Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Out with the Old: Motoyama Ichiba

Last Saturday, I was in Okamoto shopping, so I decided to buy some tofu at the family-run tofu shop. Almost twice as expensive as tofu at some supermarkets, but twice as delicious. As I walked along Suidosuji (the shopping street in Okamoto that runs east-west) towards Motoyama Ichiba (本山市場), I heard the sounds of heavy machinery and a tremendous crash. The day had come; demolition had begun. When the market came into view, I saw that the buildings in the south-west were but rubble—the hydraulic shovel filling up the truck. I knew it would happen eventually, but had no idea of exactly when.

Historically, Motoyama Ichiba is relatively new and really nothing to look at. Built in 1957 across from the then Motoyama Town Hall, it consisted of series of 16 buildings—eight on both the east and west—adjoining each other with the narrow passage inbetween running north-south to form an arcade. Yamatekansen, the main road running east-west from Amagasaki to Kobe, did not exist at the time. The area south of Suidosuji (lit. Water Avenue) to then Japan National Railway (now Japan Railways) tracks and beyond was nothing but rice paddies and vegetable patches.

When I lived near the market, I would visit religiously every Saturday to buy tofu, pickles and maybe eggs from tofu shop, tsukemono shop and poultry shop, respectively. Yuki, the maltese dog at the tsukemono shop, is famous for saving her master during the Great Hanshin Earthquake and was lauded in the press at the time for her loyalty. People would once come to the market just to meet her. Other shops included a hardware shop, a greengrocer, a dry cleaner, fresh udon noodle shop, a drug store and a dry goods shop. All were family-run.

The times changed, Hankyu subdivided the land north of the station and the Okamoto area became upmarket. With this change came chic boutiques, cafes, restaurants and, of course, supermarkets. The owner of the front shops at Motoyama Ichiba retired leaving the shops shuttered. The market became rundown, dark, dingy and uninviting. Slowly, other shops closed their shutters, too, with only eight shops open for business.

In more recent years, the hardware shop was converted into a quaint izakaya, which became our regular hangout and favourite restaurant to take visitors, especially from overseas. Then came a jumble shop cum coffee shop and an alteration shop. An effort was made to attract customers with a colourful guide to the shops in the market out the front. Fairy lights illuminated the entrance at Christmas. But the market never recovered its past glory.

Most shops are closed. The tofu shop, greengrocer and poultry shop are closing at the end of the month. The plans for the site are still unclear, but the tenants had heard that the market would be replaced by an apartment building with specialty shops on the ground floor.

Access: Walk north of JR Settsumotoyama Stn across the lights to the Suidosuji T-junction, turn left and it’s on your right. From Hankyu Okamoto Stn, walk south until the Suidosuji T-junction, turn right and it’s on your right.

1 comment:

  1. Such a shame. Gradually Japan is losing its markets and long indoor shopping streets (商店街). Japan is in too much of a hurry to embrace the western shopping experience. When the tachinomiyas disappear, so will I.