Shopkeepers in the venerable Nakamise Shopping Street in the historic Asakusa district of Tokyo are facing a crisis.
A change in ownership of the buildings, located between the Kaminari-mon Gate and Senso-ji Temple, is set to boost the rent they pay — and by a significant margin.
“It was around September that each shopkeeper received two slips of paper,” one vendor tells weekly tabloid Shukan Shincho (Nov. 2). “From January, the rent along the street will jump by a factor of 16. My shop has been here since the end of the war, but I can’t pay 16 times more, and, in fact, I don’t think most shopkeepers can.”
The 89 shops, which peddle t-shirts, lacquerware and other items, currently pay a monthly rent of 23,000 yen. Beginning in January, that figure is set to zoom up to 370,000 yen.
According to Yujun Moriyama, who presides over Senso-ji, the reason for jump in rent can be traced back to a revision in the law made by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 2011. This change resulted in Senso-ji being forced to pay taxes for Naksamise because the shops are for-profit enterprises.
“The land beneath Nakamise is owned by Senso-ji, but the shops were owned by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government,” the same vendor continues. “So we paid the rent to the government. But in July Senso-ji temple bought the buildings from Tokyo.”
In 2016, the number of foreign tourists arriving in Japan rose by 21.8 percent to a record 24.04 million, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. Spending jumped 7.8 percent to 3.75 trillion yen, which is also an all-time high.
One popular destination for foreign tourists is Asakusa, a fact that did not elude Moriyama. “I checked the market price in reviewing the rent,” Moriyama tells the magazine, “and then a lawyer informed the union for the shopkeepers in September.”
If the shopkeepers vacate the buildings, Shukan Shincho speculates that large companies may move their businesses inside, with Starbucks being one example.