists are factory struck (not love struck or star struck).
The boats tend to slow down and stop opposite particularly well-lit structures (sometimes accompanied by clapping and cheering) before bypassing dark factories for another illuminated colossus. It is difficult to take good photographs from a rocking, moving boat in low light and very few tourists take serious camera kit on these tours, but the boats slow down to enable participants to take photos, as best they can, with their smartphones, or to capture a factory selfie. The photography is an important element of the social experience of the tour.
Most boat tours take an hour. However, a boat and bus tour around Himeji city was four hours long. The bus pulled up opposite a spectacular chemical plant and we spent around 20 minutes taking photographs through the wire fencing. The plant next door was in darkness and no one was paying it any attention. I strolled down the road the short distance to take a look at it. The bus driver must have noticed my interest for when I returned to the group he said to me ‘we have asked them to put their lights on for us.’
The research was carried out with funding from the Japan Foundation, the Japanese Society of Civil Engineers, supported by the Civil Engineering Department of Kinki University, Osaka.
Orange, H (2017) Flaming smokestacks: Night-time factory tourism in Japan. In the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Vol 4, 1: 59-72
Orange, H (2015) Night-time Factory Tourism in Japan via MMU Light Research, 23 January.
Ken Oyama and Tetsu Ishii (2007) Kojo Moe. Tokyo Shoseki