The “shopping streets” or "Shotengai" scattered all over Japan are packed with many elements that represent their local areas. These streets are where you might form unexpected friendships with locals, get a taste of the region's produce, or take part in stamp-collecting for an exclusive prize. As you make your way around Japan, these shopping streets are a great way to truly connect with the places you go to!
This time we will introduce “Shitamachi Ninjo: Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street”, located in the Kameido area of Tokyo. As a community-based shopping street, it has supported the lives of local residents for many years. We explored the shopping street and the deep roots it has taken in its local town, and its 40 year-old morning market that takes place every month.
About Kirakira Tachibana Shotengai in Kyojima, Tokyo
The eastern region of Tokyo has many districts with popular tourism destinations. Towns such as Ryogoku, Asakusa and Yanesen are some examples of Tokyo's old-town sceneries, that this region has come to be known for by tourists. All of these towns draw tourists with their unique charms, but the Kyojima area that we visited for this article carries a special allure.
The Kyojima area is lined with old wooden housing.
Take one step off the beaten road in Kyojima, and you will be greeted by a scenery of old wooden housing and tiny stores that look straight out of Japan's mid-1900s. Here, time slows down and lets you truly connect with the warmth of the local community. Tourism has not seeped into this area of Tokyo just yet, making it a quiet destination regardless of the time of the day.
Shitamachi Ninjo: Tachibana Shopping Street
This shopping street in the Kyojima area, is the “Shitamachi Ninjo: Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street”.
This shopping street stands just a 10-minute walk from Keisei Hikifune Station, displaying its proud banner with an unforgettably charming mouthful of a name. Despite being only one station over from Oshiage Station, where the famous Tokyo SkyTree stands, Kyojima carries an unexpectedly quiet atmosphere.
Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street has developed over the years with strong ties to the local community. We visited the shopping street's administrative office to find out what has made the town special through its times.
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What is the Origin of the Name "Shitamachi Ninjo Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street"?
Shopping street office
The shopping street's administrative office is marked by a bright-red sign. The second floor is a meeting room, but the first floor is open to the public with some table seating. Any food you bought in the shopping street can be brought here and eaten, between 10:00am and 6:00pm. It is clearly a very open and accessible space, as even during our short visit, we bumped into other shopping street employees and event planners.
A casual place of communion in the shopping street
First, I asked Mr. Yamato, the secretary general, about the origin of shopping street's name. After all, it does give quite the impression.
“The official name of the shopping street is "Mukojima Tachibana Ginza Shopping Street. 'Shitamachi Ninjo Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street' is a kind of nickname. It was coined 30 years ago in 1989 when the entire shopping street was repainted and renovated" Mr. Yamato says.
The current name was chosen among 4,000 others by public vote. "Shitamachi Ninjo" roughly translates to "human warmth of local community", and "kirakira" is the Japanese idiophone for sparkling. The girl who wrote it was in her 3rd grade of elementary school at the time, and the name was put together by her wishes for the shopping street's even brighter future. Even the name shows the amount of love the shopping street receives from the local community.
The 3 Types of Shopping Streets in Japan
Mr. Yamato tells us that Japan's shopping streets can be divided into roughly three classifications. The first of the three is the "inbound type", and is a marketplace geared mainly towards tourists. The next is the "bustling type" which tend to be located in accessible places near train stations, and are constantly filled with people. The third type is the one that Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street fits into, and it is the "community-based type". They take root in specific locales, and are built to serve the community through and through.
The area around 1975
Japan still has an enormous number of famous shopping streets, but look beyond the surface, and you will see the 99% of them that have lost their energy over the years, and have no inbound tourism. Many community-based shopping streets around Japan have had to close their shutters with the passage of time, as people rapidly migrated to the metropolitan areas, and internet shopping took the place of brick-and-mortar stores.
The shopping street is about a 10-minute walk from the nearest Keisei Hikifune Station. This is quite far for an urban shopping street, and with no major tourism destinations on the way, it is difficult to find the street by accident. HOwever, Mr. Yamato tells us that this distance is what allows Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street to continue being community based.
"Because we're not near the train station, those people who cannot go to the supermarkets near the train station can come to the shopping street's 24-hour market instead. The shopping street is also a place with the constant eyes of adults, making it safe for the neighborhood's children and can give their parents a sense of safety. It's exactly because we're so far from the station, that we're able to contribute to our local community.
