Palm is a pedestrian shopping street (商店街 shōtengai) that runs through Koyama 3-chome and Ebara 3-chome in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward. Its full name, Musashikoyama Palm Shōtengai (武蔵小山商店街パルム), refers to its location in the neighborhood around Musashikoyama Station on the Tōkyū Meguro Line. Though I’m still trying to get my hands on authoritative data, the consensus among everyone I’ve asked is that Palm is the longest covered shopping street in Tokyo. One person even thought it might be the longest in Japan. In any event, at about 800 meters in length, it is something to behold.
Shōtengai, sometimes referred to as arcades in English, are focal points of community life in Japan. They come covered and open air. Some may be formally pedestrianized either all or part of the day, while the remainder usually become de facto pedestrian, as the narrow lane and heavy volume of foot and bicycle traffic preclude all but the most determined drivers. After the large umbrella topic of transit oriented development, shōtengai are what most fascinate me about urban development in Japan, and what I miss when I leave. In fact, the two often go hand in hand. Many shōtengai are located at or near rail stations, as is the case with Palm. The idea that an environmentally sustainable community should have ample basic services within close proximity to residents and transit, thus reducing or eliminating dependence on cars for daily needs, is a key part of the Site Selection credit criteria in the LEED rating system for green building. In Japan, nothing exemplifies this approach more than the shōtengai.
I approached Musashikoyama from the south, so I changed at Ōokayama Station to the Meguro Line.
The shōtengai is clearly marked on the wayfinding aids in Musashikoyama Station.
This is what is so great about how Japan does transit, and what so many places in the US get wrong. I’m still under the overhang of the train station and I can already see the entrance to Palm. There is no park-and-ride lot separating the station from the center of activity and the neighborhood beyond. I’m already there.
Arriving at Palm was an interesting experience for me. Musashikoyama is where web developer, blogger and TV producer Danny Choo has made his home for many years. Through his blog and other channels, when not otherwise covering the Japanese pop culture beat for which he is known, he has always made a point to share experiences from his day to day life. Through these, I’ve traveled to Palm in posts and Instagram snaps, and even rollerbladed through it via YouTube. Coming here was more like confirming that everything really does exist, rather than exploring it for the first time. It was Danny’s ability to transport readers to local places in Tokyo and throughout Japan via an array of methods that inspired me to use visual media and rich communications to drive the community development and engagement process.
The only thing that photos and even video can’t fully convey is a palpable energy that pervades the space. I’ve heard it described as warmth (metaphorical), festiveness, peacefulness and a handful of other things in that vein. Something special happens when a space is designed to be inviting to people. As more people come, the din of voices and movement of bodies increases in intensity, making it more desirable, begetting more people. It’s hard to describe it precisely with words, but it’s something you can definitely sense once you enter the flow. I wish all urban planners and civil engineers had the opportunity to spend time in neighborhoods with shōtengai. It might help them avoid building so many dreadfully awful places.
The range of goods and services potentially available in shōtengai is quite extensive. I borrow from a recent post by Danny on shōtengai in Tokyo, which itself expands on the somewhat spartan list in the Wikipedia entry:
- supermarkets and grocery shops
- restaurants, cafes and kissaten
- pachinko parlors
- medical clinics
- massage parlors
- barber shops
- game centers
- post offices
- book shops
- clothes shops
- convenience stores
- koban (police boxes)
With the exception of a medical clinic and koban, I think I spotted all of these at Palm.
Though covered, Palm is not entirely cut off from the outside. The ends are, of course, open. You also find alleys like this and even full sized, single lane side streets that periodically cross through the shōtengai. Most of these had posted hours for when they could and could not be used by auto traffic. Any driver trying to cross the shōtengai would have to pass very carefully and generally yield to pedestrians already there.
A satellite branch of electronics and appliance store LAOX
These photos were all taken on Saturday, October 27, which I discovered many neighborhoods had designated for the observance of Halloween. This was the first of many brigades of witches and princesses I would encounter over the course of the day.
Adorable obāsan watches over everyone
Many shops push merchandise out into the lane, while others will even have staff placed out front to talk with customers, offer samples, etc.
Mamachari in action. This woman has groceries in front and baby in back.
Second hand clothing
I’m still learning to make sure my lens isn’t zoomed toward telephoto lengths when walking around. I caught the moment, but missed the child she’s smiling at!
This customer is having tea with the shopkeeper while they discuss dried shrimp.
Candy displays strategically placed at toddler height
This mamachari has a front passenger basket.
This construction site is not only clean and sealed off from the main area, but gives detailed description of the work being done, hours in which it will be performed, and when they plan to finish.
Yakitori is perfect stop, snack, then move along food.
That’s the end of Musashikoyama Palm, but just the beginning of shōtengai we’ll look at in this project.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.