Stalls are an indispensable part of the Fukuoka night scene. They appear throughout the town as dusk nears, and their operators begin preparing the oden, ramen, and other foods for the popular palate at affordable prices. About 150 stalls now operate in Fukuoka, the largest number of any city in Japan. The scene of their noren fluttering in the night breeze, down neon-lit streets of office buildings, has become an image typifying the city.
Dating from the Edo period, the stalls were originally counters with roofs outside restaurants that sold food to passersby. The merchants soon realized the advantages of moving to locations with more pedestrian traffic, and so attached wheels to their stalls and took them to busier streets. Their initial offerings were the Japanese equivalent of fast food, such as nigirizushi, soba and tempura.
There was a sharp increase in the number of stalls after the Second World War, when people lacked the resources to establish shops of their own during the postwar turmoil. While these stalls gradually disappeared in other parts of the country, they thrived in Fukuoka, and their operators even formed a business association. Though many stalls remain today, they face several challenges including a system that prevents the transfer of ownership, which means the business is limited to a single generation. Thus, the number of stalls in operation dwindles year by year.
Nevertheless, the stalls are part of the daily life of the people, and have now become a tourism resource. Debate has begun in Fukuoka City over how to resolve the various problems related to their operation. Last year, the city government appointed a person to head a municipal department for dealing with these problems, the first time such a measure has been taken in Japan. We hope their solutions meet the approval of the operators, the customers, and their neighbors on the city streets.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn159, Mar. 2012)