The future of the newly opened Japan-themed complex now remains unclear. 

For many visitors to Japan, a trip to Kyoto is an unforgettable experience. The historic neighbourhoods, with their beautifully preserved buildings and thoroughfares, create a traditional atmosphere so unique that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it anywhere else…except if you were over in a city in northeastern China, where they’ve built a “Little Kyoto” of their very own.

Known as Tang Little Kyoto, the new site, located in Dalian City, Liaoning Province, is said to be the largest Japan-themed commercial complex in China. Set on a huge 630,000 square-metre (6.8 million-square foot) plot, construction of the facility began in 2019 and is scheduled to be fully complete in 2024, at a cost of approximately 6 billion yuan (US$929.7 million).

However, on 21 August, when the first section of the complex was opened to the public, it immediately drew criticism from locals on the Internet, leading to a temporary closure of the facility from 30 August.

▼ Approximately 30 stores selling Japanese products, including Panasonic goods, were open for just over a week before the closure.

China’s popular social media platform Weibo was flooded with complaints from people who took issue with the location of the facility, saying that Dalian was an area once occupied by Japanese forces. The promotion of Japanese-made goods and companies in such an area appeared to be a sore point for many, who described the commercial complex as “an invasion of China by Japanese culture“.

According to the real estate developers behind the complex, Dalian Shuyuan Group, the municipal government instructed them to suspend operations on the night of 30 August, citing concerns about the criticism expressed on the Internet, as well as fears for crowds gathering in the area during the pandemic.

▼ These photos of Tang Little Kyoto show the crowds that had gathered there last month.

The facility is now closed to the public, with the re-opening date yet to be announced. Despite the outcry online, the huge multi-million dollar investment in the facility, which is designed to replicate famous sightseeing areas of Kyoto such as the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka slopes near Kiyomizudera Temple, suggests construction of the complex will still be going ahead as planned.

The Kyoto-style townscape of Tang Little Kyoto is currently being designed by a Japanese architect, using imported materials from Japan that include traditional roofing tiles. Private buyers have already been purchasing some of the 1,600 buildings that will be constructed in the complex for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with many intending to use them as stores and vacation homes.

While a large number of locals have been vocal about their opposition to the development, there are some advocating for it, pointing out that other cities have also used the appeal of Japanese culture to entice visitors and increase tourism.

Dalian Shuyuan Group says the Tang Little Kyoto project is particularly appealing to people in China due to the fact that Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan from 794-1868, was believed to be influenced by Chinese architecture from the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907). They hope this love for Kyoto, as seen in the complex, will lead to a newfound love and interest in Tang culture amongst locals.

Sources: Nikkei via Jin
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