Somewhere in Japan

Dispatch № 71: Troublesome Gaps

The word shotengai1 refers to a traditional shopping street or district, commonly with a roof covering the primary thoroughfare. Written 商店街2, the three characters translated literally mean merchant shopping street. They are typically lined with a variety of shops and stalls, from clothing stores and houseware shops to greengrocers, izakayas3, and stationery shops.

They are still a common feature of many towns and neighborhoods in Japan. Our weekend outings often specifically include visiting such places, sometimes with the intent to shop, but always with the intent to explore. Some of them are still very busy and important local centers of activity, while many others are clearly on the decline, with many shuttered storefronts and any future economic revival unlikely.

Last weekend we visited Jujo4, an area in northern Tokyo near to the border with Saitama. Our official mission for the day was to buy miso paste, which we try to purchase exclusively from a wonderful miso shop5 there. It sits at the end of Jujo Ginza, the local shotengai, where we always spend a while wandering around, seeing what we can see and seeking out what has changed since we were last there.

Our last visit was about three months before, and as always, there were a number of visible changes. There is always at least a shop or two that disappears, with new tenants taking their place, and this visit yielded no exception.

Somewhat troubling, however, was the number of buildings that had gone missing over the last few months. In at least four places, large, airy gaps now exist where storefronts previously stood. One showed signs of new construction, but the others simply sat vacant, the ground covered with great swaths of black fabric.

One wonders how long they will remain like that. While it is entirely possible that, by the time we visit again, new buildings and businesses will occupy those spaces, it is also possible that they will remain empty for a long while. This often happens in Tokyo I sincerely hope that those gaps are soon filled, however, and that Jujo Ginza retains the vitality that so many other shotengai have lost.

  1. Shotengai on Wikipedia: ↩︎

  2. View entry on for 商店街 at ↩︎

  3. The usual Japanese casual eating/drinking establishments ↩︎

  4. An area I like in Tokyo: on Wikipedia, on Google Maps ↩︎

  5. View the miso shop on Google Maps at ↩︎

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Picture of David R Munson

David R Munson

Photographer, essayist, wanderer, weirdo. Everything is interesting if you give it an honest chance to be.

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