Becoming a Shopping Street that Balances Both New & Old
Although Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street has continued to contribute to its local community over the years, many stores have also had to close down due to their shopkeepers growing older. The peak-count of 135 stores in the shopping street has now decreased to 75. To continue the tradition of community contribution, the shopping street has taken a number of initiatives to maintain its energy. Recently, the shopping street has invited outside business to open up on the shopping street, collaborated with local students for regional promotion, and hosted events in the shopping street as well.
The meeting hall “Kirakira Kaikan” is also used as a venue for events
As part of this initiative, the Kirakira Tachibana shopping street is always holding some kind of event every month, to continuously contribute a place of connection and communion to the local community.
Perhaps, Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street will continue to develop into a new kind of community-based shopping street - one that continues to support the daily lives of local residents like in old times, while evolving beyond that into something entirely different.
A night market is held every September.
Visiting the 40-Year Morning Market of Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street
The sign of the monthly morning market
One of the events held by Shitamachi Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street, is the “Morning Market”, held on the 4th Sunday of each month (the 2nd Sunday on December). It is a traditional monthly event that has lasted for nearly 40 years since its start in 1980. It remains this way so it can contribute to the local community as a shopping street that is more community oriented. The operating time is from about 6am to 9am, but hours may vary depending on the store. It is a perfect event for those who want to take a leisurely sightseeing trip.
A Slow Stroll through the Morning Market
Keisei Electric Railway Oshiage Line Keisei Hikifune Station
A sunny morning. From Keisei Hikifune Station, walk towards the shopping street. As expected, it is just next to Oshiage Station, and you can see the big sky tree in the gaps between the buildings. There are many tourist attractions in Tokyo right before your eyes, but when you take a look at things that aren’t listed, you can see the contrast that good old wooden houses bring
Sky Tree peeks through the gap in the building
Asahi inserts and casts a gentle shadow
As you walk about 10 minutes from the station, you will see “Shitamachi Ninjo Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street”.
The popping pretty signs will catch your eyes. If you look at the store map, you can see that it is a fairly long shopping street. In fact, this glittering Tachibana shopping street has been recognized for its contribution to the local economy and regional revitalization and various initiatives. For one thing, it has the only track record chosen in Tokyo.
Downtown humanity glittering Tachibana shopping street map
If you look into the shopping street, you can see a store with a stand in front of the store and opening stores for the morning market. Apparently this is the style of the morning market. Some shops offer special menus only for the morning market, such as freshly fried satsuma, skewers and sushi. This sunrise store was about 20 stores. It may be correct to go hungry.
Discovering a cat relaxing
When I was leisurely strolling, I found a stylish cafe.
This “Sumame Café” is a cafe that was opened by attracting a shopping street. We usually provide coffee and bread purchased in Sumida Ward, but in the morning market, fresh vegetables from Tsukuba are lined up in stores. On this day, there were okra and empty core vegetables that could be eaten raw. I bought okra because of the words "Please eat raw!" It was so soft that it could be eaten raw, but it was crispy and crunchy, yet it was sweet, and it was an exquisite okra that I had never eaten before.
Freshly picked vegetables sold only in the morning market
The customers were just passing each other, but when walking, there were a lot of customers talking with the store owners, whether they were neighbors. When I talked to the owners who set up the morning market, I was surprised that everyone was kind and cheerful. It is a great attraction that you can walk around the shopping street at your own pace while enjoying conversation.
A shopping street that is also a place for local people to interact
By the way, there seems to be a guesthouse in the shopping street, so you probably stayed there, or a couple of foreigners take a leisurely stroll through the shopping street. I could see that tourists gathered little by little, without changing the way the shopping street is close to the area.
Lastly, visit "Tamaru Inari Shrine" in the corner of the shopping street
Enjoy a Slow Day Out at a Community-Based Shopping Street
Kirakira Tachibana Shopping Street does not yet have the bustle of other inbound-type shopping streets in Tokyo, but it does continue to convey the warm smiles of the locals to those who visit. Just a few steps off of Tokyo's urban beaten road, a town full of human love and community awaits you.