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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Osaka's universal ambitions
Universal Studios - Japan, website
Universal studios is part of a master plan to revitalise the city
By the BBC's Charles Scanlon from Osaka, Japan.

Japan's second city, Osaka, has been hit hard by the economic stagnation of the last decade.

It is the capital of the Kansai region - once the commercial heart of Japan but now increasingly overshadowed by its rival Tokyo, 300 miles to the east.

Osaka still boasts an economy that would qualify for G-7 membership, and it has ambitious plans to diversify into tourism.

A central part of the strategy is the city's investment in the new Universal Studios theme park, which is already giving a substantial boost to the region.

Japan is sliding back into recession - but there is little sign of it here.

Osaka street scene
Osaka: Once the commercial heart of Japan

Thirty thousand visitors every day are packing into the country's newest theme park.

They are happy to pay nearly $50 a head - to experience some of the action of well known Hollywood blockbusters.

There is a chance to spend even more on souvenirs - all at a time when consumer confidence in Japan is plunging new depths.

A change of luck

On an old industrial site down by the docks, Universal studios is part of a master plan to revitalise a city that feels down on its luck.

Osaka's city government took a 25% stake in the venture - hoping to stimulate tourism in a region long dependent on manufacturing.

The theme park has brought jobs, new hotels and shopping centres.

Local officials are predicting a boom in travel from other Asian countries.

Universal Studios, Japan
A pretty authentic slice of Americana

Artificial parks are not a guaranteed success in Japan.

This mock tropical resort in the city of Miyazaki went bankrupt this year with $2bn in debt.

But Universal Studios - with its all-American theme - is confident of establishing itself. It is encouraged by the performance of Tokyo Disneyland, which is the world's most successful theme park.

American dream

Just a few minutes from the centre of second city, it is a pretty authentic slice of Americana.

That has proven a hit with Japanese but will people in other parts of Asia want to go to Japan to experience American popular culture?

So far 5% of visitors have come from overseas, mainly from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Even if doesn't succeed with other Asians the park can draw on 25m Japanese in the immediate area.

It is banking on the enduring appeal of Hollywood films, and it has shown that even in the teeth of a recession the Japanese can be persuaded to part with their money.

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11 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Prospects still bleak for Japan
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