Shuttered Streets: “Japan is Turning into a Ghost Town”

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Japan’s “shōtengai,” or shopping arcades, typically a covered approach to a station lined by small shops, as well as its high streets, have increasingly come to resemble deserted avenues lined by shutters, especially in the nation’s increasingly depopulated and geriatric regional cities.

Dubbed “shutter-dōri,” or “shutter streets,” these streets have become a potent symbol of urban decay and the demographic and economic collapse Japan faces.

Of course, the real situation is not quite so simple. Japan’s regions have long been emptying, but far from disappearing much of the population, especially the younger generations, have been moving into the vast conurbations of Kanto and Kinki, where populations continue to increase.

Even so, in the streets of the capital rusty shutters and large, deserted roads are not an uncommon sight in the less central areas.

The small stores of the arcades are not just the victims of regional enervation – Japanese now find themselves increasingly preferring convenience stores and large scale high street chains to the uncompetitive vendors who once lined every station thoroughfare.

That Japan’s regions are fast becoming ghost towns is undeniable, however.

Poignant depictions of the decline of once vibrant shopping arcades are not hard to come by:

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217 Comments

  • matsumoto781 says:

    Yeah, it sure looks depressing, but it doesn’t mean the people who once did business there just vanished. There are lots of newly build big department buildings, mostly near the train stations; it’s where most of the merchants have moved.

    So, sure, the small stores aren’t outside anymore, but the merchants do exist. It’s like in Akihabara, where most of the small (and often boroi) restaurants near the station have had to make space for giant buildings like Yodobashi Akiba and the high buildings on the opposite side. Once you get inside, you can notice small restaurant en masse.

    It’s not the same feeling eating there, but at least the chance to choose between really many kinds of food is still there.

  • Dirty_Dingus008 says:

    It is no surprise to myself. I was deployed to Yokosuka back in 2002 and saw such shuttered sites then in that city and then in Tokyo in 2003. So as far back at that, this has been happening. I guess that this has accelerated since then though.

  • Anonymous says:

    Times and preferences change. It’s a fact of life. These may have served their communities well decades ago, but now people want a greater selection of more or less the same stuff at lower prices. Consolidation in retail and improved distribution channels have made this possible. Newer big-box outfits (even in Japan) have less character, but they seem to be serving their generic function well. That’s a choice customers made, right or wrong, and it works given existing physical & social infrastructure.

    Maybe care facilities for the elderly next to these stores may bring in more traffic, for instance. Alternatively, these communities should consider what stores are sustainable, and how to better transition the people and space so urban blight is minimized. Abandoned ‘dead malls’ mentioned by a poster above often haunt neighborhoods for longer than they should in the US.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh COME ON. How many of you actually LIVE IN JAPAN? I know for a fact that at least 70 percent of these are just after or before hours. Look at the sun. The sunrise in Japan can be as early as 4:30 AM. I’m a photographer and I’m up that early all the time and it’s really easy to take pictures like this in the shopping arcades.

    While this is true for some places I guarantee that it’s nowhere NEAR as bad as this article paints it to be. I have been to many arcades throughout the region and it’s pretty much normal for most of them.

    You kids need to stop using sites like this as your window into Japan. While it is entertaining, it only shows a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the culture and people. Japan is not all about anime, sex scandals, porn, or idols. While the economy has it’s problems, the people here are generally happier than at lot of countries I’ve been to. Don’t tell me I’m wrong, I live here. Continue listening to those Tokyo cynics and other gaijin that will tell you only what you want to hear. Japan is more than this site can or will ever talk about.

    This site is for entertainment purposes only. I’ve been reading it for awhile and it in no way represents Japan. Come here and see for yourself.

    • These are problems the Japanese media frequently raises (and we don’t even take any notice of what the international media has to say on it), so your “I live in Japan and so I know best” routine is frankly irrelevant.

      The regions are now total backwaters and even in Tokyo shopping arcades are clearly being hammered, to say nothing of small shops. Even in central Tokyo I can see a large number of rusting, shuttered shops, along with some very large and very empty streets, in an otherwise prosperous area. Populations move and consumption patterns change, there’s really nothing to get het up about.

      And if you can find a site or source which “represents Japan” I’d be astonished to see it – even the Japanese media doesn’t come close.

      • Anonymous says:

        Your chosen representation of the Japanese media is no different. I never said that anybody fairly represents Japan, I just think that more people should ADMIT it instead of unfairly continuing to represent such.

