Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street: Feel as if You Are in 1960’s Japan at This Town Bursting With the Energy of the Showa Era

Just north of the Saitama-Tokyo border is the long-established Seibuen Yuenchi Amusement Park and its Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street, with retro nooks galore that let you experience the energy and nostalgia of Japan’s glorious Showa period (1926 - 1989). Teeming with old-fashion aesthetics and pastimes unique to that period of Japanese history, Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street provides authentic Showa-era treats and photo opportunities. For this edition of our “Area of Japan - Where I Would Like to Bring My Friends” series, we jumped into the town’s vibrantly vintage atmosphere and joined the spirited locals for a full day in the life of past Japan.

Saitama

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Seibuen Yuenchi: The Long-Established Amusement Park Where You Can Relive the Charms of Past Japan

Opened in 1950 in Saitama Prefecture’s Tokorozawa City, Seibuen Yuenchi Amusement Park celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2020 by undergoing the first large-scale renovation in its many years of illustrious service devoted to the amusement of locals and visitors alike. The park reopened in 2021, sporting a new, yet heart-warming concept of “a world filled with an uplifting sense of happiness” that honors its Showa roots and splendor.

The project took pride in what might have been perceived as plainly old-fashioned by turning those areas into precious pieces of history and valued the park’s existing structures and facilities without having the attractions go through major changes. And while safety and security are ensured by conducting regular inspections, the rides’ old-fashioned aesthetics were not altered, treasuring the layer of time that made Seibuen Yuenchi cherished by many.

Now a place that has stood the test of time and has found in the passing of eras a renovated aura nostalgia, the amusement park has been visited by many, becoming since its renewal a real sensation on social media.

Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street: Experience Japan’s Showa Era Amusements and Spirit

The Showa era’s 1960s were a time of miraculous economic growth, brought to life at Seibuen Yuenchi’s Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street. Characterized by the development of new industries as well as soaring international trade and export, these years of rapid progress witnessed innovations such as instant noodles and coffee, the diffusion of mass media, the expansion of the national transportation network, and even the inauguration of the first “shinkansen” bullet train line in 1964. 

With the economy thriving, the standard of living rose consequentially, resulting in a popularity boom for electric appliances such as refrigerators and televisions, which became a common sight in Japanese households. Wrapped in wealth and hope, this prosperous decade is still regarded today by Japanese people as a moment in time when everyone was particularly kind and generous. 

Seibuen Yuenchi embodies the warmth of those typical Showa life moments, with the travel back in time starting right from the train on the way to the park. Set in front of the entrance square is Seibuen Yuenchi Station on the Seibu Railway Yamaguchi Line Leo Liner. Probably one of the shortest train lines in Japan, counting only three stations, it is easily accessible with a 50-minute ride from Shinjuku Station and stands as a quaint miniature building reminiscent of the good old days.

Served by smaller-than-usual trains painted in brown and yellow,  the colors used by Seibu Railway in the 60s, the journey to reach it made us feel as if we were enthusiastic time travelers ready to depart for the Showa era.

Once we stepped into Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street, the heart of the park’s renewal project, what spread out ahead was a scene of nostalgic beauty where architecture unique to the Showa period enclosed a parade of vintage shops, signboards, and foods typical of those times. In only 150 meters, 30 different establishments offer glimpses into the life of Showa-era Japan, with 15 of them being experience-based interactive stores such as restaurants and retailers and the remaining being performance stages and photo spots.

Similar to a polaroid picture from the past, motionless in its retro appearance but with a very much lively soul, the shopping street was filled with the cheerful notes of popular Showa songs entwined with the high-spirited voices of the local “residents” welcoming us; letting us soak in the excitement of 1960’s Japan as we gradually made our way through the street.

Get Started: Change Your Modern-Day Yen Into Seibuen Currency and Grab the Local Newspaper

As we planned to spend the day enjoying Yuhi no Oka to our heart’s content, savoring the joy of nostalgic leisures and shopping, we first stopped at Yuhi no Oka Post Office to exchange our money. 

Fun historical accuracy is applied to the park’s most unexpected details, so payments can’t be done using modern-day yen, but instead require Seibuen Yuenchi’s own currency, the vintage-looking “Seibuen Tsuka.” Coming in bills of “10en” and “100en,” Seibuen Tsuka showcases original designs inspired by master manga artist and animator Osamu Tezuka’s “Kimba the White Lion.” Father of Japan’s manga revolution, Tezuka produced some of the most influential and innovative manga series in Japan’s history, with “Kimba the White Lion” being one of the first-ever color animated series created and broadcasted on Japanese television in the 1960s.

