The Edo period strip mall in Kuroishi
Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 20, 2010
MODERN SHOPPING and commercial complexes have become ubiquitous in Japan since the deregulation of the retail industry 20 years ago. I live in a town of 180,000, and about a 10-minute drive away is a shopping mall as large as any I’d seen in the United States before coming to Japan. There are several more of equal size dotted around town, and bigger ones still in the major metropolitan areas.
Before that, the shopping centers in a Japanese city’s commercial district tended to resemble the covered arcades of Britain and France discussed in this post. But what did the traditional shopping area look like before Japan reopened to the outside world and its influences during the Meiji Era?
It’s still possible to see one in the city of Kuroishi, Aomori. In the early years of the Edo period (the first half of the 17th century), Tsugaru Nobufusa, the first head of the domain controlled by the Kuroishi Tsugaru family, built his central administration building in Kuroishi after the family split off from the Hirosaki domain in Aomori. Located to the north was the samurai neighborhood, and lying to the south was the commercial area. Today there remains in the city’s Naka-machi district a shopping arcade with wood frame buildings that date from that period. It’s been officially designated a district with important traditional structures. Covered passageways called komise were built in front of the shops along the street to protect shoppers and pedestrians from the sun in the summer and the heavy snows of winter.
The area at the boundary of the Naka-machi and Mae-machi districts thrived as a commercial neighborhood between the urban section of the castle town of Hirosaki and the port in Aomori where the kitamaebune called. Those were commercial sailing ships that worked the northern coast on the Sea of Japan. In other words, a lot of people with money to spend passed through.
Not everyone can trek up to the far north to see for themselves, but luckily there’s a two-minute YouTube tour that will guide you through the best spots of Kuroishi’s Edo period strip mall, dirt floors and all. There’s one advantage to going there yourself–as you watch the video you’ll be serenaded by two men playing Tsugaru shamisen!
While you’re there, don’t forget to stop by for a meal of some of the distinctive Kuroishi yakisoba.