        The entire country, ALL stores, not just shopping arcades are hurting financially, but not in a way that is represented like this. If you’re going to represent a side and KNOW that it’s going to give the extreme at least say so. The regions are backwaters? Hardly. Compared to most places I’ve been in America, Europe, and even in Russia the most remote parts of Japan’s buzzing city and town centers have more life than you think. They are not empty. I have been there. (Hardly irrelevant in real journalism)

        Accept the responsibility you have with your audience. These kids think this is how Japan really is. And my secondary comment talks about your site as a whole, don’t brush it off. You can’t present such topics with the same authority as your anime ones, as you clearly push a sense of “This is how it is”. That’s fine for your anime news and galleries, but when you go associating real news, however it’s represented by another party, you are presenting information in such an easy to accept environment. Japan has long been misrepresented by it’s media, yes, but you knowingly represent such as well. It’s not just this gallery, you do it with all of your crime and stereotype promoting news.

        Don’t try to take the high road. I’d rather you’d been an asshole and said said “fuck the facts”, as that’s what your audience thinks anyway. You know your audience, sure, but it’s kind of sickening now that I know that you know better.

        Japan can improve, but it’s still just a joke to so many people. If you truly love Japan and all it has to offer, support it in your representation, or at least make an attempt to represent it fairly.

        • Anonymous says:

          I work for a news organization and I do my part. I don’t care how futile it is. If I was in a position of chief editor or producer I’d be sure to add what I thought was right and at least make it more unbiased, but that’s just me.

          Are getting all Tsundere on me? “It’s not like I LIKE Japan or anything! Geeze! I mean, just because it’s all I ever talk about doesn’t mean I like it or love it! Moron!”

          Yeah yeah, I get it. Fine. Keep fucking that chicken.

        • Quit your whining – this is what the bulk of people want in their media and we are no better or worse than any other source in striving to provide what the audience demands. The content of the site is a reflection of what the audience considers interesting and acceptable, and if an audience demands a constant stream of novel and extreme events then naturally they are not going to be informing themselves with a representative picture of reality. Such is news.

          If you have a problem with this, start by telling it to the likes of News Corporation and see how far you get. You’ll get no further with us.

          And nowhere did I ever profess to loving Japan or any other nation. Someone complaining about stereotypes is hardly in a position to exhort someone to something as ridiculous as loving a whole country in any case.

  • This is actually sadder than any raep story or dolphin/whale hunting story I have seen in news here. Just seeing all those empty streets…
    You’ll spot an ocasional human being in the frame and its a high chance they’re elderly. Its the sad truth of mom and pop shops and elderly people.

    …put them all in elderly homes or at the very lest make districts where they welcome the elderly (i.e. Sun City’s in America) so the old people can stay old and at the very least the district won’t die off due to old people dying.

  • Anonymous says:

    Unless this is all a clever ruse to get people there to spend more money…I could capture the same scene anywhere if I took photos at 5AM.

    But, I guess it’s believable. Right down the street from me, a multi-million dollar movie theatre was torn down because it was built in an area where business died all around it.

    In the suburban sprawls in the US, we commonly have the problem of areas getting to the point where poor people inhabit the housing around businesses. This drags the safety and overall classiness of the businesses down, so they take their businesses elsewhere and leave dead shopping centers in their wake.

  • man this is really depressing, its the same thing that happend to america when wal-mart popped up. its disappointing because i have never been to japan yet and it will not be the same as the last decade. i even wish i could see America in its different booms like drive in theaters n such. WE might think they will bounce back but small buisness strips in america never do -_-

  • Anonymous says:

    no wonder. becaouse jap gov has gathered japs in tokyo.

    gov “main TV stations and publishers must be in tokyo!!!”

    japs “yes sir!!!”

    gov “and companies too!!!!1!”

    japs “sir, yes sir!!!!!11!!!!!11123”

    hicks “…mmm, there is no animes, no mangas, and no works… but i love my country… but…”

    tokyo japs “hehehe, only pumpkins live in a country”

    miku otakus “why doesn’t crypton come to tokyo?”

    tokyo japs “yeah! crypton must come to tokyo!”

    this is what is goin on in japan.

  • Anonymous says:

    Globalization was here. Small business are dying, time to monopolize and raise prices on the unemployed masses. They’ll steal from each other to buy our over hyped, poorly built merchandise. We get blood money, they get slavery and prison.

  • Anonymous says:

    to all the idiots claiming this is just shots of vacation or early hrs keep
    shutting your eyes to reality, hopefully you will fall in a pit and stop burdening the world.
    This happening in a lot of countries not just Japan and is no laughing matter as it is followed by desperation and crime.
    so keep laughing idiots but pray that when you need a job they don’t tell you
    you aren’t needed.

