You won't miss a sunset in this Japanese city
Matsue has set up what it believes is a first-of-its-kind sunset forecast, giving weekly previews of whether there is a view to enjoy. - AFP
by Kyoko Hasegawa
MATSUE, Japan, Oct 28, 2008 (AFP) - A small Japanese city with no prominent industries believes it has hit upon a novel resource to boost its fortunes in tough economic times - the sunset.
Matsue, a city of 193,000 people on the southwest of Japan's main island of Honshu, has set up what it believes is a first-of-its-kind sunset forecast, giving weekly previews of whether there is a view to enjoy.
The sunset is hardly a new resource for Matsue, which lies on the banks of inland Lake Shinji.
Lafcadio Hearn, the Greek-born writer who later took on the Japanese name Yakumo Koizumi, was said to have loved the sunset when he lived in Matsue in the late 19th century.
Apart from that accolade, however, Matsue's sunset has until now drawn little recognition in Japan, let alone overseas.
"The city's only industry that is brisk is tourism," said Hajime Fujii, a municipal official who is in charge of the forecast.
"The idea came out of enthusiasm to maximise the use of the sunset."
The project, launched in August 2007, appears to have worked. Last year the number of foreign visitors to the city jumped by 41.5 percent to 34,898, with the difference made up in the final months of 2007 after the website launched.
On its website, the city issues forecasts for the coming week. The ratings range from certainty to the impossibility of seeing the sunset.
The data comes from the Japan Meteorological Agency, but the assessments are the work of city officials, who insist that sometimes the sunset is more beautiful when it rains or is cloudy than at the end of sunny days.
The forecast enjoys 7,000 page views a month. The city has also built a special lakeside park to enjoy the view.
On one recent evening with a favourable sunset rating, dozens of people gathered at the park to take in the view.
"I didn't know until now that Matsue was such a nice place," said Masumi Koyanagi, a 25-year-old nurse from the central city of Nagoya.
She was in Matsue as part of a professional trip with her friends when they decided to see the sunset - and then decided on the strength of its beauty that they would return, one day, to Matsue.
"It feels comforting! This region has a healing power," said fellow nurse Yumi Isogai, 24.
Matsue, like many other small Japanese cities, has been trying to promote tourism as a way to make up for its lack of industry. Other cities have done everything from building modern art complexes to promoting local seafood.
Matsue is lucky it was able to keep the view. In 2004, it fought successfully against the construction of a windpower plant in a neighbouring city near lakeside mountains.
It has also opposed the construction of a 14-storey condominium complex on the lake shore.
The city is now preparing to hold the first "sunset summit" of Japanese communities in November to explain how to use the resource.
"We are planning a week of events including concerts and a symposium to discuss how to utilise the sunset," Fujii said.
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