Rotensho (露天商)

"Rotensho" (露天商) are people who do business outside or under the sun, and who have no store. It is also written as 露店商, and is referred to as gaisho (street stallholder).


Groups referred to as rotensho
Tekiya (peddlers)
Tekiya is basically a traditional ancient Japanese vocation in which one travels looking for business in locations where a large number of people are expected, mainly around the sando (an approach to the temple) or precincts of temples and shrines, for rites and festivals, fairs, and annual events. Their business methods vary from simple ones where products are placed on a mat on the ground to show tents built as temporary buildings operated by organizations. Refer to tekiya for details.

Yatai (street stalls)
Yatai is not a method of business, but the use of a simple roof and counter, and while some tekiya conduct business in this way the word generally refers to yatai restaurants called yatai-gai seen all over Japan.

Monouri (peddling) or hikiuri
Monouri, not often seen today, are people who do business with a unique 'yobigoe' (call) and a musical instrument while walking through town, and since they used to pull along products stacked on large carts and bicycles, they were also called hikiuri.

Gyosho (peddlers)
Gyosho generally refers to those who do business through door-to-door sales with regular customers, but in suburbs or areas with a small trade-area, the main customers of monouri may also be regular customers, and tofu, natto (fermented soybeans), vegetables, and fish monouri tend to fall under this category.


It is said that today's tekiya date back to traders of lotus leaves (dealing with seasonal goods) who sold lucky charms of the season at markets (morning markets and seasonal markets) and fairs, magicians performing street performances on the main streets, and acrobatic artists also known as daikagura (lion dancer) and kyokugomashi (spinning trick performers). The origin is known to be the peddlers such as botefuri who helped the poor in the Edo period, or the yatai (having a roof and counter, as well as a simple kitchen and chairs for customers) mainly for eating and drinking which became popular from the Edo period.

Even today, ice cream sellers, mobile bakeries, peddlers coming into the city from the suburbs (in the Kanto area, peddlers from Chiba are well-known), oden (a Japanese dish containing all kinds of ingredients cooked in a special broth of soy sauce, sugar, and sake) yatai doing business in a fixed location near parks, and tekiya at festivals and fairs remain common not only in inner-cities, but in various regions.

As a new type of rotensho, some people do business in the yatai style using converted vehicles in business districts where shopping areas or the food service industry do not exist. Additionally, many ordinary people have a rotensho business as a venture or for both a hobby and for profit in places such as flea markets hosted by municipal organizations.

Leading rotensho

Here, only those not categorized as tekiya, yatai, monouri or gyosho are listed.

Shoe polishing
Shoe polishing is originally an occupation from Europe and the United States where leather shoes are worn, but with the Westernization which followed the Meiji Restoration, it developed as an occupation in Japan as well. During the economic restoration which followed World War II, it was regularly seen all over Japan as a way the poor earned their bread and butter, but they have become a rare sight in recent years.

Many have bought their own shops in recent years, but even today, there are fortune-tellers in the centers of cities doing business in the open air with only a counter.

Stores for sharpening blades. Blade sharpeners were used for kitchen knives, pinking shears, razors, expensive knives, and even by carpenters who were not skilled in sharpening. In recent years, hardware stores have taken it up as a side job, but in the days when Japanese (as opposed to Western) knives were commonly used, they were often seen in every town in busy shopping areas.

The cooking and selling of tenshinamaguri (sweet broiled chestnuts)
Some are seen at fairs, but it generally refers to those who constantly do business in front of stations, and in other busy areas. The tenshinamaguri rotensho in front of the Kabuki-za Theater is a famous example.

Outside Japan
Rotensho other than restaurants and street performances are listed. Refer to Yatai for restaurant rotensho. Refer to Street Performance for street performance rotensho. Additionally, rotensho which cannot be seen in Japan are often listed.

