When I made my first visit to Joyful Minowa (ジョイフル三の輪) in 2012 October, I had the benefit of a guided tour from an expert in urban design globally and of Tokyo neighborhoods specifically. While it’s difficult to top that, in this second visit from 2013 October I’ve changed up a few things. I went earlier in the afternoon in hopes of catching more action. My camera gear hasn’t changed, but my post processing has become a little more sophisticated, particularly with regard to pulling detail out of the shadows. I’m also able to do more Japanese language research, so was able to learn a little more about the history of the arcade.
A business association for the shopping street was established in 1924, and for quite a while it was known as the Minowa Ginza Shōtengai (三の輪銀座商店街). It wasn’t until 1978 that both the covered arcade was built and nickname Joyful Minowa adopted. The full name of the business association retains the old name (三の輪銀座商店街振興組合). In 2012, the lighting in the arcade was upgraded to an LED system.
Getting to the arcade this time included a walk from Minami-Senju, so I was able to see some neat old neighborhoods nestled into the curve of the Joban Line viaduct.
This is actually a building with a portal built through the middle that allows passage from the main street to the Minowabashi terminus of the Toden Arakawa Line.
In the opening, a much smaller shōtengai consists of just a handful of shops. No space is wasted and the walk is all the more interesting for it.
Minowabashi tram stop
When I first entered the short jog at the east end of the arcade, I didn’t sense that things were any more lively than during the previous visit. Quite a few shops were already shuttered at 3:30pm. My hunch is that the storefronts with large groups of bicycles parked in front have not had tenants for some time.
So it was cause for a sigh of relief when I rounded the corner into the main segment of the arcade, where grocery shopping and other errands were the order of business. From what I’ve read of others’ accounts, Joyful Minowa seems to hit its peak around lunchtime. Coming either too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon will find many of the businesses closed and shoppers thin.
Nothing fancy for sale here. You’ll only find the most practical goods and foodstuffs in Joyful Minowa.
Sellers at a farming collective from Chiba talk with customers, as an opening in the side offers a view down one of the alleys that connects the arcade with the neighborhood around it.
The center of gravity seems to be about here, where a butcher with a large and fragrant display of fried minced meat croquettes faces a greengrocer across the lane.
I hadn’t noticed it until I came across the observation in a blogger’s post, but there are almost no chain stores in Joyful Minowa. Even on the outskirts of Tokyo, very few shōtengai can escape having at least a Family Mart or a handful of fast food chains. Other than a 100 yen store and dry cleaners, most everything here appears independently run, and often from a different time. Ignore the clothing styles and you’re back in the Shōwa era.
Regular shoppers can get deals by filling up their point card.
As in many shōtengai, storefront displays make use of the lane to attract browsers. Some are gritty and functional.
Some are slick and polished.
Some just make your mouth water.
While some are just kind of a mess, though they get the job done.
One thing that did remain consistent with my previous visit was that the activity level drops as one moves toward the west end of the arcade.
The Koichi Sakao art installation is now a candy store.
This produce stand was already closed when I last visited. When open, the bright green awning and warm light over the displays make a strong anchor for this end of the arcade.
Just outside the arcade, the famous roses along the Toden Arakawa Line were trying their best to hold off the autumn chill. That’s another story for another time, and I really ought to take photos of them in spring or summer when they are in full force.
Pedestrians wait at the grade level crossing as the tram cars pass.
It was encouraging to see more activity in the arcade on this visit. However, as before, one gets the feeling that the days of its greatest vitality are long in the past. Visitor accounts frequently mention individual shops and sellers with which they’ve had memorable interactions, and that’s great, but the success of shōtengai depends on having a complete ecosystem of healthy businesses that support and compliment each other. Shōtengai will never be able to compete with Aeon and other big box sellers on price. Convenience and creating a valuable sense of place at the heart of a neighborhood are their selling points. You can’t do that without getting shutters open and tenants back in vacant spaces.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 2. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.