DALIAN, China -- A huge Japan-themed commercial and residential complex will open in Dalian, in China's northeastern Liaoning Province, this weekend.
A Kyoto-style township has been built inside the 600,000-sq.-meter complex, making it one of the biggest in the country. Dalian Shuyuan Group, a local real estate developer, is promoting the project, which was built at a cost of 6 billion yuan ($925 million). Japanese companies such as Panasonic hope to turn the area into a hub to promote Japanese goods.
"Tang Little Kyoto" is about an hour's drive from downtown Dalian. Complete with rows of traditional Japanese-style houses, the area is modeled on Kyoto's Ninen-zaka slope and other streetscapes near Kiyomizu-dera, a famous Buddhist temple and sightseeing spot.
"The atmosphere is good here because it is like Kyoto," said one 57-year-old unemployed man who visited. He bought a piece of Japanese pottery for 2,000 yuan.
The first phase of the project, which will open on Saturday, has 29 stores in the shopping area, including a Panasonic home appliance store, a shop selling specialties from Japan's western Hiroshima Prefecture backed by Hiroshima bank, and another selling goods from the northern island of Hokkaido. There are also stores and restaurants selling Arita porcelain, cosmetics, Japanese-style sweets, ramen and yakiniku barbecue.
The shops are exclusively managed by Japanese companies or joint ventures. "All the products they offer are Japanese made," said Zhang Yang, Dalian Shuyuan's vice president.
Negotiations are underway to host other businesses. In all, the three-stage development will have 83 shops when completed. The developer is also weighing whether to build a health care facility.
The project includes 83 home-style hotel units and some 1,300 Japanese-style villas, each with a hot spring bath. Construction is scheduled for completion in 2024. The villas will go for around 5 million yuan each, with the first 290 units or so expected to sell out shortly. The developer expects the area to generate 1 billion yuan in sales, including the sale of villas in 2021.
Recreating a Kyoto-style township was made possible with help from a group of seven architectural companies in Japan. The group, called JCAP7, gathered data such as the height and width of houses and streets in Kyoto and made use of them in designing the township, according to Nagai Kose, president of Japan Power Media, a Tokyo-based architectural company that heads the group. Roofing tiles and doors were imported from Japan.
The Kyoto-style town is part of the Jinshitan seaside resort area, which drew 6 million to 8 million tourists a year before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. "We can expect at least 3 million people will visit Little Kyoto," Zhang said.
Although Dalian has long-standing ties to Japan, the complex will need to be managed carefully to manage political risks. Some 45% of Chinese had a "good impression" of Japan in 2020, up about 40 percentage points from 2013, according to Genron NPO, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization. The sharp rise, attributable to the popularity of Japanese products and tourism, is expected to lend a shine to the Little Kyoto complex.
But there is always a danger of a political flare-up between Japan and China over issues related to Taiwan, for example. The project's backers will have pay careful attention to Chinese sentiment if it is to pay off as they hope.