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Friday, Feb. 8, 2008

Do your Valentine's duty


Let's cut right to the chase. This country has no shortage of love, as the multitudes of Valentine's Day daters next week will attest. What it needs are marriages — marriages and children! — and then maybe the trickling total fertility rate (1.32 in 2006) will edge back up to the threshold at which the population will grow again (2.1).

News photo
Tokyo City View observation deck in Roppongi Hills

What to do? Facilitate climes so romantic that even the most jaded of singles will be overcome by the desire to tie the knot. Or so thinks Project for Lovers, the brainchild of nonprofit organization Area Activation Supporting Center, which has over the last two years created a list (with the help of celebrities such as actress Rei Kikukawa) of bona fide "lovers' sanctuaries" — facilities, sights and even drives located throughout the country that are guaranteed to put you in the mood for love . . . and marriage.

Tokyo boasts three sanctuaries. The Tokyo City View observation deck in Roppongi Hills gets the nod for its nocturnal views over the city, and for the length of its viewing platform, which on most evenings guarantees at least one or two secluded windowpanes per couple. Venus Fort in Odaiba is also on the list — presumably for its fake European frescoes rather than its acres of shops. But perhaps the best bet for lovers in the metropolis is the Matsumotoro restaurant in Hibiya Park, located in a western-style manor surrounded by gardens dating back to the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

There are plenty of options around the country — and a major aim of Project for Lovers is to spur population-growing marriages in regional centers. The Kurumayama Kogen in Nagano (2 1/2 hours by car from Tokyo) promises glorious drives through white birch forests and, at this time of year, skiing. Also in the area is the Skypark Hotel, complete with an outdoor onsen with views over the picturesque mountains.

Kamishima Island, off the coast of Mie Prefecture, makes the grade for its beautiful coastal scenery and its relaxed island lifestyle. Literary-minded romantics will note that it is also the island where Yukio Mishima set his tale of a young fisherman's first love, "Shiosai (The Sound of the Waves)" (the island was renamed Utajima in the book).

For those liking their love with a Scottish flavor, try Lockheart Castle in Takayamamura (Gunma Prefecture). In the early 1990s, actor Masahiko Tsugawa went to the trouble of importing, stone by stone, a 19th-century Scottish castle — then called Lockhart — and rebuilding it precisely. He even negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev's government for permission to transport the thing on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

There really is no shortage of love in this country! But is it enough to put you in the mood for commitment? Find information on these and more than 50 other sanctuaries around Japan at www.seichi.net.



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