With various businesses all clustered in a single place, the main purpose of shotengai is to support the daily lives of the nearby residents. To date, over 15,000 such shopping districts are scattered across Japan. To get a taste of the local culture, nothing beats the authenticity of a shotengai!
Greengrocers, Butchers & Fishmongers (八百屋・肉屋・魚屋, yaoya, nikuya, sakanaya)
Here, you can find independent grocers and vendors selling fresh produce ranging from fruits, vegetables, meat, pickled foodstuff and more.
Much like the wet markets of the Singapore heartlands, they cater to the day to day practical needs of nearby residents, offering endless in-season homegrown selections. Unlike supermarkets, there is a local touch to these grocers and owners tend to converse with their patrons.
Izakaya (居酒屋, Japanese pubs)
The iconic red lanterns and kifuda (木札, wooden placards) menus displayed on the exteriors of these Japanese pubs are hard to miss.
Soak in the lively atmosphere here and dig in to all your favourite otsumami (おつまみ, Japanese sides that go well with alcohol) along with an ice-cold beer. A popular choice for after-work drinking, the “bottle keep” services for sake and sochu also help draw regulars from the surrounding area.
Kissaten (喫茶店, Traditional Japanese Coffee Houses)
Tucked away in a cosy nook, the quaint kissaten of shotengai are old-style tearooms where the art of brewing tea or coffee is taken seriously.
Sip on your quality cuppa meticulously handcrafted by the owner against the vintage interior décor, complete with soft jazz music playing in the background.
Bakeries (パン屋, panya)
There are very few things in the world that can compare to the sight and smell of freshly baked bread and pastries. Uniquely one of a kind, the local bakeries nestled in shotengai handmake each piece daily. From meronpan (メロンパン, melon bun) to karepan (カレーパン, curry bun), indulge your senses in both sweet and savoury pastries! Little ones can also tuck into buns sold in fun shapes.
Game Centres (ゲームセンター)
If you find yourself surrounded by amazingly loud music and blinding neon lights, you have probably just entered one.
Often recognised by the words “SEGA” or “TAITO Sation”, you can play a variety of old-school arcade games here or spend hours at purikura (プリクラ, Print Club or “neoprints”) photo booths.
Book Stores (本屋, honya)
Get a wave of nostalgia by stepping into a traditional Japanese honya. The humble book store found at shotengai has a smaller interior as compared to the commercial stores in Japan.
Even though you might not be able to find much material written in foreign languages, it is always nice to flip through gorgeous magazines, design books and explore the literary world of Japan’s print. Who knows, you might even get your hands on a rare book!
Clothing Shops (洋服店, youfukuya)
Forget the mass-produced fashion lines and luxury brands, the clothing shops at shotengai are all about the practical and contemporary essentials.
Offering tasteful designs for everyday streetwear, here you can also unearth rare gems going at cheap prices. Find the perfect accessory for yourself in the simple yet homely furnishing of the store with welcoming owners and staff who are more than willing to help you.
Convenience Stores (コンビニ)
The magical konbini of Japan hardly needs any introduction. Stocking a range of everyday items from basic groceries to toiletries, many stop by here for inexpensive ready-to-eat meals like bento, onigiri and sandwiches.
Lesser known to others is that one can also access ATMs, reserve bus or concert tickets, use printers, pay their bills, and even engage in postal services here.
Be it grabbing an alcoholic beverage late at night or buying a cheap umbrella from a sudden downpour, the 24-hour konbini has got you covered.
*All illustrations are from www.irasutoya.com*
(This feature first appeared on WAttention Singapore magazine, May/Jun 2018 Vol. 44)