Nakano Broadway: Tokyo Past and Tokyo Future

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Comfortable Nostalgia in Old Collectibles Antique Market

Annamarie Sasagawa  Nationality:Canadian

Nakano Broadway: Tokyo Past and Tokyo Future

If I had to choose one word to describe Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, it would be “Showa-poi” or Showa-esque, This great Japanese word is used to describe people, places and things that evoke memories of the Showa era (1926-1989), which began in the enthusiastic 1920s and ended just as Japan’s bubble economy was about to burst. This was a time in Japanese history when the country’s rapidly changing political situation and economic prospects meant that people’s lifestyles and tastes were changing just as quickly.

The 1960s in particular were a time of dramatic Showa-poi changes in Tokyo. In 1964, the Tokyo Olympics took place, an event that many people saw as Japan’s post-war debut as a modern, prosperous nation. The boom in infrastructure building in preparation for the games created the Tokaido bullet trains between Osaka and Tokyo, a network of express highways, Tokyo’s National Olympic Stadium and the Budokan arena. In photos taken in the 1960s, Tokyo then looks remarkably like China today, with construction cranes and half-built skyscrapers dotting the landscape. A Showa-poi sense of enthusiasm and excitement for the future comes across clearly even in old black-and-white photos.

Nakano Ward, one of the 23 wards in central Tokyo, was also a bustling place in the 1960s. The biggest change the 1960s brought to this rather low-key ward, just west of skyscraper-heavy Shinjuku, was the construction of the Nakano Broadway building This ten-story shopping and apartment complex housed retail shops and restaurants on its first four floors and apartments from floors six to 10, with a rooftop swimming pool and garden. When it opened in 1966, it was a symbol of modern Tokyo.

Nakano Broadway, now a comfortable 46 years old, is still there today, a short walk through the Sun Mall shopping arcade at the north exit of Nakano Station. But as the years passed, the building morphed from a modern symbol of Japan’s bright future to, strangely enough, something of a retro paradise for Tokyo otaku or nerd subculture. In Nakano Broadway today you can still find everyday shops in the basement and first floors: tea shops, noodle restaurants, clothing stores, and pharmacies, for example. But if you go up to the second floor and higher, you’ll find all the manga comics, action figures, movie posters, electronics, and old railway memorabilia you could ever hope for.

Tokyo’s Akihabara district is the most famous area for otaku subculture, with all its comic stores, electronics shops and French maid-themed cafes. However, Nakano Broadway, as I learned on a recent visit, has been a haven for fans of Japanese subculture since the Mandarake store, a retailer of used comics, action figures, and other subculture paraphernalia set up shop there in the 1980s. Nakano Broadway, compared to Akihabara, is a lot more relaxing: while the streets of Akihabara are filled with touts yelling out the bargains while loud music blares from every storefront, the corridors of Nakano Broadway are calm, clean, and filled with quiet customers browsing racks of the latest manga comics.

For me, the most bewitching thing about Nakano Broadway was the sheer variety of goods on sale. On my recent visit, I picked up some stationary at a basement 100-yen store and a bento lunch box at a shop near the first floor entrance. Then I went upstairs and browsed a few magazines and manga comics, looked at some second-hand stereo amplifiers, and walked past display cases of action figures and old movie posters. Finally, I popped into a tiny shop selling train memorabilia and bought an old handwritten train schedule (I am a bit of a train otaku myself). I rode home on the subway with my bento, stationary and antique train schedule. It was a classic Nakano Broadway day.

Access:Nakano Broadway is a five minute walk through the Sun Mall shopping arcade, which is located at the north exit of Nakano Station on the JR Chuo and Sobu lines and the Tokyo Metro Tozai line.

Hours:Opening hours vary with each shop, but many are open from noon to 8pm. Each shop sets its own closing days, but many are shut on Wednesday and over the New Year. On the third Wednesday in February every year the building is closed for maintenance.