Fushimi Ōtesuji Shōtengai (伏見大手筋商店街) is a 400 meter covered pedestrian shopping street that begins at Fushimi-Momoyama Station on the Keihan Main Line and runs west along Ōtesuji-dōri in Fushimi Ward, Kyoto. The promotion association that currently manages the arcade formally organized in 1966, but the history of the shopping street reaches much farther back, deep into Kyoto history. Fushimi once existed as an independent town, and has long been regarded as a center for sake production, owing to the clarity and softness of its natural spring water. One of the area’s major focal points is Fushimi Castle, originally completed in 1594 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The large road connecting to the Ōtemon (gate) became the primary route in and out of the castle, eventually becoming known as Ōtesuji, from which the shōtengai takes its name.
The roots of the modern arcade appear to have developed in earnest just after the turn of the 20th century, a common vintage for many of Japan’s shōtengai. The modern brewing industry established a base in Fushimi around 1904. The Keihan train station opened in 1910, first called Fushimi Station, then changed to Fushimi-Momoyama Station in 1915. Around 1918, general industrial development in the area had significantly increased activity on the street, which was by then referred to as Ōtesuji Shōtengai. In 1923, coinciding with formal creation of a ‘prosperity association’ (繁栄会), the shopping street debuted what would become its signature but short-lived lighting fixtures designed to resemble lily-of-the-valley, which were scrapped for iron during World War II. Approximately 10 years later, efforts to revive the street lighting replaced the original iron hardware with wooden pillars and angled braces as stems. A series of meetings and developments over the second half of 1966 and first half of 1967 secured approval for the permanent pedestrianization of a portion of Ōtesuji-dōri, funding for the construction of the arcade, establishment of the shōtengai promotion association, and appointments and elections of its first officers. The first version of the arcade, which featured a motorized retractable roof, was completed in 1971. The 1997 renovation, which is the structure that stands today, features a solar panel array as part of the roof. According to Wikipedia, this was the first solar power installation on a shōtengai in Japan, and the power is used to supply lighting in the arcade.
Arriving by train, the first thing I notice is that Ōtesuji is the very definition of transit-oriented development. The entrance abuts the edge of Fushimi-Momoyama Station and I can see into the arcade from the southbound platform.
A grade level railroad crossing (踏切 fumikiri) allows entry at the east end of the arcade.
A sunny and warm Sunday afternoon in October has brought even the youngest strollers out for a walk.
Walking east up the slope from the station would take you to Fushimi Castle.
Momoyamagoryō-mae Station on the Kintetsu Kyoto Line is a short walk up from the Keihan station. There is a high density of shops and businesses around the intersection between the two stations.
Sub express and local trains stop at Fushimi-Momoyama, so anything faster will pass through. The weekend spacing of trains is light enough that the fumikiri downtime isn’t disruptive to pedestrian access, but weekdays may be different.
The roof panels give a strong blue-green tint to the light in the arcade, though your eyes quickly adjust for the color cast.
There are several banks in Fushimi Ōtesuji. Although banks are useful to residents and a reassuring source of steady income for landlords, they can be a drag on the character of a public space if they occupy too much storefront area. Even during open hours, they almost always feature a solid front facade for security purposes, breaking up the casual feel of smaller, open storefronts. But Ōtesuji has found a teriffic workaround solution, allowing produce vendors to setup temporary stands in front. Though this is a weekend and the banks are closed, Google Street View images show the vendors are there even during operating hours.
From what I’ve read, nighttime is often busiest at Ōtesuji, but even weekend early afternoons appear to be quite lively.
The underground passageway from the station has one exit directly into the arcade.
There is a significant bicycle presence in the arcade, but thankfully accompanied by a strong norm for dismounting and pushing to the parking areas, not riding through.
Produce stand in front of a commercial building. It’s not captured in this image, but this building is one of a few in the shōtengai that are offset a few meters from the arcade roof and do not have an extension to preserve the integrity of the canopy. Compare this with the Nishino Building (ground floor Mister Donut) in the next image, which has translucent panels to stop rain from falling between the arcade and the building.
The themed pachinko machines are perhaps just coincidental, but singer Kōda Kumiko is actually from Fushimi Ward.
Overall, Ōtesuji feels clean, modern and sleek, but relaxed and unpretentious.
However, every so often there are shopfronts that haven’t seen much updating from a previous generation or two. It’s a great mix of new and old.
Good smells from from a taiyaki stand give a hint of festival feel in the air.
Here is a trend I notice often. Full service grocers, once seen as competitors, now setup modestly sized stores in shōtengai. This one has a large, two row display that chews on the street, softening the continuity break caused by the offset glass doors.
For tea sellers in shōtengai, having a hōjicha roaster is almost a no-brainer. Making product on-site is a great visual of the craft, and the aroma from the chimney is mostly captured and confined to the space in the arcade. Nothing else smells like toasted tea leaves, so the presence of the shop is unlikely to go unnoticed by passersby.
This shop has not only hōjicha, but a matcha grinder as well, with its own pungent and alluring smell as some of the fine powder escapes the machine. This batch is being ground with leaves from nearby Uji, know as the center of high-grade matcha production in Japan.
Chain kissaten. There appears to be a good mix in the arcade. There are quite a few chain retailers and services, but not so many that they consume the character of the space. The overall feel of Ōtesuji is carried by independent businesses and local chainlets.
As a sake craft center, there are many vendors all over the Fushimi area, some right in the arcade.
Rice and root vegetables in front of a closed Mizuho Bank
Chain candy shop
Temporary flower seller in front of closed Bank of Kyoto
Bicycle dismounting instructions are posted at all of the entry points from intersecting streets.
Tweaking the display
Getting this flower to sit just right. A tremendous amount of care and attention goes into the face each shop puts forward into the arcade.
Each end of the arcade has a real-time readout of power generated by the solar array on the roof.
The Fushimi Ōtesuji Shōtengai gets everything right, offering a package of accessibility, utility and atmosphere, and no fuss. I’ll look forward to coming again for a night visit, when I have the chance.
Official website: http://otesuji.jp/