On my last trip to Japan, I queued with my friends Yoshie and Tatsu at Toridai, a decades-old food store in the Jujo Ginza shotengai (shopping street) in northern Tokyo. There’s always a line at Toridai. It’s a beloved neighborhood institution selling takeaway fare, including famously delicious and cheap chicken meatballs for just ¥10 a piece.
So, why did standing in line for 15 minutes at a timeworn suburban delicatessen that was part of this old-school shopping street become one of my holiday highlights?
From the kinetic crush at Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing to the selfie stick chaos at Kyoto’s Kinkakuji Temple — I actually don’t mind the festive, frenzied energy of tourist crowds. I also love ticking off Japan’s impressive bucket list of iconic sights. Yet over six visits, I’ve discovered an equally captivating side to Japan in its everyday streetscapes. They’re starkly different to those in Australia (my home country).
That’s why when Yoshie and Tatsu, born-and-bred Tokyoites in their 60s, offered to show me around, I said, “Take me to your favorite local shotengai!”
The winding charms of Japan’s shopping streets
Tatsu was born in Jujo, a lively, working-class neighborhood in Tokyo’s Kita ward. Kita was a collection of rural villages and towns until the 1880s when it was connected by rail to central Tokyo.
Tatsu lived in Jujo for 31 years, just five minutes’ walk from Jujo Ginza. When he was a child, it was unpaved, unroofed and lined with wooden shops. The dirt road turned to mud in the rain.
We strolled past Taisho era buildings from the 1920s, bought tea in a quaint establishment from the 1950s and sipped drinks in a cafe with a somewhat dated 1980s vibe. All the while, I felt buoyed by the spring in Tatsu’s step and his obvious pride as he offered this peek into his past.
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