Part of the fun lay in spotting the iconically-Showa red and round post box, paying a visit to a faithful recreation of a Showa-era post office, and getting to see the prices around the shopping street similar to what they would have looked like back in the day. Paying with old-fashion bills, in contrast to modern electronic payments, adds that extra touch of warmth. 

“300en” (3,600 yen) is recommended for a full day of fun,  and can be purchased not only at the post office but also at the ticket counter in a set with your entry ticket for an extra discount. The "1 Day Leisure Bargain Pack," which combines the "1-Day Leisure Entry Ticket" and packages of "Seibuen Currency," is between 100 yen and 300 yen cheaper, depending on the option you choose.

*Seibuen currency is valid only on the day of issue.
*Seibuen currency cannot be refunded.
*Please note that actual currency (yen) is required for lockers, vending machines, and stroller rental.

Another fundamental step towards the success of your day in the Showa era is picking up the local newspaper for free at Kameyama Shinbun Newspaper Distributor, located right at the entrance of Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street. Keeping track of anything happening in town, the newspaper details events, festivals, and the latest delicacies on sale and where to find them, proving to be a useful and curated guide map to navigate the community’s customs and the Showa way of life! 

 

Highlights of Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street

Kissa Victoria: Enjoy Authentic Showa Cuisine at This Retro Coffee Shop

Probably one of the most popular establishments along the shopping street, with people lining up during peak hours, Kissa Victoria is a “kissaten” or Japanese-style coffee shop. As we didn’t mind an early lunch, we made good use of the locals’ suggestion and headed there first thing in the morning when the kissa was still quiet and almost empty. 

Kissaten and their distinctive aesthetics and food are strongly associated with the Showa period and the concept of “Showa Retro,” the feeling of nostalgia and admiration for anything Showa, as kissaten’s popularity exploded and they became more widely accessible to normal people only during the years of the rapid economic growth. Privately run, kissaten are places full of personality, either reflecting the eccentric characteristics of their proprietors or offering hideaways imbued with sober tranquility for the patrons. 

Kissa Victoria is a perfect representation of the Showa retro atmosphere and is an ideal place to enjoy Showa coffee shop culture. We opened its doors and entered a space of relaxation, surprisingly calm for a spot of such popularity, and full of eye-catching details. A rotary phone awaited by the entrance with its unusually bulky yet cute appearance, elegant decor from a bygone era such as refined lamps and chairs embellished the room, while a selection of nostalgic-looking books and magazines took up the bookshelf. 

If you are able to grab a window table, you will be rewarded by both a full view of the cozy room and the energetic Yuhi no Oka going about its day outside the kissaten. Then grab a menu and be ready to be surprised by a lesser-known side of Japan’s food offer!

Authentic Showa cuisine might seem unexpectedly familiar to many, as some of its most recognizable dishes are Western-inspired recipes with a Japanese flair. Sticking to popular Showa options, the menu at Kissa Victoria presented a selection of the era’s best staples that soon filled our table with their bright colors and flavors. 

The most classic among Showa drinks, the “melon cream soda,” which combines melon-flavored soda and vanilla ice cream garnished with a maraschino cherry, made for an exhilarating drinking experience as a single sip contained a fusion of flavors and textures, from the refreshing effervescence of the soda to the mellow sweetness of the ice cream and melon syrup. 

Cream soda made its way to Japan in 1902 when Fukuhara Arinobu, founder of Shiseido, impressed by American soda fountains, decided to import one and open a soda fountain corner inside the Shiseido Pharmacy in Ginza. Although the drink made its debut in Japan in the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), cream soda only spread throughout the country in the period of rapid economic growth. As in the 1960s eating melon and ice cream at home was still a privilege for richer people, cream soda was considered a special treat you could only relish when going out.

Another steady presence among Showa people’s favorites was the “spaghetti napolitan” which, despite the name, is a Japanese invention. First served at Yokohama’s Hotel New Grandーfounded in 1927 and often used by American military officersーand influenced by the American soldiers’ customs of eating spaghetti with ketchup, spaghetti napolitan was paired throughout time with a variety of ingredients such as onion, mushrooms, green peppers, bacon, and sausage. Albeit every establishment has its own version, Kissa Victoria’s spaghetti napolitan was probably some of the best we’ve ever had, as it was not overly sweet and used thicker-than-normal and perfectly-cooked al dente spaghetti.

Yokohama’s Hotel New Grand was also the birthplace of our cute dessert, “pudding à la mode,” a luxurious ensemble of custard pudding, fruit, and whipped cream. “À la mode” means “trendy” in French, and was perfectly chosen to describe this sophisticated sweet, both gorgeous to look at and satisfying in volume, that was invented with the intention of serving it to the wives of high-ranking U.S. military officers.

