4/5/17

TUE, APR 5, 17
Buying vegetables (A)

There are five or six supermarkets within easy walking distance. I prefer Y's Mart, which is between my home and Minowa Station, but I will also go to Olympic, which is larger and has a second floor that sells household items. Niku no Hanamasa is where I go if I'm walking back from Asakusa. But there's also a supermarket near Minowa Station and one in Nihonzutsumi and one above Iriya. And maybe a few more that I'm not remember or haven't come across.

There are two shōtengai within easy walking distance--more if we include less formally organized shopping streets because there are about ten in the same circle I've drawn on the map but they tend to be mostly shuttered. Irohakai is a short walk away. From Edward Fowler’s San'ya Blues: Laboring Life in Contemporary Tokyo:

The Iroha (“A-B-C”) is a roofed arcade running nearly a quarter mile from the western edge of Nihonzutsumi northeast into the heart of San'ya just shy of Old Streetcar Boulevard. It competes with two other commercial areas, the Asahi Shōtengai, a shop-lined street (with metal awnings on the shop fronts but no roof) located a five minute walk to the southeast; and Minowa Joyful (near Minowabashi Station), a venerable but well-kept arcade located a fifteen-minute walk to the northwest. Unlike Asahi Street, the Iroha Arcade is not open to automobile traffic, and unlike the Minowa Arcade … it is not fed by any commuter train…. It is patronized by day laborer and permanent resident alike, as well as by shoppers from farther afield.

Fowler writes about the many shops in the neighborhood, which are now mostly gone. Two decades since the publication of the book, the neighborhood of Sanya and the shōtengai is quiet. I might stop at the vegetable store at the southernmost entrance of the street, where the prices are slightly lower than in the grocery stores. The neighborhood around the arcade has changed greatly since Fowler's account was written. The area has become a mixture of pure shitamachi Tokyo traditional homes and businesses, mid-'90s apartment blocks, business hotels, hostels, and cute modern development that's bringing concrete cube houses and modest luxury condos on lots that used to be occupied by old homes and flower shops and liquor stores.... The covered arcade is a dreary walk, to be honest.

Joyful Minowa is a far livelier covered shopping street that extends from Minowa Station in the east to Arakawa-itchūmae Station in the west. The street is close enough to Minowa Station and Minami-Senju Station and new development around the stations brings in shoppers. There are also visitors to the neighborhood coming off the Toden Arakawa Line. The shōtengai supports several kissaten, two fishmongers, a 100 yen shop, two Indian restaurants, three soba shops, a butcher, a sentō, a Korean noodle place, six bakeries, several prepared food shops, half a dozen clothing stores, and many businesses in the lanes off of the covered arcade.

There's a vegetable shop at the side of the shōtengai closest to the Minowa Station side. The proprietor sells organic vegetables that come mostly from local farms (within Tokyo or from Saitama and Chiba and Kanagawa, and sometimes Gunma or Shizuoka). Above the vegetables, there are handwritten notes as to their provenance.

I sometimes stop by just to have a look, match the vegetables to my calendar of monthly seasonal vegetables, pick up a bag of greens and weigh it in my hands.The vegetables have dirt on them.

I bought a daikon there today. I washed it in the sink at home and it left a fine layer of sand in the basin. I bought a bag of mustard greens that concealed somewhere inside of the bundle two tiny white worms with black heads.