Shotengai are a type of shopping arcade found in Japan. Their varied layouts provide both a safe pedestrian experience and true mixed shopping capabilities throughout many parts of the country without requiring visitors to own any vehicle other than their own two feet.

These photos are from a recent visit to Japan show the kind of variety and interesting shopping experiences that can be had in even a single one of these streets. Walking any single Shotengai street can vary greatly in architecture, surface paving, type of overhead weather protection (or lack thereof), and surrounding connected buildings. It’s also not too uncommon for an existing Shotengai to be attached to a Western-style mall.

Shotengai in Osaka, Japan.
Shotengai in Osaka, Japan.
Crossing in the Shotengai.
Crossing in the Shotengai.
Alley from the Shotengai.
Alley from the Shotengai.
Diversity found in the Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai.
Diversity found in the Shotengai.

Unsurprisingly, Shotengai shopping arcades frequently exhibit a wider variety of shopping options than the average shopping mall. It’s common to find fresh food vendors of all kinds like bakeries, butchers, fish markets, and vegetables. But they also have a wealth of other retail and service options to choose from like gambling establishments, game centers, restaurants, and even book stores. Besides that, Shotengai noticeably have a lot more independent shops and fewer chain stores. And though chain stores do exist, the don’t dominate like they do in Western shopping malls.

In a way, these shopping arcades are reminiscent of old downtowns and main streets that used to exist throughout the United States before the rapid shift to shopping centers and big box chain stores in the last half of the 20th century. If we want to bring back pedestrian-oriented shopping to more parts of our country, shopping experiences similar to this would not be a bad place to start.