Chinese city orders new Japan-themed complex to close after social media complaints

The Ninenzaka in Kyoto has become a tourist attraction (Paul Synnott/CC BY 2.0)
A large Japanese-themed, mixed-use development under way in northeast China has suffered a setback after authorities ordered it to close its newly opened shopping complex.

“Tang Little Kyoto” is being developed in Dalian, Liaoning Province, by Chinese developer Dalian Shuyuan Group. The $925m scheme, which will eventually cover some 60ha, is intended to be a window on Japanese culture, a setting for Japanese companies such as Panasonic and a centre for Japanese porcelain, cosmetics and food.

Among the features is a shopping complex modelled on the Ninenzaka, an ancient road that has become a tourist attraction in Kyoto (pictured). 

The complex, which makes up the first phase of the scheme, opened two weeks ago but became the target of hostile postings on China’s social media, which described it as a “cultural invasion”.

The Nikkei Asian Review visited the site yesterday, and reports that it has been closed off. An executive at Dalian Shuyuan Group told the paper the suspension order was issued by the municipal government of Dalian as an anti-coronavirus measure. The closure is temporary, but no date has been given for its reopening.

The Nikkei commented: “For the 29 shops that are part of phase one – including Panasonic’s electronics store, retailers of Hokkaido and Hiroshima products, as well as various Japanese restaurants – the suspension comes as a major blow.”

In an Augustarticle, the paper commented that the development did carry political risks, although it noted that pro-Japanese sentiment has risen sharply in China in recent years, with 45% of those surveyed by Genron NPO in 2020 saying they had a “good impression” of the country – a rise of 40 percentage points from 2013.

Genron said: “Chinese people’s impressions of the Japanese has been improving every year. One reason behind this is the increasing number of Chinese tourists who experienced Japan first hand. In contrast, Japanese opinions of China or the bilateral relationship have remained unfavourable.”

One source of sensitivity in China is that Dalian – or Port Arthur, as it was known – has been subject to occupation by Japan (as well as Russia and Britain), and in 1894 was the site of a massacre during the first Sino-Japanese war.

Some Chinese posters defended the project, and pointed out that other cities had welcomed Japanese companies. And a promotional video, aimed at Chinese homebuyers, noted that the Kyoto aesthetic was itself derived from China’s Tang dynasty (618-907AD).

The Dalian government has previously supported the project, and the mayor was present when the contract for it was signed in Tokyo in April 2019.

The second phase of the project is still going ahead, and will involve the building of around 1,300 Japanese-style villas, each with a hot spring bath. Construction is scheduled for completion in 2024.

Image: The Ninenzaka in Kyoto has become a tourist attraction (Paul Synnott/CC BY 2.0)

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