In Kawasaki, Japan, tourists are flocking to a new kind of attraction: a power plant. It is a monument of sorts, but not one made from marble or granite. Rather than celebrating history or culture, it memorializes how our societies run. And its tall smokestacks, shooting up clouds like industrial geysers, inspire awe in the minds of kojo moe tourists.
Kojo moe, meaning “factory infatuation”, is a growing subculture of people who travel around
Japan to see oil refineries, steel manufacturing plants, chemical factories and
other such fortresses of industry. They find grandeur and beauty in what many
see as unsightly sources of pollution.
Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky has made a career from bringing these “manufactured landscapes” to life,
forcing his audience to confront the contradictions that the images create. When
accepting the 2005 TED Prize (given annually by TED, a series of conferences on
innovation in technology, entertainment and design), Burtynsky said he wanted
his striking images – from a tessellation of manufacturing workers in China to a bloody river of mine tailings in Canada – not to disgust audiences, but to challenge them. “To say, ‘Wow,
this is beautiful on one level, but on the other level, this is scary – I
shouldn’t be enjoying it.’ Like a forbidden pleasure”, he explained in his TED talk. “And it’s that forbidden pleasure that I
think is what resonates out there…I’m drawn to have a good life, I want a house
and I want a car, but there’s a consequence out there. And how do I begin to
have that attraction-repulsion?”
conflicting sensibility is inherent to industrial tourism around the world, as remnants
of industry’s past and bastions of its present draw visitors who are curious
about society’s growth over time. Here are a few fascinating industrial tours
designed with these travellers in mind.
Kojo moe has transformed the industrial hub of Kawasaki into a tourist destination,
for everything from its food plants to its oil refineries. The Kawasaki City
Tourist Association now offers night
cruises that tour factories around the Tokyo Bay. Sights may include the huge,
brightly lit Kawasaki oil refinery or the JFE Steel Corporation. Several factories (including JFE) offer tours inside
their facilities and information can be found on the tourist
association’s website. To book a night cruise or a daytime bus tour, contact
the tourist association at 04-4-544-8229.
The Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard has built
around 600 vessels and more than 110 cruise ships and ocean liners (including
the RMS Queen Mary 2) since it opened in 1861. Information on touring the
shipyard, which gives visitors a rare look into ship construction, massive
machinery and all, can be found at the Saint-Nazaire
Office of Tourism website.
Belle Isle, United States
Isle is a place of paradox. Sitting on the James River and
rife with freshwater swimming holes, the island is smack dab in the middle of downtown
Richmond. The park itself is an odd amalgamation of natural and unnatural, with
trees, cliffs, hiking trails and wildlife co-existing alongside abandoned
industrial structures. Once home to a hydroelectric power plant, an iron
foundry, a granite quarry and a Civil War prison camp and cemetery, Belle Isle is
a simultaneously eerie and peaceful place to explore.
After touring the island’s abandoned buildings,
consider going for a relaxing swim in the park’s blue, freshwater holes, a go-to
spot for locals seeking respite from the heat. The James River’s active rapids
around Belle also make tubing,
kayaking and canoeing popular activities.
In 1985, the Philippines completed construction
on a nuclear power plant that cost 88 billion Philippine pesos, but the Bataan
plant was never used. This year, it finally opened – as a
tourist attraction. The plant is offering tours in
hopes of increasing support for nuclear power (contact the power firm Napocor
at 63-2-921-3541). Meanwhile, the environmental group Greenpeace is hosting its
own tours in hopes of decreasing
support for nuclear power (contact Greenpeace’s Philippines office at
home to an underground submarine base that was built by the Soviet army in 1961
and eventually abandoned in 1995. The base is now a museum, which you
can visit independently or through a tour operator. Ukraine
Tour is one of many companies offering private guided tours.
Brooklyn, United States
New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard opened in 1801
and was used to build warships, including the United
States’ first steam-powered military ship, the Fulton Steam
Frigate. After the shipyard closed in 1966, it was turned into a city park.
Today, it is a 300-acre industrial park with more than 40 buildings, including
residential and office space. The Brooklyn Historical Society hosts bus and
bike tours of the Navy yard.
A truly unique
experience can be found at the BMW Plant
in Munich. Tours lead visitors throughout the automobile factory, allowing them
to witness how parts are produced, how engines are built and how cars are
assembled. Tours include visits to the BMW press shop, body shop, paint shop
and engine assembly area.
Detroit, United States
Once the centre of the United States’ automotive
industry and an economic powerhouse, Detroit is a must-visit city for
industrial tourism. Travellers can explore the history of Ford Motor Company at
the Piquette Avenue Plant, where
the Model T — the first affordable car for everyday Americans — was born. A few
minutes away from Piquette Avenue, visitors can see manufacturing in action at the
Ford Rouge Factory, the
only Detroit automotive plant tour available to the public. The Rouge offers
tours of its assembly
deck and legacy
gallery – which houses five historic Ford cars.
Throughout Detroit, the city’s ruins provide an even
grittier look into its industrial past. The abandoned Packard Motor Car Plant,
on East Grand Boulevard, has become an attraction for photographers, street
artists, skateboarders and even paintballers. A
Detroit News video provides a glimpse into the appreciation locals have for
the deteriorating building.