  • Anonymous says:

    Let’s not forget that these teens who don’t go out (forgot what they are called) can also play as one of the missing factors here since they’ve becoming too common in Japan. And i also bet that it’s not common in Japanese teen to go out and roam around in their country – bet most of the teens and otakus who have seen this won’t even recognize 1/4 of the places shown here.

  • Justice Shojo says:

    Watch the 2009 documentary ‘The Secret of Oz’ and understand the root cause of many of the worlds problems lies in banking elites controlling the quantity of money in the global economy – rather than nation states. If you are ever going to accept a conspiracy theory – this is the most likely and realistic conspiracy I know of.

    If you decide to ever watch a documentary this is it.

    • Anonymous says:

      ooooh….an evil organization is controlling the world, keeping us all down….

      Saitou, is that you? Inbou da! Time to go meet with Misaki-chan and calm the fuck down, you’re reverting to your former hiki self.

  • Damn those schizophrenic Japanese that aren’t spending.

    Seriously though, should we be sad about this? The 50’s are nice for a couple of hours when you watch Always San Chome No Yuhi, but you probably wouldn’t want to live there. Neither should you worry about shotengais disappearing because they just aren’t needed anymore.

  • Anonymous says:

    I wonder how many of those were just taken on a Sunday afternoon or some other time when the stores are just closed. Some are clearly derelicts but others look too well maintained.

  • Some of these remind me of dead malls in the US while others remind me of run down down town areas.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_mall

    Looks like Japan needs to invest in an urban renewal program and redevelop some of these places.

    Maybe rebuild them to be more car and bus friendly as some seem very claustrophobic and only reachable by foot.

    Maybe offer tax incentives for businesses to move back into the regions as well.

  • Anonymous says:

    Everyone got tried of buying the same old garbage all the time each one of them has, all of them have and it was like 3rd or 4th rate junk. Also theres a whole lot of scenes that should appear in an anime show any time in the near future.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m far from a demographer/sociologist, but I’d be interested to know what the effects of that kind of migration are; people moving from Tokyo to less insanely crowded areas. It seems to me like it would be a good thing for a lot of people even though it might be damaging to the Tokyo economy.

  • Anonymous says:

    Most shops opening as early as 5am to catch to prepare and catch the commuter rush. so if a shop isn’t open or atleast getting prepared by 8 then it’s a dead store regardless of if you think it’s a prank or not. there have been days when I was in retail when I had to wake up at 3 to be at the store to offload the truck by 5 and have everything on the shelves and displays set up by 9. So early hours expected.

  • Anonymous says:

    Every picture tells a story — and lies by what it does not show.

    I snagged the photos in this series I wanted to keep, and ran a little script on them to extract their EXIF info.

    The dates and times, where they weren’t erased, were all over the map; many of them were taken years ago.

    shuttered-streets-of-japan-001.jpg — Image timestamp : 2002:08:22 02:58:15
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-002.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-002.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-003.jpg — Image timestamp : 2006:05:31 16:31:28
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-004.jpg — Image timestamp : 2009:05:23 17:49:41
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-006.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-006.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-008.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-008.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-010.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-010.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-013.jpg — Image timestamp : 2006:12:08 20:21:00
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-014.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-014.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-015.jpg — Image timestamp : 2008:08:13 10:17:41
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-016.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-016.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-024.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-024.jpg: No Exif data found in the file
    shuttered-streets-of-japan-025.jpg — shuttered-streets-of-japan-025.jpg: No Exif data found in the file

  • Anonymous says:

    I live in a town of 30,000 two hours north of Tokyo…the heart of my town is a ghost shotengai. Only a couple shops there are ever open, and the shotengai signs are rusted…it looks like its heyday must have been 20 years before or more. Depressing.

  • Those time when we were going to the granny of the fifth store in the gallery… She had that daughter who was trying to help her dear elder… That summer… Laughing, running, sweating… Those memories of the Shotengai will never disappear…

    So, now a generation gap is expected thanks to those killing department stores ! Thank you for stealing our dreams of Japan !