Body measuring
The coin-run scales seen at amusement parks and festivals in Europe and the United States spread mainly to India and Southeast Asia, and have become a business done by individuals at fixed locations on the street or in a mobile capacity. In recent years, machines which can simultaneously also measure height, and are lighter for better portability have become common, and it has become possible to see sales people for mobile body measuring even on the Chinese continent.

Blood-pressure checks
These are commonly seen in parks at weekends in South and Central America, and are often performed by nurses with formal qualification for additional income.

These are commonly seen in parks or on streets in developing countries, and some barbers do business outdoors. They basically only do haircuts, but occasionally there are barbers who use such things as water tanks, to shave and shampoo.

Removing soft, downy hair
This is sometimes performed at the same time by the barbers described above, but because of the lack of water or as water is precious, there are businesses where the soft hair is removed by twisting two strings to twist and pull off the hair, or alcohol is used to burn the soft hair.

Seen in areas within the sphere of Chinese civilization, it is basically performed mainly on the upper body because the customer is seated in a chair. Additionally, in beach resorts in Southeast Asia, some beachgoers lay almost naked, so it is a simple business offering a full-body massage using a towel and oil.

Nail care
Often performed by the masseur described above, naturally for an extra charge.

Cup and ball
A form of gambling known to be the origin of magic, played with three cups and one ball, hiding the ball under one cup, and the customer tries to guess which cup it is under.

Poker games
Poker games played on the streets or in parks.

Chess for money, played on the streets or in parks.

Gasoline sales
This is seen especially in countries where motorcycles with smaller tank capacities are the main means of transportation. They sell small amounts of gasoline in plastic bottles at the roadside.

Flower selling
This is historically a very old occupation, appearing in stories and literature as a theme or character setting. It is known today as a leading occupation for child labor in developing countries.

Cigarette selling
They are seen mainly in developing countries pulling a luggage rack with something akin to a bookcase with products neatly displayed for sale. In countries such as India and the Philippines, the cigarettes are sold individually instead of in boxes.

Snack selling
This is often seen in developing countries, and chewing gum, candy, and flavored peanuts are some examples of what is sold. Similar to flower selling, it is also known as a leading occupation for child labor.

The decline of rotensho in Japan and reasons for their existence

Among shopping areas those with arcades were perfect locations for rotensho, but in recent years these have tended to have been removed due to their image such as having a dark atmosphere and being old-fashioned, as well as with their high maintenance costs, and these conditions are among the causes of the decline in rotensho. In front of stations, those with vested rights since the time of disorder after the war continued to do business, but they are disappearing as they are removed during renovation when the buildings are rebuilt.

In inner-cities, there were various areas in Japan where yatai-gai existed for hundreds of years, but because of vested rights, road-use, and road-occupancy issues, as well as issues regarding the Food Sanitation Act, electricity supply, the supply and drainage of water and street pollution, they were in fact eliminated in areas where expositions and world championships were held, using them as an impetus to have them removed. However, in some areas such as Hakata, they are beginning to be kept alive by public and private support, with the will of local residents and the belief of government that 'yatai are part of the culture of Japan,' and they bring various benefits regarding tourism and regional promotion.

Rotensho represented by tekiya were deeply connected to temples and shrines supported by local residents over a long period of time, but in recent years Japanese people have become less connected to temples and shrines, and do not actively participate in festivals as a danka (supporter of a Buddhist temple) or ujiko (shrine parishioner). Because of this and the diversification of values, hobbies, and the way people spend their weekends, few want to take the job due to the decline of festival culture, as well as the reduced profits of the tekiya.

Reasons for existence
The poor of society have existed across the world and in any period in history, and the rotensho requires little initial investment and is low in risk and essential to society. In New York, rotensho such as hot dog sellers continue to trade, serving their social role, but in Japan, because of the reasons above and the change in attitudes with the end of the high-growth period, they cannot be easily recreated. Although rotensho could be one solution for aging societies, societies where the gap between rich and poor is widening, and those with employment issues, there is no trend yet towards rethinking this as a society.

[Original Japanese]