Photo/IllutrationThe Hirado city government is renovating the Kaiju Yagura turret, center, into an accommodation facility. The main keep is seen on the left and Kenso Yagura turret on the right. (Yasuo Fukuoka)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HIRADO, Nagasaki Prefecture--The city government here will be the first in Japan to allow tourists to stay overnight in the safety and seurity of a castle.

Officials are creating lodging facilities in the Kaiju Yagura turret of Hirado Castle, a major sightseeing attraction in the city’s Iwanouecho district.

The feudal fortress will be Japan’s first “castle offering overnight stays,” according to the Tokyo-based Japan Castle Foundation.

The city hopes to open the accommodations next year.

“We want to attract people from across the world to Hirado Castle, which is Hirado’s symbol and our pride,” Hirado Mayor Naruhiko Kuroda said.

The Kaiju Yagura, one of the castle’s five turrets, is a two-story, steel-reinforced concrete structure built in 1977 with a total floor space of 127 square meters.

The turret stands in a spot overlooking the Hirado Strait and the Hirado Ohashi bridge. It was originally built as an exhibition space, but it is currently used for storage.

The city government on April 17 started to solicit bids for the project on its website.

Based on the proposals by the successful bidder, the city government will renovate the interior of the turret and rent the structure to the managing company on condition that it won’t change the turret’s exterior.

The original Hirado Castle was dismantled following a decree issued during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). But citizens called for the castle to be rebuilt.

The main keep, as well as the Inui, Jizozaka and Kenso Yagura turrets, were built with steel-reinforced concrete in 1962.

According to the Japan Castle Foundation, Hirado is one of the few castles equipped with “kuruwa” (walls and spaces bounded by the walls), moats and other structures based on military technology developed by Yamaga Soko (1622-1685).

It made the foundation’s list of top 100 Japanese castles in 2006.

Because most of the structures have fallen into disrepair over the 50 years since they were built, the city government started a large-scale three-year renovation project in fiscal 2018.

The main keep, which houses a paid exhibition space, will be closed for about a year and a half starting around October for construction work.

In addition to the renovation work, the Kaiju Yagura will be turned into an accommodation facility with the goal of receiving guests around summer next year.

The officials intend to attract foreign tourists whose number is expected to surge during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The municipality included about 140 million yen ($1.29 million) in its budget for fiscal 2019 for research and construction expenses.

The annual number of visitors to Hirado Castle peaked at about 200,000. But the figure has hovered around 70,000 in recent years, with maintenance costs straining the budgets of the city government.

The turret is not a cultural property, allowing it to be used freely for lodging.

The project is also intended to raise the profiles of the city and Hirado Castle at home and abroad.

The city learned earlier that there is demand for overnight lodging at the castle.

When the government held a competition among couples for a free overnight stay in Hirado Castle’s main keep in a joint effort with a lodging service provider in 2017, it received about 7,400 applications, half of them from overseas.

“It is the only castle in Japan where you can stay overnight. Better yet, this is one of the top 100 castles,” Norie Fujita, chief of the tourism division at the city government, said. “We hope many people want to visit Hirado.”

City officials intend to ask the managing company to set an accommodation fee that is non-competitive with existing hotels in Hirado.