Photo/IllutrationMembers of a group that is promoting the plan to build a Chinatown in Osaka’s Nishinari Ward (Junji Murakami)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

OSAKA--An ambitious proposal to turn a century-old shopping arcade in this city's Nishinari Ward into a Chinatown by 2025 isn't being welcomed with open arms by Japanese shop owners.

The proposal, announced by a group of Chinese business people on Feb. 15, envisions 120 shops, many of them restaurants that serve dishes from various provinces of China, and four traditional Chinese gates.

But many shop operators along the covered shopping street don't have an appetite for such a change.

“The arcade has a history of nearly 100 years,” said Yasuo Murai, 68, who runs a clothing shop there. “I cannot support the proposal for setting up a Chinatown, which was suddenly announced. I am hoping to cooperate where I can, but I cannot accept the name of the place as Chinatown and Chinese gates.”

The shopping area stretches in the shape of a cross, measuring 800 meters east to west and 1,200 meters north to south. It is located south of Dobutsuen-mae station of Osaka Metro Co.’s Midosuji Line and to the east of the Airin district, home to day laborers.

Denryu Rin, a Chinese who runs a realtor in the arcade, outlined the plan at a New Year's meeting with 190 invited guests, including senior officials of local financial institutions. Rin is one of about 40 members of group, called Osaka Ka Shokai, which aims to build a Chinatown in Nishinari Ward.

Also attending the meeting were Li Tianran, counsel general of the Chinese Consulate-General in Osaka, the chairman of the Japan-China Friendship Association of Osaka and chairmen of groups of overseas Chinese around Japan.

“It is a challenge to gain the consent and cooperation from the local community, but we would like to contribute to bolster the economy of Nishinari through the construction of a Chinatown,” Rin said at the meeting.

According to the planned project, existing izakaya with karaoke and other shops operated by Chinese will be turned into restaurants and variety goods shops in stages. By 2025, the area would see a total of 120 new shops in the Chinatown with 22.4 billion yen ($203.6 million) in sales that year.

The Chinatown is expected to include a theater for traditional Chinese plays and other facilities, creating 1,000 jobs.

Rin said his group is set to brief local residents on details of the project and start the design of the Chinese gates by the end of this month.

Yutaka Imai, an Osaka prefectural assembly member who heads the Japan-China friendship association of prefectural assembly members, said he sees potential in the project.

“When I read the proposal, I became convinced that the project will turn the area into Osaka’s new tourism draw,” he said. “I want to make efforts to allow Nishinari to serve as a bridge between Japan and China."

But Japanese shop owners who attended the New Year's meeting expressed bewilderment at the speed the project is progressing.

Satoshi Shiraki, 62, who runs a pawnshop, said he was surprised to find that the plan for building a Chinatown was moving faster than he had expected.

“Nishinari is different from Yokohama and Kobe where a large number of overseas Chinese have lived for many years,” he said of the two cities, which have Chinatowns. “The Chinatown project will meet with opposition if it is pushed in a heavy-handed manner.”