Photo/Illutration A scene from Virtual Ichibangai, an online version of the popular shopping street in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture. Clicking the double circle takes visitors to the shop’s online store. (Takemichi Nishibori)

KAWAGOE, Saitama Prefecture--Store operators along the Ichibangai shopping street here, famed for its row of traditional “kura” warehouses, are hoping an online tour can help them survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Virtual Ichibangai, which can be accessed from the project’s official website at (, allows people to see the storefronts, enter the businesses and buy items.

But the main purpose of the project is to encourage tourists to visit the city once the new coronavirus pandemic is over.

The online tour opens with a townscape of the kura warehouses. Visitors can rotate the scenery in all directions with a mouse and move along the street by clicking arrows on the screen.

From the street, they can peep into 104 member stores of the cooperative union. About 70 of the shops are shown with a message window that says, “Have a look at the shop.”

When the window is clicked, a page opens to allow visitors to “enter” the shop. The interior image can be scrolled to show various parts of the store and offer closer looks at the shelves.

A double circle further back of the interiors of about 30 shops can be used if visitors want to see their online stores.

When users turn to face a storefront on Virtual Ichibangai, a window pops up with the message, “Have a look at the shop.” (Takemichi Nishibori)

The cooperative union jointly developed Virtual Ichibangai with a 3-D imagery company based in the city after the first state of emergency was declared in spring last year.

Union officials used subsidies from the Saitama prefectural government to cover the production cost, which was about 4.5 million yen ($41,200).

Project members interviewed all shop operators to see if they had online stores before starting shooting footage in September.

Although tourists still visit the Ichibangai shopping street, they are reluctant to buy souvenirs because they may not want others to know they are traveling during the health crisis.

“Online shops are not enough to get through (the pandemic), but we wanted to create a new shopping street in these trying times because it was the least we could do,” said Kiyotaka Fujii, head of the cooperative union. “It can also serve as a simulation for people to see which stores they want to visit when they come here next time once the pandemic is over. We also want foreigners willing to come to Japan to see it.”