Although I was once a "Young Republican", today I consider myself a left-leaning Libertarian†. I can appreciate the need for Keynesian style stimulus spending in times of recession and higher taxes to help reduce budget deficits, BUT nothing brings out my inner curmudgeon quite like seeing government money, my taxes, going to waste.
Two years ago I posed some questions for our newly elected mayor. One of them was: "Throughout Japan, and in Fukuoka, too, many historical spots are indicated by little more than concrete posts stating that this is the location that such and such happened. This is a missed opportunity to make the history live, to build authentic sightseeing spots. How can Fukuoka better highlight its historical heritage?" I also asked: "Many of the parks are poorly maintained. Gardeners come in only once every few months, hack at the weeds, trim limbs, and then leave the parks to be overrun with weeds, garbage, and the homeless once again. What can the city do to better maintain these areas, to make them places people would be happy to visit?"
Now, I'll be damned if in two short years the city didn't go on to address both of these issues head on. Maizuru Park where the ruins of Fukuoka Castle are located now has a regular crew of gardeners (most of whom are mentally retarded*) which tends to the flower boxes and generally keeps the park clean. And this visitor center located in the park was recently opened. Progress!
I have two problems with the center, though. One is the design which has nothing to do with Fukuoka Castle or the other structures in the area.
For instance, all of the restrooms in the park look like this:
White washed walls, known as shirakabe (白壁) with a gray border along the bottom half, reminiscent of townhouses in the Edo and Meiji eras.
Why didn't the city build a visitor center in this or a similar style, something that would have been both interesting for tourists to see and would have been in keeping with the previously established theme? The architectural style of this new building has nothing to do with the culture of Japan or Fukuoka. It's a missed opportunity, to say the least.
The second and bigger of the two problems with the visitor center is the price. How much do you think it cost?
Take a wild guess? Make it wilder . . . You're still cold. You're not even close, my friend.
The Fukuoka Jô Mukashi Tanbôkan ((福岡城むかし探訪館)) cost a whopping 70 to 80 million yen to build. (The Yomiuri Shimbun has the price at "about 70 million", and NHK reported recently that the center cost 78 million yen.) In dollars that comes to between $875,000 ~ $975,000. Almost a million bucks! And that is for the structure alone. The city didn't need to buy the land (usually the most expensive part) it was built upon. Imagine what your home would look like if you had put that much money into its construction. It would be fitted with saunas and Jacuzzis, heated floors, an elevator for your cars, a gorgeous designer kitchen, a wine cellar, living quarters for the help, and so on.
Obviously someone made a killing off of this little projects and it worries me to no end that the citizens of this city don't rise up and voice their disgust and anger.
The consumption tax is going to be doubled in a number of years, but as long as projects like these continue to waste money hand over fist Japan's massive public debt will never be addressed.
Your tax dollars at leisure.
†There is an excellent online tool which plots your opinions on political and economical matters on a "compass" and compares them with the policies and beliefs of political leaders, past and present. I seem to be left of the Dalai Lama and more of a Libertarian than Milton Friedman, what is known as "anarcho-syndicalism" or libertarian socialism.
Winston Churchill reportedly said, "If you aren't liberal at 20, you haven't got a heart; if you aren't conservative at 40, you haven't got a head." If that is true, then I was a heartless youth, and today at the age of 46 I am a muddle-headed romantic.
*You can holster your ire at my use of the word "retarded": one of my sisters was (she passed away) and two of my cousins are "retarded".