The city’s once-bustling tourist areas may never look the same.

Cases of COVID-19 appear to be persistent but relatively under control in Japan. However, the social and economic knock-on effects of the pandemic are only just beginning to reveal themselves. People in tiger suits’ livelihoods are becoming threatened, non-Mario-kart attractions are struggling to stay afloat, and some people have gone months without setting foot on public transportation, to name but a few.

Now, it looks as if the landscape of Osaka’s Shinsekai and Dotonbori areas may become a lot bleaker with the announced closing of Zuboraya restaurants in each area. Some readers may not know this restaurant, which specializes in fugu by name, but will probably recognize its giant pufferfish lanterns that hang in front.

Osaka has long embraced all which is gaudy, and in the ecosystem of ostentatiousness the Zuboraya fugu lantern stands proudly at the top of the food chain, jutting far out from its storefront in bold defiance of the mere concept of zoning by-laws.

It’s been used countless times as an establishing shot for Osaka in movies, television, and video games. In fact, simply Google Image searching Osaka (大阪) will bring back more than a few photographs of the iconic fish.

Image: SoraNews24

The news of Zuboraya’s end is especially sad as 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the restaurant. Although the coronavirus pandemic was the tipping point, its owners said they had been considering closing anyway due to an increasingly tight market. They will instead focus on the real-estate side of their business.

Image: Pakutaso

The Dotonbori store is currently open for business and the Shinsekai location will resume on 15 June. Both restaurants will continue to operate until this September and all staff will remain employed and fully paid until the very end.

▼ Zuboraya in Dotonbori

As for the famous lanterns, their fate is yet to be determined. Presumably, once the restaurants close their fish will come down, but these particular signs are so deeply connected to the city, someone may step in and preserve them as the cultural landmarks they are.

“Everyone who comes to Osaka takes a picture of Zuboraya with Tsutenkaku in the background. I know the world is going to change a lot, but this hurts.”
“Zuboraya is an indispensable symbol of Shinsekai. Please keep it.”
“It’s a waste to lose part of what makes Shinsekai what it is.”
“It, along with the Glico sign, Kani Doraku, and Kuidaore Taro are THE symbols of Osaka.”
“This is shocking news.”
“This is the government’s fault for not doing more to help financially.”
“Historical businesses are going down one after another. It’s like we’re losing our culture.”
“I’m not surprised. Dotonbori used to be a really exciting place, but now it’s just drugstores and duty-free shops.”

It’s certainly the end of an era, but the bright side is that there’s still time. Both Zuborayas will close their doors for good on 15 September so be sure to stop by and have some fugu, take a picture of history, and maybe pretend to rub Billiken’s feet while you’re there.

Source: FNN Prime Online, Sankei News West, Twitter/づぼらや
Top image: Pakutaso
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