MINOWABASHI / 三ノ輪橋
Rainy season has been hitting Tokyo hard this year. Along with high temperatures of close to 30 degrees, the skies have been grey for nearly two weeks now, the city smothered in a thick blanket of heavy humidity.
Conversely, on this exact day two years ago, the sun was shining down on us at the Kappabashi Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri – and with no real plans for today, we were actually thinking of heading back there this afternoon. After some reflection though, we instead decided to try and discover somewhere new. I use the word ‘new’, however, with a large pinch of salt.
Our destination was a relatively obscure shōtengai (covered shopping arcade) deep in the Arakawa Ward of east Tokyo. As regular readers of this blog will know, these old, crumbling and forgotten neighbourhoods are my favourite places to explore. This particular arcade – ironically named Joyful Minowa (ジョイフル三の輪) – runs parallel to the Toden Arakawa Line from Minowabashi Station to the next tram stop, Arakawa-itchumae. I should also point out just how cute the Toden Arakawa Line is – an adorable little tram nicknamed the ‘Sakura Tram’, and one of only two streetcar lines serving the massive metropolis.
Shitamachi neighbourhoods – basically meaning ‘Old Tokyo’ – are remnants of what downtown used to be like many years ago. Sometimes, these areas can be extremely cute, yet more often than not there is an air of decay and desperation about them.
Joyful Minowa in Minowabashi falls distinctly into the latter category, a covered arcade that has somehow managed to shut out the outside world for the past sixty years. Its shops are all independently run, meaning no big money is being pumped into refurbishment or upkeep. Many shops have no name, and the whole covered structure seems to be in massive disrepair. It is eerily bewitching.
With grease on the walls, rust on the shutters, and shop signs made from cardboard, Joyful Minowa has an atmosphere unlike any other shotengai I have been to. The photos below will give you a taste of the vibe, but actually walking through it is an entirely different experience.