Savor Old-Fashion Street Food That Will Win Your Heart and Palate

The culinary excitement doesn’t end at Kissa Victoria, as outside is still a vibrant world of Showa food wonders waiting to be explored. While you go up and down the shopping street, take note of your favorites as surely time traveling requires a conspicuous amount of energy and you might gradually get hungry. At Yuhi no Oka, you can indulge in an abundance of refreshments, from savory snacks to sweet treats. Anything on offer is nostalgic-looking and representative of Japan’s street food culture.

・Tsurukamedou - Munch on Some Locally-Grown Green Tea Glazed Dango

Committed to our food-hopping adventure, we first stopped at Tsurukamedou, a grilled “dango” Japanese rice dumpling shop that caught our eyes with its cheerful yet elegant appearance. The shop is inspired by long-established dango shops that can boast histories dating back to the Edo period (1603 - 1867). Often managed by the same family over the years, these types of businesses take great pride in preserving their original recipes, crafting inexpensive but deliciously fragrant dango. 

Tsurukamedou sells classics such as “kurumitsu kinako dango” (dango with Japanese sugar syrup and roasted soybean flour) and “mitarashi dango” (dango flavored with sweet soy sauce), but we went for the “Sayama tea dumpling” which uses locally-produced Sayama tea for the glaze. The tea’s distinctive sweetness really paired well with the chewy and slightly crispy texture of the grilled dango. 

・Niku no Ohomi - Taste One of Japan’s Most Humble Yet Beloved Snacks, Korokke Croquettes

If you catch an inviting aroma wafting through the shopping street, you might be fairly certain that it is coming from Niku no Ohomi. The local butcher shop and deli is a favorite of many, with its specialties being the humble “korokke” (Japanese croquettes) and “menchi katsu” (Japanese breaded and deep-fried ground meat patty). Despite being a deep-fried snack, Niku no Ohomi’s croquettes were light and crispy, with every bite being a harmonious mix of fluffy filling and crunchy “panko” breadcrumbs.

Surprisingly, korokke were introduced in Japan as a luxurious, exotic dish during the Meiji period and only became widely available as a common and inexpensive food thanks to the lower price of its core ingredients during the Taisho (1912 - 1926) and Showa period. Today, korokke are a very homely snack made of simple ingredients like mashed potatoes and chopped meat, so popular that they are sold in basically any convenience store around Japan, but nothing can beat the freshly-made version. 

・Toyokawa Ice Shop - Cool Off With Japan’s Festival Staple, Kakigori

Need to cool off from the excitement of the shopping street? Toyokawa Ice Shop is the place for you! This parlor serves one of the most simple yet most beloved Japanese summer sweets and a staple of Japanese festivals: “kakigori” shaved ice. Search for the traditional flag with the red “氷” (the kanji character for “ice”) on it and spot the cute, vintage shaved ice machine in the window shop to savor a cup of refreshing shaved ice topped by energizing fruit-flavored syrups.  

Although kakigori was well-known and eaten as a delicacy by aristocrats since the Heian period (794 - 1185), it was only during the Showa period that shops started to be widely accessorized with shaved ice machines and kakigori became a common food that everyone could enjoy. At Toyokawa Ice Shop you can relish three different types of kakigori: strawberry, lemon, and melon. 

・Tanbotando - Relish a Sophisticated Treat, Whiskey Bonbon

Another interesting establishment you’ll encounter along the way on Yuhi no Oka is the Japanese and Western Confectionery Shop Tanbotando. Here, you can savor sophisticated treats like the whiskey bonbon, a type of liquor-filled confectionery coated in sugar, that you can eat on the spot in the rest area or bring back home as a souvenir! 

Dagashi Yumemido: Stock Up On Nostalgic Treats and Souvenirs From the Showa Era

Ready to further explore the world of Showa souvenirs, we headed to Dagashi Yumemido, a store selling “dagashi,” which are sweet and savory snacks comparable to American penny candy.

The word “dagashi” derives from the union of two Japanese words: “da” (futile) and kashi (candies) as it refers to snacks with fun and colorful packaging that you could afford even with just pocket money. Dagashi experienced its greatest popularity in the Showa period when “dagashiya” (stores that specialized in dagashi) were common and a staple after-school hangout spot for younger students.

Inside Dagashi Yumemido, a parade of multicolored boxes were waiting for us, concealing with their glittering wrapping an assortment of mysterious snacks we’ve never tried before. Ask the staff for the locals’ favorites or just pick the ones that catch your eye, you won’t be disappointed by the endless array of unknown, appetizing treats! 

