The word shotengai 商店街 describes traditional Japanese shopping streets that feed train stations, temples, or other points of interest. Shotengais feel organic rather than planned, the natural result of heavy foot and bicycle traffic close to train stations, temples, or other points of interest. However, I assume that varying levels of planning were involved in their development; many shotengai have business associations to help coordinate advertising and events; many now have websites.
In the busy center of Tokyo, the linear shotengai is not as easily identified; for example, in Ginza or around Shinjuku Station, the streets are a grid of commerce – there is no one street that functions as the path of commerce. Harajuku’s Takeshita-dori 竹下通り is a shotenai in form and function, but the street is far too crowded and touristy to have the atmosphere of a classic shotengai, and the businesses reflects the skewed tourist clientele.
To see a classic shotengai, I suggest the Meguro Ginza Shotengai 目黒銀座商店街, which is easily accessible from central Tokyo at Nakameguro Station 中目黒駅. The shopping district is punctuated by a striking ‘glory arch’ 栄光のアーチ / 商店街の入口看板, a structure seen at many shotengai, which announces the street’s name and often its theme. In Kawasaki, just south of Tokyo, there is Bremen Street 元住吉ブレーメン通り (map), patterned after the fairy tale, the Bremen Town Musicians:
Back in Tokyo, let’s see the glory arch along the Meguro Ginza Shotengai (map):
And a map of the area:
This shopping district also goes by the name メギン商店街 MEGIN shotengai, which I assume is a combination of MEGuro and GINza. The shotengai’s mascot is a giraffe, which is ‘kirin’ キリン in Japanese, perhaps because Megin and Kirin sound similar? The street’s glory arch also includes a pair of doves.
Meguro Ginza links:
- Meguro Ginza Shotengai Association 目黒銀座商店街なび (megugin.net)
- Halloween on the Megin shotengai (photos)
- 中目黒 古いんだか新しいんだか③
More examples of glory arches:
Scenes of a Yokohama shotengai in the early 1960’s, from the Ghibli film, “From Up on Poppy Hill” コクリコ坂から (Kokuriko-zaka Kara).
- Yanaka shotengai shopping street
- Tabata Ginza shopping district 「田端銀座商店街」
- Ota-ku, Kamata Sunrise covered shopping street
- Nishi-Ogikubo Station street scenes
- Irohakai Shotengai in Sanya
- Minami-senju and Naka-dori shotengai 南千住仲通り商店街
- There is overlap in concept between a shotengai and sando 参道, as in Taishakuten sando 帝釈天参道, in Shibamata.
- Related term: 歓迎塔 (welcome tower)