Businesses in one of Japan’s oldest shopping strips are wondering if they can survive after the surprising new increase.

Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district is one of the top tourist sites in the country, drawing thousands of tourists to the area every year. If you’ve ever visited Sensoji, chances are you’ve entered through the Kaminarimon Thunder Gate” with the enormous red lantern hanging inside, before walking up the bustling walkway lined with shops that leads to the main temple building.

This shopping street, located inside the temple grounds, is known as Nakamise Dori (literally “street of inside stores”), and it’s one of the oldest shopping strips in Japan. Today, approximately 89 shops can be found along the 250-metre (820-foot) long approach to the temple, selling all sorts of Japanese souvenirs and traditional food and confectioneries.

▼ Nakamise Dori is one of the most bustling shopping streets in Tokyo, with throngs of people making it hard to move along the narrow walkway on the weekends.

Despite the steady stream of customers along the approach, shopkeepers are now concerned about their future, after Sensoji sent out a notice to business owners advising them of a 16-fold increase in their rent. According to one shopkeeper, he was made aware of the sudden change in September, when each store along Nakamise Dori was given two sheets of paper to inform them that the rent would be increased by 16 times from next January. He says he won’t be able to pay the rent after such an increase and nor will many of the other store owners.

The reason for the increase appears to be due to the fact that the storeholders had previously been paying rent to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, because although the land that Nakamise Dori is situated on is owned by Sensoji temple, the buildings on the land belong to Tokyo. However, in July, Sensoji bought the buildings on the land from Tokyo, which is why the incredibly cheap current average monthly rent of 23,000 yen (US$261.50) will soon shoot up to 370,000 yen.

According to the head steward of Sensoji, the impetus for the change stems from the fact that in 2011, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government asked them to pay fixed assets tax, as Nakamise Dori was acting as a profitable business. Therefore, they investigated the market prices to adjust the rent accordingly, with lawyers providing them with a recommended amount in the middle of September, which was then sent out to shopkeepers.

People online have been expressing shock and confusion over the news:

“I’m astonished that the rent at that place has been just 2,300 yen per month.”
“What type of system is this? It sounds like a method for money laundering.”
“Can they really take that much tax from a religious organisation?”
“It sounds like Sensoji had no other choice than to increase the rent, given the circumstances.”
“If the shopkeepers can’t afford the new rent, I’m sure they’ll have no problems finding new tenants.”

Commenters speculate that if the store owners refuse to pay the increased rent, big chains like Starbucks might enter and open up businesses along the shopping strip, which would bring huge changes to the traditional atmosphere of the historical district. Hopefully the current store owners will be able to keep their businesses running so that visitors can enjoy their wares for decades to come.

Source: Yahoo News via My Game News Flash
Featured image: © Oona McGee for SoraNews24
Insert images: Flickr/sk, Flickr/chee.hong, Flickr/David ChauFlickr/Kent Wang

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