Family pulls the final shutter down on one of the oldest Japanese sweets stores in the country.

Sensoji temple at Asakusa is known for being a popular tourist spot, but it’s not just the historic wooden gates and buildings that people come to see firsthand — it’s the lively atmosphere of the stores that line the pathway to the temple that draws people to the area as well.

This 250-metre (820-foot) long path, called “Nakamise Dori“, is lined with dozens of small businesses, mostly made up of mum-and-pop-style stores that have been run by families for decades. Some of the most popular stores are the ones selling sweets, and if you’re looking for a traditional sweet to mark your time in the area, you can’t go by a small store called Kinryuzan.

▼ Kinryuzan (“Mountain of the Golden Dragon”) actually shares its name with the temple, which is officially known as Kinryuzan Sensoji.

▼ The only thing is, that store sadly closed late last month, after being in business for 346 years.

News of the store closure came as a shock to many people in Japan, particularly its longstanding customers, who were met with this sign on the shutter from the storeowner, which reads:

“Notice of Closure. Thank you very much for always using our store. I’m afraid our store will be closed from 23 July. Thank you very much for your longstanding patronage.”

▼ Beneath the sign, some photos of the family who owned the store.

While many were quick to point the finger at the pandemic and the drop in tourists to Sensoji as the reason for the closure, those who’d spoken to staff confirmed that the real problem was there was no successor to take over the store.

This is a quandary faced by many longstanding traditional businesses like Kinryuzan, as younger generations find themselves more and more tempted by secure, well-paying office jobs. Unfortunately for the family at Kinryuzan, who’ve been making traditional sweets like mochi (rice cakes) and agemanju (deep-fried steamed rice cakes with a sweet filling) for centuries, with nobody able to take on the business, their family legacy has now drawn to a close.

▼ Kinryuzan’s agemanju

According to locals, Kinryuzan was considered one of the oldest stores in the area, with its history dating back to 1675 — Nakamise Dori itself is said to date back to somewhere between 1688-1735 — and its loss will be sorely felt.

“I never eat anything other than Kinryuzan’s agemanju at Asakusa, so the fun of Asakusa has decreased for me.”
“What a shame — I’ve been eating there since I was a child. Can’t believe it’s gone.”

“Their agemanju had a texture similar to tempura. The balance between the bun and the bean paste was exquisite.”
“I loved their agemanju and their kirizansho [sweetened mochi flavoured with Japanese black pepper] — so hard to find that anywhere else.”
“Kinryuzan sold sweets like jewels inside a small, cute shop.”
“This is such a shock – so sad they had no successor.” 

The small sweets store was a must-visit spot for many who visited the shrine over the years, but as these recent photos show, the 346-year-old business no longer exists.

Sadly, it’s not only a lack of successors threatening longstanding stores like this one, but increasing competition from encroaching department stores and malls. Despite it being a historic area, a number of new places to buy sweets and souvenirs have popped up in the Sensoji district in recent years, including the nearby Marugoto Nippon multi-storey shopping centre, which opened in 2015.

Add in the fact that storeowners in Nakamise Dori were hit with a 16-fold rent increase in 2017, and more recently, the local government has been calling for shop evictions, and it’s easy to see why it’s so difficult for family-run stores to stay in business here, even without factoring in the drop in customers due to the pandemic.

We can only hope that other businesses in the area don’t suffer the same fate as Kinryu, because Japan has already seen too many sad closures over this past year.

Source: Twitter/@norinorinoriye
Featured image: Flickr/IQRemix
Insert images: Twitter/@Nigorin9 (1, 2) Twitter/@norinorinoriye, Twitter/@alice919t
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