Jūjō Ginza Shōtengai (十条銀座商店街) is a serpentine, covered shopping street that begins at Jūjō Station and runs north, parallel to the JR Saikyō Line in Kita Ward. The main arcade is approximately 380 meters, but connected side streets, both covered and open air, create a large, branching tree of walkable space that is home to roughly 200 individual shops. Unlike many shōtengai in the deep north and northeast parts of Tokyo, this one appears to have found a compelling formula for continued health. Jūjō Ginza is populated almost entirely by independent merchants, there are proportionally very few chain stores. Shops appear to be doing brisk business, and there are few vacant storefronts. Costs for goods are on the low side, but quality is not. Shōtengai denizens span a wide range of ages, and on this and a subsequent visit (will be covered in a separate post), it has been buzzing with activity. Friends in Tokyo confirm, as of the time of writing, that it continues to be a vibrant center of gravity for this very local part of the city, an authentic and quite genki urban commons.
Commercial activity in this space can be traced back to 1897, when merchants first congregated here to take advantage of demand from a nearby military facility. The contemporary business association, the Jūjō Ginza Shōtengai Shinkō Kumiai (十条銀座商店街振興組合), traces its lineage back through several formal organized bodies, beginning with the Tokyo Jūjō Ginza Shōtengai Shōgyō Kumiai (東京十条銀座商店街商業組合) in 1938. I was able to dig up a detailed business history of the shōtengai, of which the most curious finding was that it was required several times to either dissolve and later create a new entity, or reorganize without gap into a new entity, always by dictate of new laws that regulated the activities of business collectives, one of them even promulgated during wartime. I imagine other long-lived shōtengai have gone through several rounds of similar metamorphosis to remain compliant with changing regulatory regimes, this is just the first time I’ve found the process documented explicitly. The main street first became a covered arcade in 1977, which later underwent substantial renovation completed in 1998.
Though this article is primarily a digest of my observational photowalk, taken in 2014 August (!), I also want to give special mention to the shōtengai website. For context, many shōtengai don’t even have a website, and of those that do, most have limited information and are generally not updated frequently. The Jūjō Ginza Shōtengai website looks like it was designed in 1998, text heavy, with tables and colors all over the place. But sometimes appearances are deceiving. In this case, digging into the menu unearthed a more comprehensive account of the complete life and current status of the shopping district than I’ve come across in almost four years of studying shōtengai. Combing through a page at a time one can find:
- A hand-drawn map with photos and links to sub-maps detailing every corner of the shopping district
- Complete shop list, with phone numbers and links to profile pages with photos
- Shōtengai charter (This is amazing. I’ve never seen one before.)
- List of dates for all of the annual special events
- Promotional material for upcoming special events
- Information about J-Stamp, the frequent shopper rewards program
- Photo archive of special events going back to 2000
- Complete and detailed shōtengai history with dates
- Detailed reviews of individual restaurants
- Information about shōtengai membership obligations and requirements for prospective merchants (Most shōtengai have these, but this is the first time I’ve seen them openly published.)
- Community bulletin board
- Archive of periodic email newsletters going back to 2000
- Local area tourism information
- A virtual shōtengai museum, a set of 15 detailed articles including annotated photos, that explain specific notable events in the business district’s history
The breadth and quality of information on the website completely floored me, particularly the virtual museum, which I had to set aside for later reading, otherwise this article was never going to get written.
Exiting the north ticket gate, which is on the west side of Jūjō Station, you’re in the shopping district already. Shops in the ekimae area are part of the shōtengai, though not inside the arcade.
This was an off day in the middle of my spouse’s business trip. We and our then three year old daughter were making rounds of Kita Ward shopping arcades. Though part of this was my selfish choice to do some location scouting, having shade over our heads for most of the day was a big help in Tokyo’s notorious summer heat.
Other than noting the location and a skimming few photos, I hadn’t done any research prior to our visit. After our afternoon at the polished but quiet La La Garden in Akabane, I wasn’t expecting too much. But the moment I have a sight-line into the arcade itself, I can see that Jūjō Ginza is humming with activity, already in full swing in the early evening, as the first commuters arrive home from work.
There are interesting, but not over-the-top decorative design features suspended from or built into the arcade canopy.
Pedestrian-only hours are posted at the entrances. Though, I find it hard to imagine that any vehicles other than those with business in the arcade or making deliveries would attempt to pass through even when allowed.
Loudspeaker advertising is not permitted by shōtengai management. Not only is this a relief to shoppers, but well-lit and attractively displayed products make much more enticing statements. They also turn into great photos.
Jūjō Ginza is noted for its large number of low cost and second hand clothing sellers. Budget conscious style mavens from all over Tokyo come here to put together their looks.
The lighting on the pachinko parlors is a bit obnoxious, if not surprising.
Two friends scouting dinner options
The little adventurer loved the fact that we let her roam without holding hands. Even as a now five year old, there are very few places in Chinese cities where we feel comfortable doing the same.
Tea paraphernalia and other porcelain
The chain pharmacy Matsumoto Kiyoshi really sticks out among the otherwise warmer and softer ambient colors inside the arcade.
Aisaika (あい菜家) on Nishi-dōri (西通り), one of the shorter arcade side extensions, sells grilled and deep fried skewers, and is particularly sought out for its 30 yen a piece croquettes.
Chain candy shop Okashi no Machioka
Chain shops are certainly here, and perhaps easier to point out with their recognizable branding, but a wide field of view is still dominated by less flashy, independent vendors.
Takeaway prepared foods
Though they are also chains, the price point and no frills household goods selection at 100 yen shops are more or less in line with the environment here.
Bargain kimono and qipao
We were the only foreigners in the arcade that night. While we got a few stares, for the most part people were just curious how we had ended up there.
Jūjō Ginza welcomes two and four legged shoppers.
As a photographer, I’ve become more sensitive to the deliberate lighting choices made for storefront displays. In a world still dominated by cool, green-spiked fluorescent lighting, a slightly magenta and warm white light makes even a stack of boxes pop.
Past the fish seller, on this corner we have a fresh produce market.
On the opposite corner, more fresh produce, but also meats, fish and dry foodstuffs. This is a true locals’ shōtengai.
Porcelain bowls, tea sets and chopsticks
The manager at produce stand Marusou deftly handles the flow of the scene. In one moment he’s checking and neatening the display.
He loads bags when a customer is ready to purchase.
He cranks up a smile and turns on the charm as a group of older women stop to look, which leads to more people coming over to see what’s going on. This is a professional, and he is a big part of why the arcade feels as welcoming as it does. I watch this pattern repeat many times up and down the street.
This is Fuji-san Road (フジサンロード), also part of the shōtengai. The chime from the fumikiri (grade level railroad crossing) and click clack of the Saikyō Line mix into the collective din of the shopping district. It gives the whole scene an active, bustling ambiance.
Aisaika is so popular they have not one, but two shops in the arcade.
Grilled or fried foods on sticks seems to be a signature item of Jūjō Ginza.
Daiso 100 yen shop
Love those lights.
More produce and foodstuffs
The north end of the arcade exits into Fujimi Ginza Shōtengai, which I’ll cover in a subsequent article.
I’ll add more detail to the story of Jūjō Ginza when I return to it with a friend later in this volume of The Tokyo Project. All three of us that went on this initial visit agree it was an unexpected and impressive experience. This is the kind of neighborhood we would return to just to grab a snack, enjoy another stroll and soak up the abundance of good cheer. Good urban design should make people happy.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 3. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.