OZU, Ehime -- In preparation for a new lodging operation where guests can become the lord and lady of Ozu Castle for a night in western Japan, a demonstration experiment was carried out by city officials and others on Nov. 8 and 9 to confirm service quality and safety.
Enka singer Natsuko Godai, a "tourism ambassador" for the city of Ozu in Ehime Prefecture, was invited as a guest. During the test run, she was shown traditional performing arts and served dishes using locally produced ingredients.
The city government is putting efforts into regional development by making use of Ozu Castle, as well as traditional homes that still remain in the castle town and other historical resources. The castle stay will be its main attraction. In the first lodging business of its kind in Japan, Osaka-based Value Management Co. plans to open the doors of the wooden castle to overnight guests roughly 30 days a year, mainly during spring and fall, from next year.
An official with an association designated to manage the castle, dressed as former lord Kato Sadayasu, entered the castle grounds on a white horse to the horn sound of a conch shell and the beat of military-style drums. After being welcomed by waving flags and gun salutes, he handed over a landlord certificate to Godai.
Led by a guide playing the role of chief retainer, the enka singer toured the first floor of the castle tower where the bedroom is situated. At a stage located in the main Honmaru keep within the Ozu Castle complex, she watched a traditional Shinto theatrical dance called "Kawabe Shime Kagura," which is designated as a prefectural intangible folk cultural property. She then dined on dishes using locally produced food at the Koran Yagura turret, designated as a national important cultural property.
Reservations will be limited to one pair a day, and it will cost at least 1 million yen to stay overnight. "It would be appreciated if the price was a bit lower," said Godai, who added, "It was an extraordinary and valuable experience. I think you'll be able to spend a luxurious and gorgeous time so I recommend people to come and stay."
One of the city officials who stayed overnight to check on services and security said the city will consider installing additional lights as "some places didn't have enough luminosity, and brightness is necessary to secure evacuation routes."
(Japanese original by Yuichi Nakagawa, Matsuyama Bureau)