Wangfujing, an avenue running through Beijing's Dongcheng district, is famed for its shopping, with the tourist-packed area on the southern half of the street offering an assortment of department stores.
The subway also passes nearby, which the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI), believes is the perfect site for an underground mall.
"There still aren't any real underground malls in China," said Shinji Maruyama, deputy general manager of the chamber's International Division, describing the OCCI's plans. "Succeeding in Dongcheng District would create a model for expanding to other cities."
The OCCI is marketing Japanese expertise in managing underground malls to China, with sites such as Wangfujing in mind.
With fast-paced urbanization making China's cities even denser, the question of how to use underground space has become an important issue. In the future, the OCCI hopes for Osaka companies to get into the business of managing underground malls there.
The impetus for the OCCI's marketing effort came in 2010. Administrative officials from Dongcheng District came to tour underground malls in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward and in Osaka. A year later, the then Chinese consul general in Osaka had a discussion with the OCCI's chairman, Shigetaka Sato. The consul general said, "We want to import Japan's culture of hospitality to China," and asked about the feasibility of developing an underground mall, a perfect place for hitting the stores in Beijing during the city's oppressive summers.
Talks were held twice last year, in May and September, between the OCCI on one side, and Beijing and Dongcheng officials on the other. The OCCI offered to share its expertise regarding the development of laws as well as resilient disaster-proof designs needed for the development, as well as how to set rents in line with development costs. In exchange, the Chinese provided data on traffic and the number of parking spaces near Wangfujing.
This past July, Sato approached China's vice minister of commerce, Li Jinzao, about a collaboration. Working-level talks with the Chinese are scheduled for August. Sato is upbeat.
"Our conversations are getting into details," he said. "We hope to conduct negotiations while over time building up a relationship of trust."
Participating in the negotiations are the Itochu Corp. trading company, Keihan Electric Railway Co., the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the city of Osaka. Osaka Chikagai Corp., a joint public-private venture, holds the key to offering the Chinese the expertise they seek. The company is Japan's largest operator of underground malls by floor space, managing five including Whity Umeda and Namba Walk.
Osaka Chikagai obtains exclusive rights from the city of Osaka to manage underground real estate and own retail space, which it then rents out to tenants. However, a slew of department stores and shopping centers have gone up in Osaka in recent years, dragging down sales at underground malls and, according to Osaka Chikagai, making it difficult to build new ones in Japan.
"The risks are high, but starting a business in China could lead to growth," an executive said.
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