That’s not my added descriptor, this covered shōtengai is actually named Joyful Minowa (ジョイフル三の輪) and runs parallel to the Toden Arakawa Line from the Minowabashi Station terminus to the next tram stop, Arakawaitchumae. Nestled in Arakawa Ward, well into the Shitamachi area of Tokyo, the shopping arcade was more quiet than anything else when I visited but, in its defense, I arrived very late on a Sunday afternoon when most of the shops were closing up and families were at home preparing for dinner. I’ll have to make it back at some point during peak hours to give it a fair shot.
Nearing the end of my barnstorming through Tokyo, during which I had seen some of the best the city had to offer, it was probably good that I had a few anchors to temper my excitement and gently remind me to consider the whole picture, not just the pieces that confirm my expectations. Helping me do this, and accompanying me on this walk, was Assistant Professor of Urban Design and Urban Studies at The University of Tokyo, Christian Dimmer. I had gotten in touch with Christian during my preparations for this trip and explained briefly the purpose of the project. On my first full day in Tokyo I sat in for a meeting of the Tohoku Planning Forum, a regular discussion series on how to rebuild the areas devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in a sustainable way, which he helps organize. Because Joyful Minowa happened to be near his home, we decided to meet here to tour the shōtengai and continue the conversation we had started over email.
Christian doesn’t waste time sugarcoating problems and gets right down to the reality in front of you. He pointed out the lower quality and corresponding lower prices of the merchandise in some shopfronts. Rent might be cheaper in this part of Tokyo, but probably not low enough for businesses like those to be healthy. He indicated that many of these smaller shōtengai in outer parts of the city are run by aging owners that have difficulty finding candidates from the younger generations interested in taking over the businesses. Of even more concern, tax and other incentives that affect building stock refresh and land use can have potentially destructive consequences for covered shōtengai like this. In some cases, the best decision from the perspective of the owner would be to disassemble the existing shop and build a new structure offset from the edge of the arcade, which would defeat the whole purpose of having a ceiling to keep rain out of the shōtengai. It’s important to remember that for every Musashikoyama Palm and Togoshi Ginza, there are many more of these small neighborhood shopping streets for which the future is very far from clear.
The translucent blue panels below the glass ceiling are visible in satellite photos, which was how I discovered this shōtengai.
This installation is part of a community wide art project spearheaded by artist Koichi Sakao. He organizes events through schools in Arakawa Ward, in which children are invited to go out into their neighborhoods and make rubbings of anything that they find interesting and associate with their community. The individual tiles are then assembled into large panels that are fitted into rooms and public spaces around the ward.
This would have been my second to last stop for still photography during my stay. Originally I had planned to head up into Adachi Ward for a bowl of the some of the most sought after tonkotsu ramen in all of Tokyo, then come back here to take the Arakawa Line from end to end, but the weather had other ideas. Christian and I, both without umbrellas, made haste back to the co-op where his family lives, before the rain got too heavy. They invited me to stay for their Halloween party. I thought about my waterlogged shoes, the several days of walking more or less by myself, and how serendipitous meetings and flexibility of plans are some of the greatest things about life in dense and connected cities, and realized that this was where I should spend the last stretch of the time I had. Tanaka Shoten would still be just as good when I eventually have the chance to get out to it.
Chip and Dale had the cash box covered.
Christian and his daughter
A full spread of hot and wonderful dishes, all made by the families that live in the co-op
Yes, this was definitely where I was supposed to be.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.