(30) Glory arches 栄光のアーチ! Welcome to the shotengai!

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.

The shotengai starts near Nakameguro Station (map), and has a natural end at a T-intersection (map). Total length is about 530 meters (1/3 of a mile).

Meguro Ginza links:

More examples of glory arches:

Butterflies:

Soka, Saitam:

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).

See also:

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