Shopping arcades

The typical Japanese shopping street is a narrow street lined on both sides by small shops--green grocer, butcher, fishmonger, liquor store, and the like. Shopping streets are commonly found near train stations and in residential districts, and the shop owners usually have their own local cooperative. Shopping streets vary in size from a dozen or so shops to as many as a hundred or more. The famous Jiyugaoka shopping street in Tokyo, for example, has around 1,000 shops lined along a 2,150-meter stretch. A 1998 survey made by the Tokyo metropolitan government found that an average shopping street had 56.7 shops, each shop with five or fewer employees.

Shopping streets first emerged in the years of reconstruction following the World War . In recent years, however, they have lost their former vigor. In response to a Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey, only 3% of shopping arcades reported they were prospering, while 89% responded that their business were stagnating or even declining. The advent of large-scale retailers, such as large supermarket chains, capable of maintaining large-volume stocks of food and daily necessities and selling them cheaply, has forced many a small shop to close. Another negative factor has been the changing lifestyle of the Japanese consumer.

Between 1990 and 1994, restrictions imposed by the Large-scale Retail Stores Law (originally meant to protect small shop owners) were relaxed, opening the way for numerous large retailers to move into traditional shopping districts. The shopping streets saw their customers leave as consumers flocked to these hypermarkets where they could get everything at once without having to move from shop to shop. In some cases, the advent of the large retailer actually proved to be a boon because the customers they attracted would also shop at the surrounding small stores in the arcade. But when the big retailers moved out into the suburbs where they could get even more customers, local shoppers followed them, and downtown shopping streets have been unable to fill the vacuum. The huge buildings vacated by the large retailers have, for the most part, remained empty. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reports that an average of 40% of floor space is still unoccupied.
The weakened position of shopping arcades has been dealt another blow by diversifying consumer lifestyles. Today's consumers can choose from among many different shopping styles including mail order shopping, delivery services, and convenience stores.

Local merchants have rallied to save their shopping arcades, and trading stamps and point cards are one way they are trying to woo customers back to their stores. Customers who shop at their stores collect the stamps and points to trade them in later for giveaways and prizes such as free trips. Another approach is to create a festive, gay atmosphere by celebrating traditional festivals such as the Star Festival in July. Local shops cooperate in putting up decorations and sponsoring promotional gimmicks.

Ironically, the decline of the local shopping street has highlighted its importance. It is, after all, not just a place to buy things: it is an important focal point of the community, a place for residents, especially the elderly, to gather, communicate, and interact.


















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