By Shinichi Ito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterAMAGASAKI, Hyogo — Three establishments, including a small theater and a used bookstore, will open this autumn along a shopping arcade west of Hanshin Amagasaki Station in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. The opening of the shops is aimed at supporting the shopping arcade, which has sought to revitalize itself with subculture-themed events and events for fans of tokusatsu sci-fi films such as “Godzilla.”
The arcade, called Sanwa Ichiba, has recovered its vitality after going through a decline in which the number of shops fell below 10. Previously, 50 or more food shops and other outlets lined the street before the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake. However, due to such factors as a lack of successors, shops closed one after another, and the number of businesses along the street fell to eight in 2013.
Compared to two nearby shopping streets, Amagasaki Chuo Shotengai (central shopping street) and Sanwa Hondori Shotengai (main street shopping street), Sanwa Ichiba lacked energy and atmosphere, and was even empty on weekends.
Amid these circumstances, Hisashi Moritani, the 65-year-old vice president of Sanwa Ichiba’s business association, came up with an idea to revive the arcade. Moritani, who also runs a butcher shop, opened the “Tora no Ana” event space after renovating a vacant shop. The facility serves as a gathering spot for subculture fans.
At the facility, Moritani, himself a fan of tokusatsu films, organized an event in which participants view and then discuss tokusatsu films. A film-shooting event for a film featuring Gasa King Alpha, the shopping arcade’s monster mascot, was also held.
Tora no Ana gained popularity among tokusatsu fans through word of mouth, and the number of visitors, including those from outside the prefecture, began to increase.
Takatsugu Nakanishi, 54, who runs a used bookstore, opened a shop that sells monster figurines and other merchandise in autumn 2014, while a live music club and other outlets have opened, bringing the number of business on the street to 16.
Chiho Iwakiri, 31, leads the theatrical group “Kyoka no Ichiba” and has used Tora no Ana to host monster-themed comedy shows and other performances about once a month since June 2017.
Iwakiri is preparing to open a small theater this month in the arcade. The theater will occupy the grounds of a renovated delicatessen with floor space of about 185 square meters, and will have 30 to 40 seats.
“The theater will be appealing because of the close distances, which will allow us to easily befriend customers who casually drop in,” said Iwakiri. “I want to make the new theater have a friendly atmosphere.”
Masahiro Fujimoto, a 26-year-old architectural firm employee, moved to Amagasaki from Minoo, Osaka Prefecture, after he fell in love with the Sanwa Ichiba.
Fujimoto is preparing to open a used bookstore with a cafe, and is renovating the shop himself.
“I like the special atmosphere, and people here are frank and friendly,” Fujimoto said. “I want to bring energy to the street with youthful ideas.”
Many business along Sanwa Ichiba are only open on weekends.