So many collectibles, so many shops, and so many rental booths for the micro-sellers. Seeing so much stuff makes me want to edit my possessions at home.
Compared to the last photos, this narrow street in Shimbashi, an older business district that’s no longer Tier A real estate, allows pedestrians to take full use of the street and offers an amazing variety of products, signs and even foods spilling out of the shops.
Recently I have been spending more time on this Shimokitazawa shoutengai, or commercial strip full of very small businesses. This one is northwest of the station, and somewhat hard to find. What’s great is its combination of shops run by old timers alongside imported hipster clothes, one of Tokyo’s best coffee shops called Bear Pond that roasts their own beans, a hookah bar, and at least ten hair salons.
There are thousands of these shopping streets in Tokyo, near transit stations and along routes that connect homes, workplaces, schools, and leisure areas. It’s strange that Tokyo Metropolitan Government is still so focused on cars and their movement across the city at the expense of walking and biking and other forms of common space usage. There is little government recognition or support for the idea that these relics of past decades are in fact some of Tokyo’s most forward-looking urban public spaces.
Lively pedestrian zones are common in Europe, and becoming more so in many cities in the United States. By not segregating cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, the street pace slows down to pedestrian speed while still allowing passage for delivery trucks and cars. The way the street is painted makes it appear even more narrow, providing further social cues about speed and usage.
Many of Tokyo’s shoutengai are suffering as consumers shift towards shopping at big box stores and driving as a primary form of transportation. The city government is truly looking backwards when it promotes automobile usage and fails to recognize the value of these vernacular public spaces that support human interaction and the environment.
What makes Tokyo residential districts very charming and perhaps surprising for foreigners are the narrow pedestrian walkways and small streets where pedestrians and bicyclists outnumber cars.
There’s something pre-modern and non-rational about the web of small Tokyo lanes, with unpredictable turns and numerous dead ends. The densely packed two and three story buildings almost touch, with a mix of small apartments and single family houses. Neither walkways nor small streets are named, there is no grid, and small gardens and small shops are the only way to remember your path the next time.
The foliage is a mix of cultivated plants and “volunteers.” With rainfall plentiful year-round, it is easy to imagine the city reverting to jungle. If only there was less concrete.