  • Anonymous says:

    Wow, I never thought it would be this bad. It seems unreal to me that this place is deserted(where are these pictures taken from???) Well, at least if I go there it will be a bit peaceful right? No it wont >.< this is just lonely~

  • Anonymous says:

    That’s how the black community and business looks like in my town in america. Actually my home location looks worse than this. We got burnt down houses, all business within the area is really bad, nothing but gangsters from corner to corner. Sometimes I’m surprised I haven’t been mugged yet. I really wanna move out of this neighborhood, but I can’t because my mother and grandmother lives here too (too many break-ins in this neighborhood). Even where I work, everything has slowed down to a crawl. I used to work a office job, but they laid off workers like there was no tomorrow a year ago. I put applications in everywhere no matter how bad the job is, no one is hiring at all and what’s so bad is that there is nothing I can do about it.

  • Anonymous says:

    This just reminded me of the underground shuttered Streets in the game “Fragile”. Now I have seen a good glimps of how that location might have looked before it became old, abandon and delapitated.

    • Was thinking the same thing Anon. I started Fragile Dreams recently, and some of these images totally looked like the shopping district area, only difference being the lights on instead of shut down.

  • Anonymous says:

    truely sad indeed, even in asakusa, shin-nakamise dori isn’t ottally open, and there’s another one near that is TOTALLY closed like those pics…. in a touristic place!

    sad sad sad…

  • Anonymous says:

    At least it’s more traffic than here in Norway. I can walk around the town where I live from 12 at night and not see one single person until about 5 in the morning. Kind of creepy actually…

  • Anonymous says:

    Its not that bad as you depicted, when I was in Japan most of these shopping arcades were still well and teeming with activity, and that was a year ago only.

    You do know that it is Golden Week now right? Everyone takes a break? No business is done? Maybe that’s why there’re all these photos of empty shopping arcades

  • Anonymous says:

    omg are some of those pics from Hiroshima’s Hondoori (like the first few)? I was there 2 years ago and I loved every second I was there, especially Hondoori since I always found stuff to do so I’d hate to see that place suffer 🙁

  • Anonymous says:

    I really think you can get a better depiction of the area if you take a photo of it while they’re actually “open”. I find it very amusing that people think that no people around a closed arcade area is a rare sight.

    The temple at Asakusa is bustling with people every single day of the year, but take a photo at about 7 or 8 in the morning (which has weather similar to most of the pictures posted) and you can see it looks very similar to the photos above.

    Of course, the temple at night after the shops are closed looks just as deserted. During the time the shops are open though, there’s not even enough space to move. I’d know, I had to roll a gigantic luggage through there.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m kinda biased this time over these images. I mean its not footage of an entire day, this is just simply photographs. It doesn’t justify whether business is like this for the entire time.

  • Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of the Inaba Shopping District in Persona 4… depressing, yes I know…

    If there’s no customers (they’ve all moved away) the shops will have to close eventually, unless they are going after the tourists and those on long trips.

  • Vallen Chaos Valiant says:

    It was pointed out that one of the successful ways of reviving the shoutengai is to put a tourist attraction near by. The most recent example being the 1/1 size Tetsujin 28 statue.
    As it was shown, the area became filled with tourists immediately. But everything outside the statue’s area is still dead as a door knob.

  • Why not turn them into low-cost “homes”?

    Rent out the space for about $200 USD per month as a place to sleep/work/whatever…

    Thats a lot of un-used space. I would think the high-cost of living in the bigger cities would make it better to stay in smaller towns.

  • Barbarian of Gor says:

    I call “Bullshit!”
    I call “Financial conspiracy”
    I call…

    Well, enough foaming, here’s what I’m raving at:

    IF-say I was there…

    AND-I had a van full of stuff to sell, snacks, toys, condoms, etc….

    AND-I walked up to whoever owned these malls and said:
    —Doubtless sounding far funnier than all my non-PC “Change the R and L” joke speak as I struggled with the phrase book.

    “Honorable Sir, I wish to sell my wares from one of your storefronts. I will take the risk no one will buy my stuff. As far as rent goes, I will pay you 20% of what I sell and you or your accountant may check my till at any time.”

    Well, I bet he’d first “Run from the foreign devil dressed like Conan”, but second he’d probably quote me an inflexible rent that’d rival the best downtown space in Tokyo.

    See, decay like this isn’t caused by recessions, they happen all over even in “Boom” times. What they are caused by is property barons who buy up property to wreck it, cheating and bribing their way out of paying property tax and using the self-created blight as a deliberate cancer to manipulate markets and squeal like the parasite pigs that they are to suck off the teat of government welfare.

    Just one man’s opinion.
    But one based on much witnessed.

