The spaces under elevated train tracks are drawing attention again in central Tokyo as railways eager for a bigger piece of the retailing pie transform vacant areas traditionally used as warehouses and parking lots.

The railways are trying to lure shoppers to what they hope will become a new kind of “ekinaka,” or “within station” shopping mall. These have are being built in major train stations across the country.

At the end of March, a new shopping street dubbed Asagaya Anime Street opened under the JR Chuo Line tracks near Asagaya Station in Suginami Ward, Tokyo.

East Japan Railway Co., which developed the street, came up with the idea of making Japanese anime the theme of the project because there are many animation companies in the ward, officials in charge of the redevelopment project said.

“We hoped to realize a place where anime creators and fans can interact with each other,” one of them said.

Asagaya Anime Street is filled with different kinds of anime-related facilities, including training schools for animators and specialized shops that sell related goods. One store offers “cosplay” (costume play) photo services for customers who like to dress like anime characters.

A woman in her 20s who went through a cosplay experience at the store said she hopes to visit Asagaya Anime Street again, because rare film screenings and special events there will let her interact with voice actors and actresses.

Another shop in the street exhibits famous storyboards and sells related anime goods. There is also a cafe staffed by aspiring voice actresses.

The JR East Group runs another shopping facility built under the tracks between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations on the Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines.

The facility, named 2k540 Aki-oka Artisan, opened at the end of 2010 and was developed on the theme of “monozukuri,” which means “manufacturing” or “the creation of things.”

About 50 stores-cum-studios, including some specializing in hats and shoes, stand side by side along the roughly 150-meter-long tunnel-shaped shopping street.

The idea of monozukuri as the main theme for redevelopment sprang from the area’s history as a neighborhood of craftsmen back in the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Before redevelopment began, the space under the tracks was occupied by warehouses, but the neighborhood now has a clean image, the owner of a restaurant near Aki-oka Artisan said. The redevelopment project “has revitalized the area as many women and young people have started to visit,.” he said.

Odakyu Electric Railway Co. is utilizing a space under elevated railways as a fitness center near Izumitamagawa Station in the western Tokyo suburb of Komae. In addition to using the gym, registered members can also do yoga outdoors on the nearby riverbank when the weather is nice, the staff of Blue Tamagawa Outdoor Fitness Club said.

According to staffers, many people who jog or cycle use the fitness club as their base station because it has lockers and showers. People also spend time at a cafe attached to the center, they said.

Until recently, railways were quite active about developing underground shopping complexes or facilities in stations, but they were not necessarily thinking about using the spaces beneath their tracks, officials familiar with the industry said. There is plenty of scope for using such spaces in the future, they said.

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