Japan has had a tough past couple of years. With the coronavirus closing Japan’s borders to tourists and a series of natural disasters, a lot of places that previously were doing well have closed their doors.
We previously looked at places closed or currently on hold by the coronavirus, this time we have a look at five cultural icons in Japan that you’ll never get a chance to visit again.
1. Odaiba attractions
Odaiba in Tokyo Bay and its surrounding areas have had a tough time as many of its most famous spots have fallen one after another. Mega Web Toyota City Showcase, a massive classic car museum in Odaiba’s Palette Town complex, closed on Dec. 31, 2021. Palette Town was also home to the TeamLab Borderless art exhibit. This was followed by Venus Fort, an enormous shopping complex modeled after medieval Europe, featured in TV shows like Run for Money.
Perhaps the biggest loss was Oedo Onsen, a popular sento (public bath) with a unique Edo-era theme. Oedo Onsen featured 13 different baths and a lounge area with an atmosphere like a Japanese matsuri (festival) where people could fill up on traditional snacks and play carnival games.
Unfortunately, despite 18 years of relative success with the upscale hot spring bathing crowd, it closed its doors in September 2022. The official reason was that its lease had expired and would not be renewed.
2. Kawaii Monster Cafe
Following the death of the popular Gundam Cafe, fans of uniquely Japanese coffee shops were left wondering what the next victim might be. However, this year had another shock when it was announced that Kawaii Monster Cafe would close its doors.
Thanks to its garish color palette, the cafe was a popular spot for tourists, which extended to the eye-strainingly brightly colored food and flamboyant kawaii (cute) dinnertime performance. It grew even more in popularity when it was visited by popular American TV host Conan O’Brien.
Unfortunately, the cafe relied on tourism, and it struggled since the suspension of tourists to Japan. Thus, the decision was made to close its doors. The good news is that it will continue as a temporary pop-up cafe named Kawaii Monster Kitchen in Osaka’s Hu+g Museum—at least until October 2022. So, get your dose of kawaii while you still can.
3. The death of Japan’s arcades
Japan used to be synonymous with gaming, and some of the biggest game centers were huge buildings in commercial areas. Unfortunately, a triple blow of increasing land prices, the coronavirus pandemic turning away gamers and growing trends towards online, handheld and mobile gaming have sounded the industry’s death knell.
In 2019, Warehouse Kawasaki, famous for its “cyberpunk dystopia” look and modeled after Kowloon Walled City, closed abruptly due to “unspecified issues with the landlord.” Another casualty in 2021 was Shinjuku Playland Carnival. The building boasted 400 arcade cabinets and drew up to 5,000 visitors at its height. However, just shy of its 50th birthday, the center closed, citing the pandemic as the deciding factor.
Then there was the iconic Sega Akihabara 2 that closed in August 2020. The multi-floored arcade was a landmark for Tokyo’s otaku (geek) district. You could even visit the building virtually in the Yakuza videogame series. A new, smaller arcade popped up across the street from the old building and has a cafe to try and stay modern.
But the hits just kept coming. Adores, home to 10 floors of game cabinets, UFO catchers and even karaoke, was another landmark of Akihabara to close its doors in June 2021. Although the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t mentioned in the closure announcement, the center of Japan’s otaku chic has struggled financially.
4. The Nakagin Capsule Tower
Nakagin Capsule Tower is being “disassembled.” Known for its unique architecture, it was one of the few remaining examples of the Japanese “Metabolism style,” which took inspiration from organic processes and megastructures to create unique functional creations.
Its distinct look even made it into a movie in the X-men universe with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine visiting the venue in his self-titled movie. With its location in the fashionable hub of Shimbashi, there was always a chance that the land would be more desirable than the building.
As it slowly slipped into disrepair, it became increasingly difficult to justify maintaining it. So, despite a last-minute fundraiser to preserve the building as cultural heritage, Nakagin Capsule Tower will be disassembled and its components repurposed.
5. Yayoi’s pumpkin
Yayoi Kusama is considered one of Japan’s most influential artists, with her polka dot motifs and famous pumpkin installations attracting visitors worldwide.
Two of her more famous pumpkins are the installations on Naoshima, one of Japan’s “art islands.” There, two pumpkins—one thin and yellow, the other fat and red—were the perfect model of the core message of her art that nothing is the same, everything has a different shape and size and that is what makes everything unique and beautiful.
Unfortunately, visitors will have to be content with only the red pumpkin since a typhoon slammed its yellow sibling from its metal fastenings and banged it into the pier. Images of the pumpkin helplessly being thrashed by the typhoon were shared online. By the time it was rescued from the water, it was in pieces. There have been talks with Kusama (now in her 90s) about what to do next, but given its popularity, it’s hopefully only a matter before the pumpkin is repaired.
Although it is always sad to see so many iconic spots disappear, there is still plenty to look forward to with the Ghibli theme parks opening soon and new sites like the gourmet street at Miyashita Park in Shibuya and the Art-Ryokan in Naoshima.
Now, we’d like to hear from you, which of these places will you miss the most and are there any new places that you are looking forward to opening?