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[Columns]Restoration of World Heritage buildings has a drastic effect Uji and Himeji are both overwhelmed and delighted by flocking tourists

 Tourism-related business operators in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture, where restoration of the World Heritage Site Phoenix Hall (Houo-do) of Byodo-in Temple (photo) was just finished this spring, are openly expressing relief at the effect of the restoration, saying, “We expected an increase in the number of tourists, but honestly, we didn't expect to receive so many.” Since Uji City had experienced sluggish growth in tourist numbers, in particular a rapid decline from 2012 when the restoration of the Phoenix Hall began, such business operators are especially delighted with the unexpected increase.
 
   Byodo-in Temple, which was founded by Fujiwara no Yorimichi in 1052, and the Phoenix Hall are the first places that most tourists visit in Uji City. According to a survey conducted by the city from 2011 to 2012, as many as 84% of tourists to Uji visited the temple, followed by those (36%) going to Ujigami-jinja Shrine, which is also on the World Heritage list. There are several reasons for the popularity of Byodo-in Temple. Needless to say, the buildings are beautiful, but it is also a well-known fact that the 10-yen coin features the image of the Phoenix Hall and that the 10,000-yen note features the temple’s phoenix rooftop ornaments.
 
   The Phoenix Hall, a national treasure, had been closed to the public because the hall was covered by a temporary roof for re-roofing. The impact of this was huge. In addition, the city’s tourism industry was hit doubly hard by Ujigami-jinja Shrine’s similar renovation works starting from spring 2013. As a result, the annual number of tourists to Uji, which exceeded 5,560,000 in the peak year of 2010, dropped to 4,720,000 in 2012, and further to below 4,000,000 in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the tourism industry of the city was driven to the wall with decreases in the revenues of shrines, temples, souvenir shops, and parking lots in the city.
 
   However, the economic thunderclouds disappeared suddenly as if by magic when the Phoenix Hall was re-opened to the public after the completion of the renovation works on April 3 this year. According to the Commerce, Industry, and Tourism Division of Uji City Hall, despite the influence of fierce heat and typhoons, the number of tourists from April has shown a growth of about 1.5 times that of the previous year, and more significant growth can be expected in the coming autumn tourist season. In addition to the city’s efforts to attract tourists, such as setting up related banners in front of the local JR and Keihan stations, “the effect of the news in the mass media of the completion of the renovation was huge, after all. It was worth putting up with the works,” stated a spokesperson for the city government, wild with joy.
 
   Speaking of the renovation of world heritage buildings, the renovation works for Himeji Castle Tower in Hyogo Prefecture are almost finished, with an eye toward the grand opening in March next year. After the renovation works began in October 2009, the number of visitors to the castle significantly decreased from the peak year of 2009—when the number of visitors increased to 1,500,000—partly due to an increase in the number of visitors who hoped to catch a final glimpse of the castle before the renovation. The number of visitors to the castle was 450,000 in 2010, and 610,000 in 2011. The only consolation during the restoration works was that the number of visitors in the previous year recovered to 880,000 with a gradual increase in the number of visitors thanks to efforts to attract visitors, such as study tours of plastering and of a facility for observation of the restoration works. Since Himeji Castle is the main sightseeing attraction in Himeji, the Tourism and Exchange Promotion Division of the city believes that a further increase in the number of tourists from the next year is promising. That is partly because Himeji City is also placing high expectation on an increase in the number of visitors, saying, “A series of exposures in the media will have a significant customer attraction effect.”
 
   One of the purposes of the registration on UNESCO’s World Heritage list is to revitalize local tourism, but if the response is merely elation at the success of the registration, with no further action, the favorable results due to the registration will not last long. The examples of these cities appear to suggest that even with World Heritage buildings, it is essential to make a further effort to create topics of conversation, such as investing in the restoration along with efforts to preserve the registered buildings. (Hideaki Kagami)
 
 
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Tourists visiting the Phoenix Hall (Houo-do) of Byodo-in Temple
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Tourists visiting the Phoenix Hall (Houo-do) of Byodo-in Temple