While new shopping multiplexes and malls continue to grow in Japan, the classic way to get your shopping done is at a shotengai, shopping streets that concentrate just about everything you could possibly need for daily life into one strip. This is where truly local, daily shopping life occurs, from vegetable shops to barbershops, and everything in-between.
Throughout the cities just about every train station has a shotengai of some shape or size, but some are truly unique and worth mentioning due to their size, number of visitors, or interesting atmosphere. While most of the smaller shopping streets are out in the open, many of the longest are sheltered with a rooftop that lets in natural light during the day, are lit in the evening, and protect shoppers from the elements year-round. While you probably don’t want to spend an entire day at a shotengai, it makes for an interesting rainy afternoon.
Japan’s longest shopping street is Tenjinbashi-suji in Osaka, boasting a single stretch of 2.3km with 600 shops inside. Tokyo’s longest uncovered shopping street is Togoshi Ginza, which starts around Togoshi station and then goes over 1km before it slowly fades out, and includes over 400 shops. You can pretty much get anything you need in one of these places, but especially more local products, often from shops owned by several generations of the same family.
While visitors to Tokyo often end up in the main shopping areas of Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza, these aren’t where regular people spend most of their time. If you live near a train station in a residential area odds are that a lot of your economic life happens on a shopping street, from banking to supermarket shopping, and a pint or two after work on your way home. While not on the normal tourist route, you’ll get a much better sense of everyday life on the shotengai.
They’re varied. A lot.
Like any shopping area, the shotengai defines the area it’s situated in, so you’ll find clean and nice at Sunroad in Kichijoji, a suburban 80’s vibe at Palm in Musashikoyama, and downright old-style at Tateishi in East Tokyo. Make your way to Ameyoko in Ueno/Okachimachi and you’ll find a classic bazaar worthy of any mainland Asian city along with a neverending selection of small eateries, including fresh sushi for decent prices.
There’s always a line for something
There’s always some kind of new and trendy food concept that has younger people lining up in the city, but any respectable shotengai has a classic that has been there for years and the locals swear by. Generally the easiest way to find that shop is that it’s where all of the people are lining up, and they do line up sometimes even for over an hour. While you may balk at the wait, standing in line is an essential part of Japanese culture so don’t feel too silly and enjoy your meal.
The best way to enjoy a shopping street probably isn’t to plan your day around it, but keep some time to visit when you’re in the area doing something else. A trip to Ueno park isn’t complete without a final stroll down Ameyoko’s bustling street, right beneath the JR train lines.
Tokyo’s Top Shotengai:
・Musashikoyama Palm and Togoshi Ginza
- Shitamachi Ninjo Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street
- Tokyo Sumida-ku Kyojima 3-49-1
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