The magic of the Shotengai
A shotengai ‘shopping street’ is a Japanese shopping street that has a roof. They are usually packed with small mom-and-pop type shops (family ran retail establishments). These shops may be supermarkets, cheap eateries, cafés, dry cleaners, Clothing shops, snack bars, pachinko parlors, massage parlors, barber shops, game centers, post offices, bookshops, vegetable stands, convenience stores, and even neighborhood police substations.
They usually don’t have bars or other nightlife and the shops normally close before 11 or 12 pm. They are found in every large Japanese city. More well-known examples of these shopping streets include Musashi-koyama shotengai in Tokyo and Sanjo-kai shotengai in Kyoto. Shopping streets are sometimes considered private property, run by shop owner associations.
Some of these shopping streets can be centuries old, even dating back to the Edo-era. Many of these shops have been handed down from one generation to the next. In more modern shotengai you can find fast food chains and other types of chain shops. They promote themselves with decorations (some very eccentric), events and contests. It is a great place to catch a slice of Japan life. They can be found usually, around train stations near residential areas, giving you a more residential feel than the usual rush of office men and women grabbing lunch or dinner. The term shotengai is also sometimes used to describe shopping streets that don’t have a roof but have an entrance gate calling themselves shotengai, but mostly it is the roofed shopping street.
Did you know there was an anime about a shopping center? It is called Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (Abenobashi Mahō Shōtengai in Japanese) It was a thirteen-episode supernatural comedy drama which aired in 2002. In the anime Arumi and Sasshi found themselves teleported to a sword and sorcery world after an accident after they try to return to their world they instead find themselves going to several alternative versions of their world which include a science fiction, war, dating sim and ‘American movie’ world. A recurring element is that everything has to do with the magical shopping arcade Abenobashi.
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