Photo/IllutrationVisitors to Legoland Japan form a line in late May in one corner of the nearby Maker’s Pier commercial complex in Nagoya’s Minato Ward. Many elementary schools gave their students a day off in lieu of the “undokai” sports day held the previous day. (Kenji Seki)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGOYA--The bricks are in place, all 10 million of them, but business proprietors near Legoland Japan here are perplexed by the low turnout of visitors spilling over from the outdoor theme park.

That, they complain, is because there is insufficient coordination between the park operator and the city government.

Legoland Japan opened with much fanfare in the city’s Minato Ward in April. City officials had high hopes the park would encourage redevelopment of the waterfront area.

While the park operator has no plans to work with local authorities, city assembly members are scrambling to find ways to remedy the situation.

At issue is a decision by Legoland to close the park from June on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on grounds the new schedule would give maintenance workers time to do their jobs and allow time off for service staff.

The park operates seven days a week during the summer vacation that started July 18. But it will close again on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in September before returning to the seven-days-a-week schedule in October.

It will then close again on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from the start of November through the week starting Dec. 18.

The decision came as a bolt out of the blue for business proprietors at the adjacent Maker’s Pier commercial complex, which has 50 or so shops and opened in late March.

“I never thought Legoland would be taking holidays,” said cafe operator Hiroshi Yoshiki, 43, with a sigh.

Legoland Japan has also come under criticism from visitors and other parties for its high admission fees.

“I was expecting my shop would be full of customers spilling over from a jam-packed Legoland,” Yoshiki added.

Attracting fewer customers than expected, his cafe attained only 30 percent of its sales goal for April. Yoshiki revised the menu and prices, but sales still only reached about 60 percent of his target in May.

In late April, a seafood restaurant pulled out of Maker’s Pier.

The fact is, when the park is closed, nearby businesses are unable to attract customers.

“I once thought I made a bad choice to open the cafe,” Yoshiki continued. “I just hope that we get an opportunity to discuss the situation with the operator of Legoland.”

Maker’s Pier has been sounding out the theme park through various channels about working more closely together, a representative for the operator said.

However, a publicist for Legoland Japan said: “At the moment, there are no plans for coordination.”

The official also said the theme park is confident it will achieve its goal of 2 million visitors in the first year.

However, the company has yet to release visitor numbers for each month the park has been open.

“There was a little difficulty in April, but it has been going well since late April,” the representative said.

In an interview with The Asahi Shimbun in late June, Torben Jensen, the park operator's president, showed a willingness to extend operating hours into the evening.

Currently, the park is open until 5 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on holidays. Opening hours are extended to 7 p.m. on weekends and other occasions during the summer vacation, and may be extended further to around 8 p.m., or even 9 p.m.

The Nagoya city government has been attempting to make the Port of Nagoya a sightseeing hub, but has not had much success.

A large discount store that opened in 1999 in the Kinjo Pier shut down after slightly more than two years of operation. A plan to build an outlet shopping mall was also derailed in 2007. The Port of Nagoya Italian Village commercial complex, which stood in the nearby Garden Pier, went bankrupt in 2008.

Legoland Japan is the latest entry. After attracting the theme park to the area, the city government spent 20.5 billion yen ($185.5 million) to develop a parking space for 5,000 cars and a pedestrian deck near the park to improve access.

“We can’t afford to make another mistake,” a city official said.

Officials are also considering making the theme park a destination for field trips for city-run elementary schools.

The issue of visitor numbers has also been discussed at the city assembly.

“We have quite a sense of urgency,” Mayor Takashi Kawamura said during an assembly session in June.

He added that all business proprietors must take responsibility for making Kinjo Pier a bustling place for visitors, emphasizing that the city government needs to strengthen coordination with the park operator and proprietors in the area.