JIN-314 -- Centrair as Theme Park: Welcome to Chubu Disneyland

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 314
Saturday March 26, 2005 TOKYO

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Centrair as Theme Park: Welcome to
Chubu Disneyland
++ Airports Resembling Shopping Malls
++ The Downside to Skytown

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Centrair as Theme Park: Welcome to
Chubu Disneyland
++ Airports Resembling Shopping Malls
++ The Downside to Skytown

On February 17 Central Japan International Airport
(Centrair) opened with much fanfare on an artificial
island in Ise Bay about 35 kilometers south of Nagoya,
center of the Chubu region. The airport was touted
as a winner for ease of transfer between domestic
and international flights. Surprisingly, however,
visitors have outnumbered passengers.

Get off the escalator on the fourth floor of Centrair
and step into a post town in a Japanese period drama.
Artifacts of old Japan sit chock-a-block. In front of
them vendors dispense sweet rice jelly, tempura rice balls,
shrimp rice crackers and other local delicacies. Even
the Starbucks has a tiled roof. A 3.6-meter-tall "chochin,"
or paper lantern, which gives the floor its name, "Chochin
Street," hangs from the ceiling, illuminated a soft
blue evenings.

Across the square is "Brick Street," a rendition of a
European back street, with restaurants and variety shops.
Chochin Street and Brick Street make up "Skytown," which has
bustled with visitors since the airport opened. Through
glass doors stretches a 300-meter observation deck with
panorama of tarmac and runway.

"Placing the jewel in the facility on the inconvenient
top floor is a fresh approach," says Nobuya Hashizume, an
Osaka City University professor knowledgeable about
commercial construction. "It is the concept of an airport
building as an independent commercial facility." In fact,
there is a stream of visitors to the fourth floor, and
only a trickle toward the boarding gates. One often sees
senior citizens on tours of Skytown but seldom comes
across people pulling suitcases.

Taro Igarashi, an architectural historian at Chubu
University, places Skytown in the context of
post-mid-'90s theme commercial facilities including
Canal City in Hakata and Roppongi Hills in Tokyo.
"These fake cities are unnecessary for people embarking on
overseas trips or for people who have arrived from
abroad. Clearly Skytown is intended to draw visitors to
the airport."
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++ The Downside to Skytown

The publicity campaign highlighting this commercial facility
succeeded. More than 100,000 people visit the airport every
day, but only 40 percent board airplanes. Which means the
number of day-trippers compares with the average daily number
of visitors to Tokyo Disneyland, 70,000.

There is a downside to Skytown's popularity. Visitors clog
corridors and make getting a seat in a restaurant an exercise
in Zenlike patience. Passengers are clearly getting the short
end of the stick from the terminal building's Disneyfication.
Some restaurants have established passenger-only hours, but
the Central Japan International Airport Co. is not
contemplating restricted admission.
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++ Airports Resembling Shopping Malls

The world now has several airports -- Incheon International
Airport in Korea springs to mind -- that resemble gigantic
shopping malls.

"Airports profit from commercial facilities," remarks Motofusa
Murayama, a Chukyo University professor of corporate strategy
with wide knowledge of airports around the world. "As a place
where multitudes come and go an airport is nothing if not a
city. Its shopping promenade corresponds to the city's amusement
quarter and is the center of moneymaking. It is a mechanism to
compensate for shortfalls in landing fees."

Pico Iyer, in "Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping and the Search
for Home," did a cultural take on Los Angeles International
Airport (LAX), describing it as a "gift with culture
shock. . . a mixed marriage between a border crossing and
a shopping mall."

Japan's restrictive immigration policy and tarnished aura of
economic vitality ensure insular Centrair will not become
an "international convenience zone," a symbol of border
crossing and the cultural movement as LAX impressed Iyer.
Nagoya will never be a gateway to a brash cosmopolitan
continent or even a California dream.

But Centrair may prove a sustainable theme park, no mean feat
in a land where theme parks -- notably, Huis Ten Bosch in
Nagasaki Prefecture, Seagaia in Miyazaki Prefecture and
Gulliver's Kingdom at the foot of Mount Fuji -- have
succumbed to economic reality in recent years. The success
story among theme parks here is Tokyo Disneyland, which
continues to make money. On the critical point of location,
like Tokyo Disneyland, Centrair is situated near a
metropolitan area, with 7 million people.

Visitors soaking in the glass-enclosed observatory bath can
see the Suzuka mountain range on a clear day, watch the sun
dip below Ise Bay, and follow the planes taking off from the
runway, their afterburners like shooting stars in the night
sky. The planes are attractions tantamount to Mickey
Mouse & Co. at Disneyland.

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)


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