Sweet bestsellers include “konpeito,” which are colorful gems of sugar that you might have seen in some of Studio Ghibli’s movies, and “karinto,” which is deep-fried brown sugar that comes in irresistibly cute, pastel milk cartons. Among the savory dagashi, don't miss the “sauce katsu.” As bizarre as it might sound, this inexpensive snack version of Japan’s “tonkatsu” pork cutlet is a long-selling item with a surprisingly addictive taste. 

Soak in the Showa Atmosphere at These Vintage Photo Spots

Overflowing with nostalgic ambience, Yuhi no Oka was thoughtfully designed after extensive research done on building architecture and shopping districts, combining structures that are distinctive of the Taisho and Showa periods.

One of the most fascinating architectural styles we could spot along the shopping street was the highly decorative “kenban kenchiku” or “signboard architecture,” which appeared for the first time after the Great Kanto Earthquake during the large-scale land readjustment that was carried out in the severely-damaged Tokyo between 1923 and 1938. Such buildings emerged as an alternative to classic Japanese townhouses and were quickly adopted by small and medium-sized shops across the country.

As many businesses lacked the means to build reinforced concrete structures, the body of the building would usually be of wood which copper plates, mortar, or tiles might be applied over. The most recognizable trait of this style was the large and flat facade, reminiscent of a giant, single signboard and usually accentuated by decorative elements such as gaudy storefronts and elaborate shop signs. 

The town is a collection of such intriguing buildings and even more, with basically any establishment on the street making for a spectacular photo opportunity. From the pastel-blue barber shop with a striking Showa shop sign to the “sento” public bath at the end of the street, spreading before our eyes was a dynamic blend of colors and patterns where we could feel the Showa liveliness and the joyful personalities of the residents shining through so much that we couldn’t help but want to join their festive spirit. So, where shop owners were momentarily absent, we promptly took their place behind the counters and snapped some fun shots using the available props. 

In one day, we got to live the life of a Showa-era fishmonger at Uokatsu, bustling about boxes of fish and seashells. At Seika Yaoya, we could experience a moment in the shoes of a 1960s greengrocer while taking a look at the local offer of typical Japanese vegetables such as daikon and cabbage. 

Then, we could get a taste of what Japanese pop culture was like back in the day and experience the joy of browsing through the records shop’s small collection of vinyls as well as making a call with a nostalgically Showa red dial phone. These phones were synonymous with Japan’s street corners and could be found in tobacco shops, train stations, restaurants, and even coffee shops, waiting for people to insert coins and slowly turn the dial to phone numbers digits.

The atmosphere was beautifully tied together by the visitors themselves. As people often like to explore Yuhi no Oka wearing cool vintage reinterpretations of clothes that could have worn during those times, the town felt even more full of life and energy. We couldn’t be outdone and also tried our best to blend in and incorporate the local sense of fashion by putting together outfits that could complement the gorgeous retro scenery. 

Join the Locals at Festivals and Shows Brimming With the Energy of the Showa Era

Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street is not only a great place to immerse yourself in a lively Showa townscape, but also to interact with people from 1960’s Japan. As we walked around, the town’s residents welcomed us with their quintessentially Showa personalities. Good-natured, a little meddlesome, but always exuding a sense of positivity and rippling energy, they embody the warmth and hope associated with the Showa era. 

From the policemen to the fishmonger, these exuberant characters didn’t miss a chance to greet us and stop us along the way for some chit-chat, involving us in the life of the town

And it’s exactly when all the residents gather that Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street heats up the most. Once a day, at 12:00 pm, the entire shopping street comes together to celebrate the town’s exciting Boogie-Woogie Festival. A joyous moment of pure Showa fervor and enthusiasm, during which the residents sing, dance, and show off their talents. 

The festival took up the totality of the street, with visitors being drawn to its festive fuss and slowly abandoning themselves to the thrill and spontaneity of the celebration. 

Numerous shorter performances also liven up the town throughout the day, offering fun glimpses into how the residents spend their day. We could spot the policeman trying to catch the local thief revealing some acrobatic moves, his newcomer colleague attempting to involve passers-by in funny radio calisthenics warm-ups that made everyone smile, and even the variety shop owner starting to skilfully play the drums only using old pots and pans, getting us more and more captivated with each and every show. By the end of the day, we felt like we were true Yuhi no Oka locals ourselves! 

Spend a Day in the Showa Era at Seibuen Yuenchi’s Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street

Rewind time and step back to the exciting Showa period at the retro Yuhi no Oka Shopping Street. Surrounded by the beautiful townscape of past Japan and people overflowing with energy and joy, you’ll savor a true moment of nostalgia enjoying all the best 1960’s Japan has to offer!

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Kanto Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

About the author

Stefania
Stefania Sabia
Klook.com

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