Shotengai Around Japan

Go to shotengai, discover local specialties.

by Naoki Inoue

Smell the aroma of soy sauce wafting from a rice cake shop.
Glance at the colorful sweets displayed under the canopy of a candy store's entrance.
Taste the freshly baked bread from a bakery's display case.
Shotengai fully engage our senses.
We think, “What do I want to eat?”

In “shotengai”, Japanese arcade streets, the answer is easy to find. The more we visit shotengai, the more we learn about what the locals eat. You can learn about local customs through a quick chat with the shopkeeper, and through a longer conversation, you can even delve into local history. Here you will find things made by the locals, and for the locals. A shotengai is like a brick and mortar catalog for Japanese people.

I grew up in Osaka and Kobe. The office for our company, Shotengai Ltd., is located in Osaka. We chose Osaka because it is the commercial capital of Japan. Osaka is also known as the capital of shotengai because it has Japan's longest shotengai.

Osaka - The Capital of Shotengai

Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai runs north to south, stretching 2.6 kilometers. Hundreds of shops, such as souvenir stores and even restaurants, are packed here. It's the longest shotengai with the greatest variety of goods in Japan. Mangetsu Pon in the Nishiki Box is sold at a store called MAIDO. My father, a native of Osaka, said that Mangetsu Pon used to be freshly baked and sold in shotengai. Osaka's shotengai was also once a major market for kombu, a basic ingredient in Japanese cuisine. Kombu was shipped from the Sea of Japan and Hokkaido to wholesalers in Osaka and then distributed throughout the country. Now, you can still find many kombu shops in Osaka's shotengai (though not as many as there used to be).

Unlike Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, which is preferred by locals, Shinsaibashisuji Shotengai is more crowded with international tourists. You can hear various languages as you walk along the street. Shinsaibashisuji Shotengai is filled with high-end boutiques, thrift stores, tax-free shops and 100-yen stores popular with international tourists. It is a mini version of Osaka. Many famous restaurants are located here, such as Kani Doraku (famous for its giant crab logo) and Takomasa (famous for its takoyaki).

If you want to enjoy fresh seafood at an affordable price, don't miss Kuromon Market! You can pick the seafood yourself, have it cooked on the spot, and enjoy it on benches in front of the stores.

Kobe - Western-Style Shotengai

Unlike national chain stores, shotengai reflect regional characteristics. Now, let's talk about Kobe's shotengai. Kobe's shotengai are quite different from Osaka's, even though the two cities are only about 30 kilometers apart.

Western culture has become part of Kobe's fabric because of Kobe’s history as being a gateway to international trade. The imported culture makes Kobe's shotengai more eclectic. Many well-established confectionary brands were founded by Western chefs, such as Morozoff in the Nishiki Box. Bocksun combined Western techniques with Japanese craftsmanship. Kobe also has a Chinatown called Nankin-machi, where you can enjoy "Machi Chuka," the Japanese adaptation of Chinese cuisine, such as gyoza and ramen. Authentic Chinese cuisine is called "Gachi Chuka." “Machi” means “city” and “gachi” might translate to something like, “the real deal.” In Kobe, however, it is Machi Chuka that dominates.

Motomachi shotengai
This is a cuisine that is from a Machi Chuka, or a "hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant" 

Kyoto - Japanese-Style Shotengai

In contrast to Kobe's Western-style shotengai, Kyoto's shotengai emphasizes Japanese aesthetics. The most famous shotengai in Kyoto is Nishiki Market, an east-to-west shopping street that has been known as the “Kitchen of Kyoto” for the past 400 years. While sweets and arare (rice crackers) are the specialties here, I recommend Nishikikoji Maruki's herring soba noodles. Though it may seem outdated with its cramped space, handwritten menus, and cash-only service, it will bring you to an older Japan that you’ve probably seen in older movies and manga.
Nishiki Market

Kyushu - Kawabata Shotengai: The Leading Shotengai in Fukuoka

Kawabata Shotengai is located in Hakata, the busiest district in Kyushu, and close to a food court in Nakasu. Kawabata Shotengai is Hakata's longest arcade street, stretching over 400 meters and packed with over 130 stores.

It's a new trend to buy Meigetsudo's Torimon as a souvenir, which has won the gold award of Monde Selection for more than 20 years. Another famous food is Kawabata Zenzai (red bean soup with mochi). Kawabata Zenzai is sweeter than zenzai from other parts of the country.

Kamesen, Shiro-Goma Daiko, and Maru Boro in the Nishiki Box are all popular snacks in Kyushu. In general, Kyushu snacks are characterized by simple ingredients and mild flavors.

Aomori - Shinmachi Shotengai: Showing the Beauty of the Seasons

Lastly, we come to Aomori. Shinmachi Shotengai is located next to JR Aomori Station, a large transportation hub for the Tohoku region. The stores in this shotengai collect specialties and delicacies from all over Aomori. Aomori is famous for its apples, so you can enjoy many desserts made with apples, such as apple pie. The RAGUENEAU Sasaki in the Nishiki Box is made with apples from Aomori.

Aomori's Nebuta Festival is a festival designated as an Intangible Cultural Property of Japan. It is held every year in August. During the festival, a float is carried through Shinmachi Shotengai. In February, cute snowmen appear in Shinmachi Shotengai, and it becomes known as Snowman Road. Shinmachi Shotengai is one of few shotengai where you can feel the beauty of all four seasons.

Story of Shotengai