• Kyodo

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Although Yokohama Chinatown, a famous tourist spot, swarms with tens of thousands of visitors each day, it is struggling to survive amid Japan’s prolonged recession.

In the lead up to the opening of a new subway station in the neighborhood next year, town residents are undertaking a “great revolution” to attract more visitors.

A 300-shop co-op association recently repainted the town’s symbol — the 13.5-meter-tall Chaoyang Gate at the Chinatown entrance about 300 meters from Yamashita Park at Yokohama port — for the first time in eight years.

“Before, 50,000 people came to our restaurant each month for dinner courses costing 30,000 yen to 40,000 yen,” said a manager at a long-established Chinese restaurant.

“Sales now? Some 40 percent down,” he said, recalling the bubble economy period that ended about 13 years ago. “This can be blamed on a decline in corporate parties and entertainment for customers on weekdays.”

Chinatown is home to about 500 restaurants and shops, which attract 18 million people annually. But in February, 70-year-old restaurant Wanglaixuan filed for bankruptcy, Chinatown’s largest collapse in recent years.

Restaurant and shop managers are pinning their hopes on the opening of Motomachi-Chinatown Station on the city-run subway line in February.

The station will link Chinatown to Tokyo’s thriving Shibuya district, enabling people to shop and stroll in Shibuya during the day and dine in Chinatown in the evening.

Using a 180 million yen subsidy from Kanagawa Prefecture, another co-op association — in a rare, large-scale undertaking — is burying electrical wires along Chinatown’s 300-meter-long main street to improve its appearance.

A center to provide information about Chinatown will also open near the gate.

“The Japanese appetite has been internationalized,” said So Desheng, 63, who runs three restaurants with about 200 employees. “We want Chinatown to be an area for not only eating and drinking but also handing down Chinese culture.”