Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From Time Out Tokyo

Posted here on Sept 26, 2011

Sayonara, Center-Gai
Shibuya shopping street undergoes bizarre name change

Click here to the article on the Time Out website.

For decades, it's been a magnet for shoppers, after-work revellers and disaffected youth. But Center-Gai's final weekend of infamy is now behind it. The pedestrianised shopping street, which connects to Shibuya's famed scramble crossing, unveils its new name today – and it sounds more like a children's TV show from the 1970s.
Say goodbye to Center-Gai, hello to Basketball Street. When news of the name change first broke on Twitter earlier this month, we assumed it was a canny bit of viral marketing on the part of the Professional Basketball League (known, in delightfully tin-eared fashion, as the BJ League for short). But as it turned out, this assumption gave far too much credit to the canniness of the average Japanese marketing department, and far too little to the noble intentions of Center-Gai's guardians.

Gone are the days when 'dodgy foreigners' (thanks, Japanese Wikipedia!) used to sell phone cards and legal highs from makeshift stalls along the street, leading it to be nicknamed 'kowai-gai' (scary street) and 'kitanai-gai' (dirty street). But even the efforts of the Shibuya Center-Gai Patrol haven't been enough to dislodge some of the undesirables who gather there, including the species of delinquent youth known as yankii. How best to revitalise the 'hood? By changing the name, of course.

But why Basketball Street? In fairness, the choice of moniker isn't entirely random. The aforementioned BJ League – which has clearly had a hand in the rebranding – holds its games at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, not far from Center-Gai itself. According to a statement released on the official Shibuya Center-Gai website, it's also hoped that the newly minted Basketball Street will help promote sport amongst youngsters, reminding them that there are alternative forms of nocturnal entertainment besides chatting up girls before throwing up outside McDonald's.It's the latest in a series of changes that are propelling the area towards bland anonymity, coming in the wake of the closure last year of HMV's flagship store (replaced by a branch of Forever 21) and the Sakuraya electronics shop (now given over to discount suit megalith Yofuku no Aoyama), along with a wave of smaller retailers.

As Tokyu gets ready to unveil the Shibuya Hikarie building, a 34-storey shopping and cultural complex that's explicitly aimed at baby boomers, Shibuya's very reputation as a centre for youth culture might well be on the wane.

The BJ League, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up.

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