This post wasn’t supposed to be a post. I had taken photowalks of the Musashikoyama Palm Shōtengai (武蔵小山商店街パルム) in 2012 (Palm Shotengai in Musashikoyama) and 2013 (Musashikoyama Palm Shotengai, Session 2). In 2014 August, on one of the last days in Tokyo of our first trip to Japan as a family of three, I brought everyone here just to show them the place I considered one of the best examples of walkable urbanism I’ve come across in my wanderings. At Palm, we would be able to saunter, shop and eat our way from one end to the other of the 800 meter arcade, the longest covered shopping street in the city. I had my camera just because I thought it would be a fun place to take more candid photos. Before I realized it, I had filled up half a memory card with shots of the bustling Saturday afternoon crowd. Though I was already very familiar with the space, having the two of them with me pulled my attention to new features that I had ignored in my previous visits, or old ones that I was now seeing through others’ eyes.
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In post-production, I can also do a few things now that I couldn’t do for those earlier visits. I can read enough Japanese to tell you that the shōtengai considers the 1947 establishment of the Musashikoyama Shōtengai Kyōdō Kumiai (武蔵小山商店街協同組合) as the beginning of the contemporary business association, which changed name to the current Musashikoyama Shōtengai Shinkō Kumiai (武蔵小山商店街振興組合) in 1963, in accordance with new regulatory requirements for shōtengai promulgated in 1962. However, earlier commercial activity and an organized business association, the Musashikoyama Shōgyō Kumiai (武蔵小山商業組合), were already established here in 1937. The association was dissolved in 1943, and the physical premises completed destroyed during Tokyo air raids in 1945. The shinkō kumiai built the first 470 meter section of the modern arcade in 1956, with additions completed in 1960 (87 meters), 1963 (65 meters) and 1981 (125 meters).
I think my lighting and color corrections have also become more mature over time. Shōtengai pose both technical and creative challenges for most cameras. Dynamic range is almost always much wider than what the sensor can capture, and you have a messy mix of natural and multiple artificial light sources. I’ve learned to stay away from the global contrast slider. I push shadows up to bring out details rather than crushing them to black. I pull down highlights when a large area is too hot, but I’ve learned to embrace the fact that lightbulbs and some backlit signs are going to blow out, and have stopped trying to work around or correct them. I add local contrast to get more definition and the punch that I want. If a point light source with a strong color cast is putting attention on the wrong part of the photo, I soften it with individual color channels, rather than shifting everything with white balance. Though ugly green color casts from florescent lighting can be fixed with the green-magenta shift, you can overdo it when you’re an overzealous newbie who just discovered the tint slider.
Not pictured here, though there are photos in the previous posts, our first food stop is the stand up yakitori between Musashikoyama Station and the main entrance of the arcade. Appetites whetted, we do a shio ramen late lunch at a shop near the entrance. Nothing to rave about, but something that looks more or less like chicken noodle soup is useful when you have a picky eater.
Previous visits to Palm have been on an overcast late morning and an evening around sunset, both in the fall, so this sunny afternoon is the brightest natural lighting I’ve seen in the arcade.
Even the normally obscene florescent floodlights in pharmacies are no match for the summer sun.
We have found a new friend, and she likes Shaun the Sheep too!
In the midst of almost chaos, a quiet moment for two
It does not take long to get the hang of this shopping business.
This trip is the origin point of my daughter’s obsession with Gashapon machines.
We find a few handy nylon bags, which we still use for grocery shopping as of the time of writing.
With a crowd like this, Palm is already rather festival-like, but the lanterns hung in the arches and on support beams are in preparation for the Koyama Ryōja-sai (小山両社祭), a local matsuri held every September in which a raucous procession and mikoshi pass through the arcade.
Some stores I’m only noticing for the first time.
Others, I’m glad to see haven’t changed a bit.
Bright colors and noise. There must be good things in here.
A negotiation is in progress. My wife had bought a charm necklace for herself, but allowed our daughter to “test” it as we walked. After a time, the three year old very calmly explaines that since the necklace is very pretty on her and she is quite fond of it, that my wife should give it to her instead.
This is hilarious, apparently. We have no idea the extent to which this inclination will evolve by the time she is five.
Ice cream moment
Hanging out with MetLife Snoopy
We make a dinner stop at the Jonathan’s in the arcade. Famiresu are Japan’s gift to travelers with small, picky eaters.
We’ve already had dessert at the restaurant, but we pickup some mini cream puffs for the road. The three year old finds it empowering to interact with vendors directly.
At the time of our visit, we lived in Beijing, where we would never let go of her hand for fear of aggressive vehicles traveling through pedestrian zones and pedestrians who don’t attempt to avoid collisions with others. (Shanghai isn’t much better.) In a shōtengai, we can let our guard down a bit.
Are you coming? We have more shopping to do.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project, Volume 3. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.