Walking and the pedestrian environment
February 12, 2007
Koenji Pal (Tokyo)

The vibrant, fresh south side of Koenji.

This is part of the special feature Merchants of Koenji, introducing the shopping districts (商店街, shoutengai) of Tokyo's Koenji (高円寺, Kouenji) neighborhood.

Pal and Koenji StreetKoenji Pal Shopping Street (高円寺パル商店街, Kouenji Paru Shoutengai) runs south from the west side of Koenji Station where it meets with Koenji Street. After a junction with Etoile Shopping Street, it continues on as Koenji Look at Peach Orchard Creek Green Space (桃園川緑地, Momozono-gawa Ryokuchi). It has about 100 stores under a 250-meter long arcade - the only covered shopping street in Koenji.

Pal Arcade
A standard review of Pal might showcase places like 60's mod and ska specialist Be-In Records or punk and hardcore venue 20000 Volts, exceptional, yet prototypical Koenji stores. Personally I find it hard to focus on the stores, with my attention stuck on the newness of the street. The shopping district has been here for a long time - it was the original site of the Koenji Awa-odori in 1967. But the slogan ("Stylish Avenue Koenji"), arcade, banners, and other landscaping date from just 2003. Very few shopping districts are investing these days. Indeed, many rural or regional shopping areas are being picked apart by the carrion-eating familiars of big-box retail. This is an anomoly.

Pal PachinkoPal PachinkoOne possible source of funding is the three pachinko parlors that dominate the walkway. A packinko parlor can be found near almost every station in Tokyo. But generally they are just down the street or around the corner, on cheap land. They seem to often join the nearest shopping district association in order to garner good will, and in down time you'll see an employee out with a broom sweeping up their customers' cigarette butts far down the street. These are obvious, defensive actions by the parlors. I can't think of many spots where a shopping district has incorporated pachinko parlors into their store mix, rather than sparring with them. It's an interesting idea, especially since pachinko is such a resilient sector of the Japanese economy. A quick web search reveals that it supposedly accounts for 40% of leisure industry in Japan, and is 5% of the GDP with 30 trillion yen a year in sales. Can't blame moms and pops for trying to get a slice of the pie in their own neighborhood.

Machioka CandiesJapanese CandiesPal contains a number of chain stores, another aspect of its corporate-friendliness. I stopped into Machioka Candies (おかしのまちおか, Okashi no Machioka) for some treats. Machioka is a candy chain spread across Tokyo with about 50 stores. At first it seems like their selection isn't much different than what you find at convenience stores or supermarkets, but a closer look reveals that it's all Japanese (Morinaga, Meiji, Glico, Bourbon, Kameda, and Lotte - which is actually Korean), and that they have a very complete selection. For less than a buck I got a big Morinaga candy bar, some kimchee-flavored squid, and two little Tirol (チロル, chiroru) chocolates. I keep hearing about Tirol on TV recently. Everyone ate Tirol as a kid, and the quiz shows are marvelling at how Tirol sold at convenience stores is twice as big (and half as cheap) as it used to be. There are lots of "whudathunkit!"s and "whadayaknow!"s after the truth is revealed: the original size was too small for a bar code. All I know is that I paid 9 yen for my chocolate covered coffee nougat, which I think was the cheapest thing in the store, but not by much.

To the right of Machioka is an "Asian" clothing and accessories store. You'll learn more about them when I profile Koenji Street.

Pal south endAlong with their participation in the Awa-odori, Pal has a street-wide sale at Christmas time, a mochi-beating festival in January, and a corn and beer festival in September.

Posted by Rob Ketcherside at February 12, 2007 12:30 AM
Lost Seattle
Check out my book Lost Seattle for more explorations of history and urbanism.
These pages are an archive. For my new content, visit ba-kground.com.
Copyright Rob Ketcherside; contact roket swirly gwu.edu