Chinese authorities step in to ‘correct’ Japanese-themed street in Guangdong popular with tourists
- Japanese-themed Ichiban Street in Guangdong closed to visitors as it needs to be ‘corrected and renamed’, guard at site says
- Local business owners have speculated copyright complaints and patriotism could be behind the closure
A popular Japanese-themed shopping street in China’s Guangdong province has been closed since the beginning of the “golden week” holiday, disappointing tourists and stoking speculation copyright complaints and patriotism could be behind the change.
Two large signboards displayed with the word Ichibangai – a term used to describe large shopping streets in Japan – have been covered with grey cloth and banners written in Japanese have been removed.
Visitors are now greeted with a sign saying the street is temporarily closed for renovation and its leasing office has also been closed.
On a recent visit, several guards could be seen patrolling the street, stopping visitors who tried to take photographs or videos with professional cameras.
“We don’t know when the street will be open to the public … and the street needs to be corrected and renamed without ‘Ichibangai’,” one guard said.
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The street became a hit with young people who travelled from nearby cities like Guangzhou, Zhongshan and Zhuhai to gawk at the lanterns and neon signs written in Japanese. Many of them referred to Japanese anime characters such as Astro Boy, Inuyasha and Sailor Moon, which are popular in China.
“Those signboards written in Japanese can be seen in the daytime, but if you come at night, the street is dark with all the neon signs turned off,” said Janet Huang, who works at a tea cafe on the street. “It doesn’t look like a commercial street at all, let alone a slice of Japan.”
Luo Aiping, a lawyer with the Guangdong Lianyue Law Firm, said it was not surprising to see local authorities had taken an interest in the street.
“Local governments now are paying more and more attention to the protection of intellectual property rights, and local courts are increasingly inclined to support creators to recover their losses due to copyright infringement,” she said.
“It’s okay to develop shopping malls or streets in a Japanese-street style, but [developers] need to be very careful not to copycat designs from well-known brands.”
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Signs referring to Japanese anime characters like Astro Boy were among those taken down.
“Some said it’s due to the copyright issue, some said it does not promote patriotism,” said a store owner, referring to National Day on October 1. “I have no idea, but I’m just worried local authorities will remove all Japanese style elements.”
The store owner, who declined to be named, said the formerly quiet location was enlivened by the neon and anime images.
“I hope the street’s operator can pay for any copyright necessary and keep the street Japanese-themed. If not, all our investment [in the shop] would be for nothing.”