Kojo Moe: Factories as Tourist Spots in Japan

I found this interesting snippet in the ‘Funny Old World’ column in Private Eye’s issue for 18-31 March 2011, ultimately taken from a CNN item for 26th January of that year. It’s about a recent development or fad in the Japanese tourist industry: visiting factories. I know they do this in Britain, where people tour historic factories looking at things being made, or learning how they were made in the past. A good example is Ironbridge. But this is something different. It’s about appreciating factories as objects of beauty in themselves. This is radically different to previous ideas of beauty, which are centred on the living landscape, either natural or that of the rural village. And from reading the article, it seems to have its origins partly in the beginning of the film Blade Runner, where Deckard’s car flies past a refinery belching fire. The article runs

‘”Kojo moe is an infatuation with factories,” Daigo Yokoto told reporters outside a power plant in the industrial city of Kawasaki, near Tokyo, “and it’s becoming an alternative form of tourism in Japan. The geometric patterns of metal pipes and frames, the eerie smoke and sudden eruptions of flames – it is a completely different world, and it’s less than an hour away from Tokyo, where and my friends live. It’s not what goes on inside the factories that interests us, it’s the moment where the cylindrical smoke stack sends up steam, or a furnace starts belching smoke. That’s what makes us happy.”

Over the past year, kojo moe has grown from a tiny Japanese subculture into a major form of tourism, with 4,000 yen cruises to industrial zones booked out months in advance. “I love taking photos and I love factories,” added photographer Masaki Ishitani from Osaka, “and combining the two gives me an innocent sense of enjoyment. Kawasaki factories are the biggest, the most beautiful, and most wonderful in Japan. Standing here watching a giant power plant billowing out smoke is just like being in the movie Blade Runner.”

There is a similar aesthetic over here as well, albeit to a far lesser extent. I can remember passing a refinery near Cardiff with friends on the way to a re-enactment event in the ’90s, and we were struck by its awesome beauty. It was floodlit and really did resemble the refinery from Blade Runner. Ridley Scott, the film’s director, based that sequence on a factory or refinery he used to pass when he was a schoolboy or arts student. One night as was passing he said to himself, ‘God, this is beautiful’.

I find this particularly fascinating because it’s precisely the kind of aesthetic that the Futurists were trying to promote. They were a reaction to Symbolism and hated traditional, especially neo-classical art. They celebrated instead the new, modern, urban Italy, of youth, speed, violence and the new machine age. The Futurist architect Sant’Elia designed huge modernist buildings representing the new aesthetic, designs which even now, after the horrors of mid-20th century Brutalist architecture, still look futuristic. Kojo moe also interests me because it does seem to be an instance where Science Fiction has altered or set up a different ideal of beauty. I really don’t believe that the Conceptualism that was all rage as the official art of the ’90s really has done much to push the boundaries of art. I think that’s being done elsewhere, and particularly within Science Fiction and Fantasy, in media such as computer games, films, TV, book illustration and comics. And I’d like to see it appreciated by the art establishment.

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4 Responses to “Kojo Moe: Factories as Tourist Spots in Japan”

  1. trev Says:

    Well we do have the former Bankside PowerStation now housing the Tate Modern, and in the North there’s Salt’s Mill in Saltaire just outside Bradford that has the Hockney collection, along with book shop and restaurant, a popular place for tourists and locals. Other old textile mills in Huddersfield have been converted into housing and the huge Lister’s Mill in upper Manningham has been turned into expensive luxury apartments. Back in 1890/91 the strike at Lister’s Mill was an instrumental event in the formation of the Labour movement after striking workers whose wages had been cut were eventually forced back to work at gunpoint by an armed militia. There’s also the Baltic Flour Mills in Gateshead, now an art gallery. Though all of these buildings have been repurposed and therefore people have new reasons to visit/use them it’s hard to escape the magnificence of such former industrial structures.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Yes, and people do miss them. When I was doing the archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol uni one of the girls gave a talk about how she started a campaign to save one of the historic warehouses in the St. Paul’s area of the city. And one of the other women from elsewhere in the country got very upset when she returned home and found that they’d demolished a towering warehouse there that was a local landmarki.

      • trev Says:

        The restoration and conversion of Lister’s Mill in Bradford was highly controversial. It was done by a company called Urban Splash and the building might not have been rescued without them, but the downside was it included the addition of some weird looking post-modern bits too, like the penthouse flats contained within futuristic ‘pods’ on the roof, and some external heavy duty metalworking painted bright red, on a Listed building and iconic landmark! From a housing point of view it is a gated community, like a huge imposing wealthy fortress in a rundown impoverished area, bang opposite another fortress – the Police station.

      • beastrabban Says:

        Urban Splash got into Private Eye a few years ago when one of the northern councils decided to renovate its properties. The existing, working class residents were ordered out, the company acquired the properties and then turned them into luxury housing for the wealthy. I think the houses were supposed to be condemned or something, but evidently weren’t. However, Urban Splash turned them upside down by putting the dining room and kitchen upstairs and the bedrooms on the ground floor.

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