The Miyakawa Shotengai in Shinagawa dates back to 1950. But even before it was a shotengai (or, shopping street) the pathway, just south of central Tokyo, flourished as a posting station where travelers heading to Tokyo on foot could rest. But now you’d have trouble even finding the shopping street. And even if you did, it’s hard to imagine its once illustrious past. “It used to be such a lively place with about 38 different shops,” recalls a local.
As foot traffic began to dwindle, so did storefronts. And with inheritance taxes so prohibitive that it forced younger generations to sell their properties “now only 6 shops remain.” But a local design firm is trying to change things and breathe life back into the shotengai.
“It used to be such a lively place with about 38 different shops…now only 6 shops remain”
Owan Inc is design firm headquartered steps from the shotengai. They specialize in web and graphics but their real bread and butter is what they call “creative business design.” In their own words, “Owan’s objective is to create businesses that the we want to be involved in.” And they accomplish this through the tools available to them as designers to create “bowls with creative foundations,” hence the company’s name, which is bowl in Japanese.
In 2011 they opened Pedra Branca, a café that was born from the simple desire “to create a space.” It was located along the Miyakawa Shotengai. In 2012, again along the same shopping street, the team launched Mr. Coffee. And now their third venture, an artisanal rice shop called Okomeya has opened for business.
They specialize in web and graphics but their real bread and butter is what they call “creative business design.”
Jo Nagasaka of Schemata Architects, who was also responsible for the recent Blue Bottle in Tokyo, was commissioned to renovate a wooden building that used to be a vegetable shop. The space was very small – about 180 sq ft. But “we don’t need a big shop,” said Owan, perceiving the limitations as an advantage, rather than a disadvantage. “We would rather have a modest-sized shop to maintain one-staff operation.”
And so became Okomeya, a shop that integrates with the community and finds sustainability in its passiveness. When staff has to leave the site for a moment they ask neighboring storeowners to keep an eye on the shop. “Such ‘small help’ between shops is crucial in maintaining small-sized businesses on local shopping streets,” explains Nagasaka. “these small shops are supported by the shopping street, and simultaneously the shopping street is reactivated by their success.”
Pay Okomeya a visit and indulge in some freshly squeezed onigiri, or rice balls. You can, of course, also purchase organic rice and other rice-based products like rice vinegar.
Togoshi 4-8-6, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo (Gmap)