Easier Tokyo access may boost tourism, manufacturing
TOKYO -- A new bullet train line bringing Tokyo within closer reach of Hokuriku gives that region on the opposite side of Japan a chance to build up its economic base in more ways than one.
The long-awaited Hokuriku Shinkansen opens Saturday. Jointly operated by East Japan and West Japan railways, it represents an extension of a bullet train line that opened in 1997 and cuts northwest from Tokyo to Nagano Prefecture, of Winter Olympics fame.
The Hokuriku-bound express service, Kagayaki, shortens rail travel between Tokyo and Kanazawa to as little as two hours and 28 minutes and cuts the trip to Toyama to two hours and eight minutes -- saving travelers more than an hour.
Tourism will drive much of the early traffic on the line. Kanazawa offers numerous sites of historical interest, notably Kenrokuen, one of Japan's most famous gardens. Toyama sits near the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which offers views of canyons of snow and Japan's tallest dam. Closer to Tokyo, the line lets travellers branch off to Nagano and the village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture, both popular with foreign and domestic tourists alike.
Open to business
Railway and hospitality groups set up shop in Kanazawa to prepare for a rise in tourism -- JR East as far back as 2013. Prince Hotels opened a sales office there last October. While the group does not offer any accommodations in the city, it is looking to steer tourists to its hotels and ski resorts in Karuizawa and the Joetsu area of Niigata Prefecture.
In Nagano, local lender Hachijuni Bank and other financial institutions are set to launch a 1.2 billion yen ($9.9 million) turnaround fund for tourist sites. Its first redevelopment project will focus on the Yudanaka Shibu Onsen hot spring area, famed for its bathing snow monkeys.
Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture, which aims to welcome 5 million visitors from the greater Tokyo area this year, more than twice as many as in 2013.
Not all of the buzz surrounding Hokuriku is about tourism. The region is also attracting the attention of manufacturers for its location on the Sea of Japan coast, thought to run less of a risk of tsunamis than the Pacific side, as well as transportation links to the greater Osaka and Nagoya areas.
This month, Japan Display announced plans to build a 170 billion yen factory for smartphone LCDs in Hakusan, a city in southern Ishikawa. Gov. Masanori Tanimoto credits ease of access with helping Ishikawa land this job-creating investment.
The Hokuriku Expressway runs along the Sea of Japan and connects with a highway running to the Pacific seaboard, letting goods move easily to ports on either coast. Thanks to the Hokuriku Shinkansen, Kanazawa now lies within roughly two and a half hours by rail of Japan's three major metropolitan areas.
Zipper manufacturer YKK plans to relocate about 230 administrative personnel from Tokyo to the city of Kurobe in Toyama Prefecture by next March. The move is partly meant as a hedge against natural disaster risk.
YKK will do its part to make the new bullet train line contribute to tourism and industry in the region, Chairman Tadahiro Yoshida said at pre-opening party Friday night.