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Matsuyama’s Gintengai

Street of Silvery Heaven

The Gintengai is a covered arcade that starts at the square in front of Matsuyama City railway station (Shieki) and runs parallel to Chifunemachi Dori. Then it takes a sharp left to emerge onto Chifunemachi. When you get to the end of Gintengai and cross Chifunemachi Dori, you find yourself at the entrance to yet another arcade, the different yet equally appealing Okaido, the Big Street. Rendered in English, 'Gintengai' means roughly 'Street of Silvery Heaven'.

Compared with Okaido, Gintengai is narrower and darker. It has a number of young fashion shops, my favorite of which offers a broad selection of Japanese flavored T-shirts and jeans decorated with traditional motifs like carp and dragons. There are always roaming groups of teenagers in the Gintengai checking out the goods. Another popular store is the head shop near the Chifunemachi Dori end which sells goods with a reggae and cannabis theme.

Gintengai has many stores that have obviously been there for a long time. Their shop fronts date from another era, the Showa Period of the 1960s perhaps, and with the modern taste for retro style, they’re suddenly fashionable again. One of these venerable shops sells green tea, and the almost overpowering aroma of the powdered tea extends in a zone for several meters on either side of the store.

This arcade offers a variety of things to eat. At the pricier end is Una-ichi offering marinated grilled eel for 1,600 yen, while the cheapest must be the miso ramen at Charlie for 290 yen – popular with students from the universities. There are also several fast food outlets in the arcade.

To keep things interesting, events are held throughout the year in the Gintengai. From late June, every Saturday is the yoichi, the night market. From the afternoon, stalls are set up in the arcade offering everything from snacks and beer to wood crafts and rhinoceros beetles. The people of Matsuyama enjoy wearing yukata, and the doyo yoichi is just another opportunity to display oneself in traditional finery. In line with Matsuyama’s declared primacy in the haiku poetry form, there’s also a continuous exhibition of the latest selected haiku written by school children. Each pillar displays a large handwritten poem, and the children of Matsuyama regard it as something of an honor to have their work displayed prominently in the arcade.

Besides the shops and eateries on the continuous arcades Gintengai and Okaido, there are many more options for shopping and eating on the streets to either side of the arcade. There are few shopping arcades in Japan that are as vibrant and thriving as these, so they represent a great opportunity to see the best of Japan’s retail tradition.

Name in Japanese: 銀天街 gintengai

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