Totsuka Station East
Totsuka Station East
By Lisa Wallin - OCT 31, 2017
Totsuka ward lies just south of central Yokohama and its convenient location combined with direct trains to Yokohama, Tokyo, and beach resorts like Atami and Zushi, makes it a perfect starting point for residents and visitors alike. Recently, it has become somewhat of a hub with tourists – especially those visiting for a second or third time – as they choose to stay in a quiet area and travel from there. Repeat visitors are most common as they feel familiar with how things work in Japan and confidently explore new areas that have a bit more of local feel. This way they can experience something closer to real daily life in Japan.
Totsuka has expanded over the years, and taller buildings, larger supermarkets and department stores have gathered around the station, changing the atmosphere considerably. Small mom-and-pop shops have been in decline nationwide, but it’s been particularly noticeable here. Mr. Aoki, who is the Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai President and owner of bakery Petit Lapin, confirms this. “Before, there was much more choice. There was a fishmonger, a local grocery store, a butcher – all of this as well as a supermarket. People could make the choice themselves depending on the best deals that day. Now, however, the only choice is between one supermarket and another, and their selection is pretty limited,” Aoki says.
As larger organizations took over and the smaller shōtengai near the station gradually disappeared, Aoki and some other local business owners decided to create their own organization, starting about 10 or 11 years ago.
The Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai (that’s shōtenkai for “shopping organization,” not shōtengai, which means “shopping street”) is a group of business owners spread out through various parts of the city. Unlike many of the traditional shōtengai, business owners here can join regardless of their store location, and are not obliged to enter the group either. Mr. Aoki explains, “The former style of shōtengai didn’t work for us, so we changed it up a bit.”
The kai currently includes 39 shops, all spread out across Totsuka city. Simply put, if a business has interest in joining the group, it may. It’s not exclusive, and it’s not restrictive. One thing the cooperative takes very seriously is that no one should be forced into joining. Mr. Aoki says, “Because we’re all busy with our own businesses, it’s tough. The cooperative doesn’t need to be as well. We believe it’s better to arrange things in a freer way.”
As Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai has existed for little more than a decade, many of its members are younger, too – another key difference from typical shōtengai groups. Mr. Aoki is the oldest out of the three main people in charge, even though he is only in his early fifties. They hope to attract a younger crowd to the area via social media and through exciting events open to all.
Regular festivals are held and about half of the festival members aren’t full shōtenkai members. They support the events financially, but stay out of the nitty gritty – these people are called “supporters,” which helps create a positive community effort. People are allowed to be involved to the degree they are willing and able to help. Even office workers who are based elsewhere but are interested in helping the community sometimes volunteer at events. About half of the festival organizing committee members and volunteers aren’t shōtenkai members, despite it being the cooperative’s event.
So far, they’ve organized a regular music festival in the area – so successful they’re already in their eighth year. Other family-oriented events feature appearances by local soccer and basket teams, as well as cheerleaders – and occasionally, even a one-handed magician. There are workshops, where people are invited to teach skills such as woodworking, and day trips to the mountain for hiking – the range of activities is endless.
Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai has even organized a collaborative effort with homegrown pop star Kaho, who has lent her vocal skills to the Totsuka Theme Song Project, featuring songs specifically about Totsuka shops and businesses. The first one written and produced was about shōtenkai president Aoki’s own bakery, Petit Lapin (see below). (You can watch it on YouTube: tinyurl.com/totsuka-puchilapin)
Mr. Aoki admits that Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai has had to be creative and innovative to keep people’s attention. He goes on to say, “Because a five-minute walk from the station is considered far these days, we wanted to create a sense of community in other ways. By creating fun events regularly we can attract both locals and newcomers alike. An influx of new people here helps, because it revitalizes the area and livens it up a bit.”
Mr. Aoki hopes to see more visitors in Totsuka, especially those looking for personal service and friendly faces behind the counter. He mentions the stores in the shōtenkai are incredibly varied. Housou Ichiba offers everything from wrapping items and office stationery to bento accessories, while Totsuka Kaden is more of a jack-of-all-trades style electrician, who also can do plumbing and offers advice on maintenance and repairs. Hau’oli, on the other hand, can give customers body jewelry designs for weddings and special occasions, and even teaches classes on the subject. Dining establishments range from Chinese food and gyoza, to upscale cafés and a few bakeries. Even the local YMCA and a nearby temple are involved, showing the group is a true community effort, with something for everyone.
Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai’s website and Facebook are both updated regularly with past and upcoming events. Mr. Aoki and the Totsuka Station East Shōtenkai as a whole hope people will come visit to see another side of Yokohama, as well as another side of Japan. They also encourage anyone staying or living in the area to drop by events regardless of language skill, as Mr. Aoki reminds, “It all ends up working out somehow anyway and we all have fun in the end.”
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
February, July, October
Yuzan-bako Stamp Rally
Natsu-Ichi (Summer Market)
Near "Totsuka Station"(East Exit): JR Tokaido Line, Yokohama Municipal Subway Blue Line