Akabane Suzuran-dōri Shōtengai (赤羽スズラン通り商店街), which also goes by the nickname La La Garden (ラ・ラ・ガーデン), is a 330 meter covered shopping street in Akabane, Kita Ward. The west entrance to the arcade is about 200 meters to the east of Akabane Station, a very active hub served by the Tōhoku Main Line, Takasaki Line, Keihin-Tōhoku Line, Shōnan-Shinjuku Line and Saikyō Line. We aren’t far from the Arakawa River, with Saitama Prefecture and Adachi Ward neighboring to the north and east, respectively. However, the frequent train services allow quick transit to and from major commercial nodes back in the central wards.
Though I wasn’t able to trace the origin of commercial activity in the space or the incorporation date of the shōtengai promotion association (赤羽スズラン通り商店街振興組合), I did find that the current appearance of the arcade, including the canopy, LED lighting, pavement, tree planters and stone sculptures, are all part of an extensive renovation and business activation strategy that began in 2011 and will continue until 2016. For its efforts, the shōtengai was awarded second place in the 2013 Tokyo Shōtengai Grand Prix, held by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Industrial and Labor Affairs.
The dominant color at La La is a lush green, from the awnings to the trees and the tint of the translucent polycarbonate canopy panels. You notice the strong color cast from the latter when you first enter, but your eyes adjust for white balance after a minute or two inside.
This visit was originally intended to be a scouting run. My wife and I decided to take advantage of her business trip to travel as a family, for our then three year old daughter’s first trip to Japan. I brought my camera to take candids, but we had such a nice week and I got so many interesting photos from several locations, including this one, that I decided to use the shots I had instead of returning during subsequent field study.
We arrive in the early afternoon and are a bit hungry. Before shōtengai walking, our first order of business is a quick and filling late lunch. TETSU to the rescue, unexpectedly. These days, you can get good tonkotsu-gyokai (mixed heavy pork and fish broth) tsukemen just about anywhere in the city. When it first gained popular attention about ten years ago, TETSU was its face, with hour long waits outside the original Sendagi shop being part of the experience. TETSU parlayed its notariety into a fairly large chainlet fanning out across the Kantō region. I didn’t know there was a branch here, and was planning to pay homage first at Sendagi, but fate seemed to indicate that the Akabane shop was as good as any to start. And hey, no line.
Large, fixed bicycle parking zones are setup to encourage more patrons to cycle to the arcade, then dismount and walk once here. They also would make for a neat rack focus shot if I were shooting video.
From 12:00 to 8:00 pm, the center lane of the arcade is closed to motorized vehicles, allowing the entire space to fill with pedestrians and cyclists. Outside of those hours, the wide, slightly elevated sidewalks are separated from the center lane by the bicycle parking areas and bollards. Even on a weekday afternoon, La La Garden attracts an active crowd.
The tenant mix looks about split in half between chain and independent businesses.
Engaged shop staff and open store fronts contribute much to the atmosphere. The arcade feels like both a marketplace and a community.
Mamachari both with and without a child seat installed are a common sight.
Periodic openings in the the arcade give clear views down intersecting streets into the surrounding residential neighborhood. Wait, didn’t we just see a Matsumoto Kiyoshi inside the arcade?
Yes, we did. You cannot escape the pharmacy chain’s near blinding shop front displays.
We aren’t the only ones taking small children to accompany errands.
Goods merchants here target buyers looking for high-quality, but practical items. Which is perfect when you are trying to find new socks.
As with goods, the dining options are attractive but uncomplicated and casual. Nothing here will empty your wallet.
It’s not clear if the sock mission was successful, but we did find a really cool hat.
We have found the candy. It was only a matter of time.
Fun design touches are everywhere inside the arcade. The clock brace echoes the arch of the canopy, but also blends with the leafy green trees.
The three year old is drinking a tube of sugar water. This will end well.
I continue to observe this trend where supermarkets, once seen as at odds with shōtengai, are now locating within them, with relatively good mutual outcomes. Shōtengai can bolster their positioning as one-stop shopping districts by working with supermarkets, rather than fighting with them for business. Still, it would have been nice if the architect could have found a way to preserve continuity with the shōtengai canopy and push the windows closer to the center lane.
Closing business sale at a shoe store
More sugar. Awesome.
A corner location enables a large wrap around fruit and vegetable display to chew on the edges of the streets.
The facade of the Akabane Iwabuchi Junior High School was renovated to better connect with the arcade as part of the shōtengai improvement strategy.
Another shōtengai continues the line from the arcade on the opposite side of the east entrance.
I wasn’t looking for it at the time, thus unfortunately did not take a photo, but one of the most surprising amenities at La La is near its east entrance, just past the red awning on the right side. Lala-chan no Ouichi (ララちゃんのおうち) is a combination of short-term child care facility and community center. Parents can leave children here with certified staff while they shop or receive services in the shōtengai. Parents can also visit just to rest, feed or change an infant, and attend organized parenting classes. In the evening, the space also hosts all members of the community for dinners and other social events. Lala-chan is operated by a nonprofit organization. Installing the facility in what was a vacant business space was part of the shōtengai activation strategy.
Oranges on special promotion come with free gossip.
I hope to raise a child that is curious about the world and enjoys participating in the community around her. Having a safe space to let her walk freely without holding an adult’s hand is an almost impossible to find luxury in China. La La Garden was a great way to start our week together in Tokyo, and the first of several opportunities I had to understand what these urban commons look like when you’re less than 100cm tall.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 3. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.