    Really, when the economy is in a slump, why don’t these guys let anyone rent space from them to at least pay property tax? Let somebody live in a store front and cover up the windows if they can chuck some $. Let a kicked out Hikkomori sell off 90% of his toys that didn’t become too important once he dragged 10 suitcases around with him all day so he can build back his finances and sleep there all night to help him get back on his feet. Let tons of “Tiny restaurants” spring up, even guys that sell pre-packaged food and have a microwave and a coffeepot…

    I think this type of market is just being killed. The “Bazaar” is the enemy of the parasite “Globalist” rich elite who want everything pre-packaged and sold and dependent on “Someone Else”.

    Anyone watch Abenobashi? IMO, it’s a subtle protest about that happening, but of course they can’t outright protest it…

    • Anonymous says:

      “”The “Bazaar” is the enemy of the parasite “Globalist” rich elite who want everything pre-packaged and sold and dependent on “Someone Else”.””

      So what can we do ???
      I’m a neet but i try to change that!!!
      For me words aren’t enouth now… (sorry bad english)

    • Anonymous says:

      @ Barbarian of Gor 19:06

      ‘Abenobashi’, and “Geez, their pelican must have broken” are the first things I thought of when I saw these interesting pics.

      The “property baron” scenario you mention isn’t limited to Japan. In the small (population < 20,000) U.S. town I grew up near, more than 90% of the commercial properties were owned by out-of-state businesses. Ninety percent! I mean, WTF?!

      That factoid was tossed out by the attorney who was reviewing a food co-op's lease agreement.

      I'm _guessing_ the barons kept the rents artificially high, so the properties would remain empty, so they could take advantage of some tax rule.

      • Barbarian of Gor says:

        That’s exactly what inspires my skepticism and paranoia.

        Even in “Boom” times we have “Ghost” commercial property that is always 90% empty. The businesses that last 1-3 years when they (at great public fund subsidy) are first built are forced out by the rents being set high for that purpose. They charge more than prime California mall space and seem unworried about a building that cost many millions to construct going empty for 20+ years. But they don’t have to pay property tax on “Unrented retail space” and since the owners are mega-wealthy out of state people, they probably are helping an ‘agenda’ of those that own the ‘big box marts’ and such.

    • Nothing interesting? I think you got that backwards, these little shops were all unique, while the big department stores are complete clones of each other. Once you’ve been in one you’ve been in them all. Unfortunately they are the ones that are thriving since they’re like Wal-mart, selling cheap crap.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thats why mom and pop stores fail. If you can’t keep up with the big boy’s prices then fuck off. Niggas try to sell me a $400 Wii just cuz we in Alaska and the closest Wal-mart an hour away in Anchorage, fuck u & go out of business. Only thing unique is them outrageous prices.

      • Sarkazmo says:

        This is exactly what we here in the US have been seeing for decades! Small, Mom and Pop, independent store fail while large, bland retail stores like Wal-Mart offering prices that no independent can complete against, succeed. It really is a shame… we’re all losing our identity for centralized shopping, buying cheap Chinese crap. The only thing you can do is support local merchants by shopping at the remaining independents.

        It’s all very sad…

  • Anonymous says:

    i wouldn’t mind photographing some of these locations, you wouldn’t expect to see such scenes in Japan. The estate owners should wise up and quickly try to turn these into something that the people might want, like pachinko parlors. *shutters*

    • Anonymous says:

      More like where’s the notice that should be stuck on the shutters to let others know these shops are avaliable for rental? I only see a few in this gallery… or it is that the shops are all closed for holiday instead?

  • Sir Romance says:

    This is depressing to see. I can only hope that they can eventually bulldoze away these creepy areas and use the land for new purposes, such as housing. Urban Japan needs more residential area anyway.

      • Anonymous says:

        I used to live in one for a few years, too.
        However… though I’m not sure if it’s like this everywhere in Japan, the general social agreement in my area was that people who lived there must have some kind of shop.
        I lived alone (which was quite rare) and had an American goodies shop, which did well until the businesses I helped in America shut down in sequence–my reason for moving out.

        But overall, I would say that it depends on where you go.
        These pictures are more like exaggerated news coverage, if you ask me.
        Unless it were early in the morning, before shops opened, I never saw any that were this empty.
        I’ve traveled through over a dozen prefectures, as well, and had seen at least 20 of them.
        My own shopping center in Imabari, Ehime was quite lively and packed, especially during the several seasonal jinja held in the area.

    • Anonymous says:

      Its a less dense populated area where people have moved away and gone to the bigger cities.
      -A good camera man will pick a good hour to take his pictures as to keep images clean.

      I cannot help but get the feeling that this pictures are somehow advertising these places for free. Hopefully it helps.