Good morning! We are up bright and early for a stroll through the Nakano Sun Mall Shōtengai (中野サンモール商店街), a 225 meter covered pedestrian shopping arcade in Nakano 5-chōme on the west side of Tokyo. It is perhaps a bit too early, as while pharmacies and shops selling breakfast are open, most of the retail was still shuttered when I first arrived. In planning for The Tokyo Project, since I try to see as much as I can see with my limited time in town, I inevitably can’t make it to each location or place during its best hours. Still, there are plenty interesting things to note about the design of the arcade and its integration with the neighborhood, and by the time I began wrapping up the mid-morning foot traffic was already well underway.
The southern entrance directly faces Nakano Station, a commuter rail node that connects the JR Chūō Line, JR Chūō-Sōbu Line and Tokyo Metro Tōzai Line. There are indications of a commercial district in the area around the time of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, though 1958 appears to be the first mention of a full-fledged shopping arcade. Renovation coinciding with the 1966 opening of Nakano Broadway, a commercial and residential tower at the north end, added a marble street in the arcade. It wasn’t until a 1975 renovation that it formally took on its nickname Sun Mall. Installation of the current glass ceiling, which allows for ample amounts of daylighting, as well as the sun motif shop signs, came in 1998.
It’s just after 9:00 at Nakano Station, the tail end of the morning commute.
Interesting murals on the north side of the rail viaduct
This covered walk between the station and shōtengai seems to be a very recent addition, as it’s not in Street View images from just a few years ago.
My eyes were immediately drawn up to the ceiling. There was intermittent cloud cover, and whenever the blue sky shone through it would create a neat contrast between the frosted blue-green glass and bright orange frame.
With the morning sun, the arcade has a bright, warm, cheery feeling.
For anyone coming in by train and bound for offices directly north of Nakano Station, the arcade is the most direct walking route through the neighborhood. Plenty of suit wearing, briefcase toting folks stop by vendors for a morning hit of carbs or caffeine.
No matter where you are in Tokyo, you can count on local pharmacy chain Matsumoto Kiyoshi for a colorful street facing display.
With the exception of a few shops that court a loyal morning crowd, most ramen shops use this time to prep for the day’s lunch and dinner.
The yellow sign reminds cyclists to dismount inside the arcade.
Nakano Sun Mall is nice enough, but what really makes it great are the little pods you find down each side street. Some are named shōtengai, while others like this are just single lanes that happen to have shops.
Seems to have been a line to wait for event tickets
There is a mix of chains, such as the pharmacies and this fast food restaurant Lotteria—
—but there are also many independent shops and cafes, especially at the corners and down the side streets. Here’s the first hand-drawn chalkboard of this walk around Tokyo.
Sanbangai (三番街), a named open air shōtengai. The triangular, stained glass lamp shades are very unique. This lane has mostly restaurants and bars.
On the way to school
Here is the Gobangai Shōtengai (五番街商店街), not much more than an alley, though plenty of great space for bicycle parking.
Finally at the north end, we reach the front entrance to Nakano Broadway. We’ll take a quick look inside momentarily, but first, a detour.
In addition to the small arcades that directly intersect Nakano Sun Mall, there is an entire cluster of little neighborhood streets and alleys, commercial and residential mixed, located adjacent to the east and north. As I mentioned in the introduction to this second volume of the series, I’m visiting many places (like Nakano) for the first time, so finding unexpected additions to the itinerary started happening from the very start.
Some are just little spurs, no more than 20 meters or so.
This area is a secluded pod set back in the middle of a large, dense block and goes by the name Nakano Shin Nakamise Shōtengai (中野新仲見世商店街).
Cats in the neighborhood are common enough.
Multiple cats of the same color all loitering around together is a little unusual.
This one is inspecting the tactical urbanism of these planters set outside the little building in the middle of the pod.
A bit of sunlight descends around the surrounding buildings and through the tree cover, giving the pod the feeling of a clearing in a forest.
And it just keeps going! Most of the businesses are not yet open, but this looks like it’s a great place to come after work.
Fureai Road (ふれあいロード)
Shōwa Shindō Shōtengai (昭和新道商店街)
Yakushi Ai Road Shōtengai (薬師あいロード商店街)
At this point I was running way over my budgeted time, and it was clear that this entire area deserved a separate, detailed exploration. I’ll have to add this to the queue for a subsequent visit, but in the meantime here is a fellow urban explorer that’s already done comprehensive coverage of the area and provides detailed photo captions.
Back we go.
Black cats. More black cats!
I see now. Maybe they are just animate advertising for this maid cafe.
The cave-like ground floor entryway to Nakano Broadway (中野ブロードウェイ商店街) looks down through Nakano Sun Mall.
A friend tells me this entire 10 story building was trumped up as the ultimate luxury condominium complex when it was opened in 1966, with the Nakano Sun Mall acting as its grand entry promenade connecting it to the rail station. Though floors five through ten are still residential and I hear cost buyers a dear amount, it seems like the original plan only included retail on the ground level. This is the reason for the unusually low ceiling height for retail floors two through four, which were probably intended to be apartments.
The ground floor is mostly clothing and general shopping.
Another Kuroneco maid cafe. No black cats wandering around in here, though.
Floors two and three are home to manga, anime and other pop culture media and paraphernalia. This agglomeration of vendors is second in amount only to Akihabara across the city, though some aficionados attest that the selection is of a choicer variety, especially those looking for limited run and second hand goods. I was here too early to catch the scene in action, hence the shutters.
Nakano Broadway is the original location of the venerable manga dealer Mandarake.
Underground is a modest grocery store and other sundries.
Emerging from the bunker, we find the mid-morning crowd has begun to pick up. Most shops have opened by 10:30am.
Shop staff aren’t afraid to step out into the street to help a customer with the merchandise on display. Without cars whizzing past, the shōtengai is a ripe environment for these kinds of interactions.
Nakano Sun Mall gets the balance right. Elegant and clean, but not pretentious. The shops in this business collective sell practical, reasonably priced fare befitting the mixed residential and commercial neighborhood around it. The extension of the larger commercial district into the surrounding area was unanticipated, and gives me a great reason to make a return visit. A great way to start the morning and this installment of the project.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 2. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.