I remember a while back when I told a Japanese teacher of mine who lived in Nagoya that I might visit the city while I was in Japan.
She looked at me blankly and asked, “Why?”
That conversation popped back into my head today as I read this news from Asahi Shinbun about how Legoland in Nagoya is struggling to pack in visitors [Japanese link].
For those unfamiliar, Nagoya is a city in central Japan (map) that’s (very) roughly midway between Osaka to the west and Tokyo to the east. It’s best known in Japan for Nagaya-jou, an historic castle dating back to the 16th century. It’s also known for recently being voted “the number 1 city no one wants to visit” [Japanese link] by around 80% of Japanese citizens. Legoland is part of the city’s strategy to reverse that trend and get more people to bring their tourist dollars to Nagoya. So far, the attraction has been operating for one month, and this grand strategy is working…kind of:
JTB, [a travel agency] which sells admission tickets and hotel lodgings as a set, has seen a 20% increase in lodging reservations in locations in Aichi Prefecture from April to June. The Oonami Line, which includes Kinjoufutou Station [the location of Legoland] and Nagoya Station, have seen ridership increase by 20% over last year between April 1st and April 20th. Both are as a result of Legoland.
But there are no signs of crowding like at Tokyo Disney Resort (TDR, Chiba Prefecture, Urayasu). “I’m glad I could board any attraction after waiting only 15 minutes,” Watanabe Yoshihiko, a company employee visiting from Toyota in Chiba on Sunday, April 30th, gloated.
On the other hand, there are also complaints about “not being able to bring in bentou boxes and drinks” and “the high price of admission”. Admission for kids ages 3 to 12 is 5300 yen [around $47 US], and for adults (anyone over 13), it’s 6900 yen [about $62 US].
Compared to a one-day ticket at Tokyo Disneyland, the adult admission is cheap, but the price for anyone younger than a high school student is high.
The operating company that runs Legoland says it will not release visitor statistics for the month of April.
One might ask: Why create a major tourist destination in a location that gets little tourism? Many Japanese people avoid Nagoya because of the lack of interesting attractions. For those living in Tokyo, it’s just as easy to visit Kyoto, Osaka, or the newest, hip in-country tourism spot, Kanazawa.
But according to reports from 2014, the decision to build Legoland in Nagoya came down to location, location, location [Japanese link]:
Speaking about the requirements for the location, the BBC reports, “You can get there in two hours from Tokyo, and the central region’s population is 20 million people”. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Nagoya is positioned just about in the center of the central region, with its population of 21,740,000 people, and is about one to two hours from Kansai [the region including Kyoto and Osaka] and about 2 hours from Kantou [the region including Tokyo], meaning it can target customers from Kantou and Kansai.
The construction site is in Kinjoufutou in Nagoya’s Minato ward, and appears around 13 hectares wide (2.8 times larger than the Tokyo Dome). Highway access is good, and you can transfer at Nagoya Station to the Oonami Line and ride to the last stop at Kinjoufutou in about 24 minutes (15km). If you’re traveling by car it’s right after the IC exit、and access from suburban areas like Mie Prefecture’s Toyoake on the west side and Nikka on the east side is also good. In addition, plans are underway to build a large scale parking garage that can fix around 5,000 vehicles.
On paper, it sounds like the ideal location. Is the stiff price and the inability to bring in food really hampering Legoland’s success? Time will tell: the city and Legoland are now trying new marketing strategies, such as a discounted repeat visitor pass, to ensure that this 205 billion yen (appr. $180 million US) investment doesn’t keep shooting bricks.