Hot or cold, rain or shine, the nice thing about Tenjin is that you can get around by walking through the Chikagai, an underground shopping arcade that opened in 1976. Including a southern extension added in 2005, the Chikagai runs 600 m and covers 53,000 m2 of floor space. More than 150 shops line the two-lane arcade which is traveled by approximately 400,000 people daily. Tenjin Chikagai is the fifth largest free-standing underground arcade in Japan.
The Chikagai was initially conceived as a way to safely separate road and pedestrian traffic. In the late Taisho and early Showa eras, when the population began to concentrate in the city center the number of automobiles on the roads skyrocketed, an underground passageway was built for pedestrians. However, this was deemed unsafe because it was dark and not well traveled, so a plan was floated to make the passageway more secure by adding lights and shops. Eventually, this led to the establishment of the Tenjin Chikagai as we know it today.
When it was first built, the Chikagai differed from its counterparts around Japan because it was dimly lit. At that time, most underground malls were well it, but the lights in the Tenjin Chikagai were purposely kept low to make the brightly lit shops stand out. The design was also highly innovative, with its 19th century southern European-style cobblestone walkway and arabesque ceiling.
At first, some complained that the Chikagai was too dark and its cobblestones were hard to walk on, but now the unique underground mall has become a local landmark. Despite being nearly 40 years old, the chic European-style atmosphere seems to have stood the test of time.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn205, Jan. 2016)