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6) Stroll the Pearl

Asagaya Pearl: Likely Tokyo's Most Attractive Shotengai


A shotengai (商店街) — which translates into English simply as "Shopping Street" — tend to be among the best walking environments in Tokyo. Better shotengai exclude vehicular traffic entirely, are covered to protect their occupants from the sun and rain, and provide a convenient and comfortable walk from a rail station into an adjacent neighborhood.

An observant visitor might notice the small Shin Nakamise (新仲見世商店街) shotengai in the tourist-slathered district of Asakusa (浅草), and a reader might recall the Joyful Minowa (ジョイフル三の輪) shotengai from our piece on the Toden Arakawa Tram Line (都電荒川線), but among the dozens of these shopping streets that we have visited in Tokyo, our favorite is the Asagaya Pearl Center (阿佐谷パールセンター商店街).

People who live in Tokyo likely are familiar with Asagaya Pearl mostly because of its festivals. In addition to the more recently added annual festivals celebrating Jazz and Halloween, for example; Asagaya Pearl has hosted a popular Tanabata (たなばた) — Star Festival — each summer since 1945. However, at the time we first wrote this piece, Asagaya Pearl had only three reviews on the world's search engine — each in Japanese — and it was nowhere to be found on the big tourist advisory sites. It receives little attention from overseas tourists and feels very much like, well, finding a hidden... pearl.

Although the shopping street itself has been around for hundreds of years, Asagaya Pearl received its current brand in 1962 (Showa 37) as well as its beautiful, architecturally distinctive glass roof inspired by the ridges of a pearl oyster shell. In addition to its festival programming and its attractive ceiling, the shotengai provides almost seamless connectivity to JR Asagaya Station (阿佐ヶ谷駅) and a lively mix of vibrant community retail.

We haven't seen every shotengai in Tokyo, but Asagaya Pearl very well could be the best in the city. Asagaya Pearl already covers nearly all of the walk from JR Asagaya Station toward the Minami-asagaya Metro Station (南阿佐ケ谷駅), and with a bit of expansion of the covered archway and an additional metro entrance on the West end of Minami-asagaya, it practically could provide the perfect walk between these two stations.

A full list of merchants is available in Japanese, but Asagaya Pearl packs at least a couple hundred stores along its 600 meter (0.4 mile) covered street. Shops range from day-to-day needs like grocery stores, produce vendors, and fish shops to specialty merchants selling clothes, handbags, eyeglasses, tea, and more. It is all targeted to the needs of the local middle-class community, but an insightful visitor likely could find something interesting to buy, too.

Places to eat within Asagaya Pearl range from international fast food chains and local grab-and-go street food to proper sit-down cafes and restaurants. Among the restaurants, three of the most popular with locals are the Seiya (せい家) chain for cheap ramen noodles, Mitoya (ミート屋) for an inexpensive Japanese take on Italian, and Inageya (稲毛屋) for Unagi (freshwater eel). Because Asagaya is such a nice stroll, though; it's a comfortable place to take your time and find your own favorites, as well.

Below, we've mapped out the quick path from Asagaya JR Station to Asagaya Pearl in addition to an optional departure point on the Tokyo Metro.

How to Get Here: Take the JR Chuo Line Rapid (Orange) to Asagaya (JC08). You also can take the JR Chuo-Sobu Line Local (Yellow), but it is slower because it stops at many more stations. From Asagaya JR Station, take the South (南口) Exit. Asagaya Pearl is visible to your left (southeast) from this station exit. You can depart the same way you arrived or you can walk a bit further past the end of Asagaya Pearl to Minami-asagaya Station. Minami-asagaya (M02) is on the Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line (Red). The walk is better to Asagaya, but if you make it all the way to the end of Asagaya Pearl, Minami-asagaya is closer and might be more logical for you depending on your next destination.

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  • Writing & Photos By Brock Kyle. All Rights Reserved. Verification Published 11 January 2019. Feedback.