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Nagoya's Other Face:
Underground Shopping Centers

Nagoya is sometimes called "white town." The name undoubtedly derives from the many white buildings lining the downtown streets and the absence of the hustle and bustle common to big cities. To be sure, the area around Nagoya Station where many of the buildings stand has few shops, and not that many people can be seen walking around. But beneath this quiet surface lies a vast shopping center where the air brims with excitement.

The Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train, other JR and privately owned railroad lines, and two city subway lines converge at Nagoya Station to create a major terminal. Below the station an underground shopping center stretches outward like the meshes of a net, with connections to all the lines and major buildings in the area. Each underground corridor has its own name, such as Yunimoru (Uni Mall) or Sanrodo (Sun Road), and the passageways link up to form a seemingly endless maze. It is no wonder out-of-towners invariably get lost their first trip under.

The oldest corridor, Sun Road, opened in March 1957 as Japan's first underground shopping center. At the time, car ownership was on the rise, and the area around the station was the scene of an increasing number of accidents. Meanwhile, plans had been put forth for the construction of a city subway system. The concept of "cars above and people below" took hold, and local businesses ultimately decided to build an underground complex that would extend from the subway entrance by Nagoya Station. The success of the venture attracted nationwide attention and a constant stream of observers.

As business boomed, a string of extensions were made to the complex. Today the combined store space covers 27,000 square meters, and the total length of the passageways comes to seven kilometers. The number of shops is roughly 300, though according to Nagoya Underground, Inc., the total rises to 700 or 800 if the basement shops and restaurants in buildings and department stores are included. Clothing, food, books, and compact discs are just some of things you can buy.

Each day an estimated 200,000 people pass through these corridors. One young woman in her twenties, there with a friend, explains, "I came here to buy some shoes. The underground shops give you a good deal even on the latest fashions, and they're close and convenient to the station." Male office workers from nearby buildings are also a common sight, something that sets the complex apart from other shopping centers in Japan. One man says, "I always eat lunch here. The passageways connect with my office building, and I don't need an umbrella when it rains."

In the fall of 1999 construction was completed on the JR Central Towers--two skyscrapers designed to serve as the Nagoya Station buildings. The first rises 245 meters with 51 stories of office space, and the second, which houses a hotel and rents space to department stores and restaurants, rises 226 meters with 53 stories. Both towers are thriving as the city's newest landmark. They are also breathing new life into the underground maze.

Another underground shopping complex can be found just two stations away--a four-minute ride--in Sakae, the heart of the city. Here subway lines intersect Sakae in all four directions. Above ground Nagoya's Central Park spreads out from Television Tower and provides the venue for festivals and a host of other events. Underground a shopping center also called Central Park extends from north to south, offering shops targeted at young men and women. South of Central Park lies a corridor running east to west known as Sakaechika (Sakae Underground). At its center is Kurisutaru Hiroba (Crystal Plaza), a mecca for rendezvousing where throngs of people pass each night. The plaza's trademark chandelier and fountain were renovated last year to commemorate its thirtieth anniversary.

In front of the fountain stood a young man with an expectant look on his face. Asked whether he is waiting for somebody, he says he is trying to find a model for his haircuts. As the main gathering place for people in Nagoya, he explains, Crystal Plaza is the best place to do this. Wandering around the fountain, this beautician in the making continues his search. This is a space that can be put to many uses.

Come winter or summer, rain or windy weather, underground shopping centers offer people a consistently comfortable climate. With its aboveground office buildings and underground shopping centers, Nagoya has succeeded in creating a three-dimensional model for future urban development.

(Photos by Kiyoshi Inoue, Text by Setsuko Matsuda)