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Once upon a time, Tokyo’s streets were filled with pushcart vendors selling every imaginable item. Those fabled days are making a comeback, with small startup companies and hardworking individuals plying Tokyo’s streets selling food and small goods in many parts of the city. The resurgence of these vendors may be a sign of hard times as much as entrepreneurial spirit, but they give Tokyo’s streets a welcome bit of character.

Most pushcart vendors walk neighborhoods, crying out with distinctive calls and short melodies. These days, their cries may not be heard as easily as when Tokyoites lived in small wooden houses, but with regular routes in many neighborhoods, people can once again expect the availability of bread, tofu or vegetables very close to their homes. That is more convenience than most convenience stores provide, and anyway, huge retailing companies can never attach such a human face to their sales.

This new breed of pushcart vendor is more than just a quaint gimmick. They seem a reaction against the facelessness of Internet shopping and ever-larger supermarkets and chain stores. Chatting with a live human being seems a more satisfying way to fulfill one’s shopping needs than filling in yet another online form and punching in credit card numbers. With many famous retailers closing or downscaling their operations, a return to the human scale of pushcart vendors seems more a practical reality than a nostalgic yearning for simpler times.

Pushcart vending is not an easy way to make a living. Anyone pushing a cart for 10 hours on a rainy or cold day must be in pretty good physical shape.

Surely, pushcart wheels and axles have improved from years ago, but even with that, selling on the street is not an easy job. In difficult economic times, though, one has to admire their entrepreneurial spirit and gambare attitude.

Tokyo is one of the most expanded cities in the world, but as the population ages, car trips to big grocery stores may be less appealing than home delivery of quality items. Like some areas’ local transportation systems that provide smaller buses with more frequent stops, pushcart vendors help keep neighborhoods alive. The sound of their horns may not be romantic to everyone’s ears, but until the economic times improve, vendors are only likely to increase.

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