Tokyo's new hot spots are under elevated railway tracks

By Junji Yamaguchi, Kyodo

Posted at May 18 2014 02:10 PM | Updated as of May 19 2014 05:46 PM

TOKYO - Redevelopment projects utilizing spaces beneath elevated railway tracks have been springing up around Tokyo in recent years, giving a fresh image to areas that had traditionally been used for warehouses and parking lots.

Railway operators are trying to attract customers to such new facilities, banking on them becoming a new version of successful "ekinaka" shopping malls inside railway stations in big cities across Japan.

At the end of March, a newly developed shopping street, dubbed "Asagaya Anime Street," opened under elevated tracks of the JR Chuo Line near Asagaya station in Tokyo's Suginami Ward.

The East Japan Railway Co. group, which developed the street, came up with the idea of featuring Japanese anime for the project as there are many animation production companies in the ward, officials in charge of the redevelopment said. "We hoped to realize a place where anime creators and fans can interact with each other," one of the officials said.

On the Asagaya Anime Street, there are different kinds of anime-related facilities such as training schools for animators and specialized shops that sell anime goods. Among them, one store offers cosplay photo services where customers can undertake photo sessions wearing their favorite anime costumes. The customers can also walk along the street in costume, staff of the store said.

A woman in her 20s who experienced cosplay at the store said she hopes to visit the Asagaya Anime Street again, as there will be screenings of rare animated films as well as special events where she can 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 operates another shopping facility utilizing a space under the railway that runs between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations on the JR Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku lines.

The 2k540 AKI-OKA ARTISAN, opened at the end of 2010, was developed under the theme of "monozukuri," meaning "manufacturing" or "creation of things" in Japanese. 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 of the redevelopment sprang from the area's history as a neighborhood of craftsmen back in the Edo period (1603-1867).

Before the redevelopment, the space under the elevated railways 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" the remodeled shopping street, he said.

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

According to the staff, there are many users who jog or cycle, using 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 recent years, railway operators had been very active about developing underground shopping complexes or shopping facilities inside railway stations, but were not necessarily thinking about utilizing spaces underneath elevated railways, officials familiar with the railway business said. There is plenty of scope for effective use of such spaces in the future, they said.