TOTTORI--Tourism officials here are making a wish upon a star in a bid to attract sky-watchers to this prefecture known for its sand dunes.
The prefectural assembly in December approved an ordinance to prohibit searchlights and laser devices from encroaching on the star-lit skies. It will go into force in April.
According to the prefectural government, it is the first prefectural ordinance to be enacted specifically to preserve the darkness of the night sky for sightseeing promotion.
Under the ordinance, areas from which the glowing band of the Milky Way and other stars can be most clearly glimpsed are designated "starry sky preservation zones," where special attention must be paid when outdoor lighting devices, such as streetlamps and security lights, are set up.
In addition, searchlights and laser devices are banned from illuminating the skies after dark throughout the prefecture. While lights for traffic safety and rescue activities will be exempted from the restriction, one-day illumination events will also be allowed if they are approved by the Tottori governor.
Violators could face an administrative fine of up to 50,000 yen ($441).
Governor Shinji Hirai said the penalty is set at the minimum level required as "a deterrent to behavior that could obstruct the starry sky preservation campaign."
The prefectural government began efforts in earnest this fiscal year to promote tourism by publicizing star-gazing sites as there are fewer streetlamps and other outdoor lighting devices.
Tottori Prefecture now calls itself "Hoshitori Ken" (catch-the-star prefecture).
The prefectural government has started a program to cover two-thirds of the costs of companies that plan and organize astrophotography and other events for sightseers. The subsidy ceiling is 1 million yen for each organizer.
It also developed a leaflet and smartphone app to introduce the Tottori Sand Dunes, areas around Mount Daisen and other star-gazing locations.
In the Environment Ministry’s survey in fiscal 2011, the Saji Astro Park observatory in Tottori was chosen as the darkest site where stars can be most clearly seen among other designated observation spots.
As the observatory holds star-gazing sessions at the Tottori Sand Dunes and elsewhere, the number of requests for those events has risen 50 percent from a year earlier to 71.
"Previously, people from the Kansai region mainly stayed here," said Atsushi Miyamoto, a senior official of the Saji Astro Park. "Today, many people also come from the Kanto region and Hong Kong."