TOKYO -- Japan has a new way to attract foreign tourists -- overnight castle stays.
Ozu Castle in Ehime Prefecture next April will begin allowing tourists to stay a night for 1 million yen ($9,250) per couple.
The Castle is on the Japan Castle Foundation's top 100 list, and the government lists it as an important cultural asset. First built in 1331, it has been repaired and reconstructed over the centuries, including by noted castle builder and Daimyo Takatora Todo, who died in 1630.
Japan's tourism ministry included accommodation services in historical heritage sites in its latest tourism vision realization program, drawing inspiration from Europe, where castle stays are already offered.
The Ozu municipal government is partnering with Value Management, a company that focuses on utilizing historical resources.
The tenshu, the castle's core four-story tower, about 19 meters high, will accept guests for 30 days a year, when rooms will be equipped with mats and furniture. Bathroom facilities will also be provided in ways that do not disturb the setting.
Overnight stays will include a "lord experience" service, which will allow guests to feel how daimyo lived centuries ago. Visitors will be served meals made of local ingredients and be given boat rides in the moat.
The Ozu municipal government in May set up a committee to discuss how to utilize the city's heritage sites. Political leaders want to "prepare for the population decline," one official said, "and creatively find new revenue sources."
Plans call for allowing daily tourists to visit when the castle is not acting as a hotel.
Ozu is not Japan's only castle that is moving into the lodging business. Hirado Castle in Nagasaki Prefecture is planning to do likewise next July. It is partnering with Japan Airlines and Hyakusenrenma, an Airbnb-type marketplace.
When Hirado Castle officials in 2017 decided to explore overnight stays as a business opportunity, 7,000 couples applied for a trial run. About 60% of the applicants were from overseas, primarily from Western countries.
The castle is renovating about 126 sq. meters of floor space to better accommodate overnight visitors.
Mitsugu Iguchi, a professor of tourism and culture policies at Doshisha University said simply providing overnight stays is not enough. "It is important," he said, "to also include cultural experiences."