Shotengai are packed with small mom and pop shops (family run retail establishments). Shops in a shotengai often include cheap eateries, izakaya, dry cleaners, convenience stores, clothing shops, arcades, pachinko, grocery stores, vegetable stands and book shops.
Shotengai usually don't have bars or other nightlife. Shops in the shotengai normally close before 11 or 12 pm.
Shotengai are found in every large Japanese city. Prominent examples include Musashi-koyama shotengai in Tokyo, Shinsaibashi-suji shotengai in Osaka, Sanjo-kai shotengai in Kyoto and Tanuki-koji shotengai in Sapporo.
Shotengai are sometimes considered private property. They're run by shop owner associations. Police are known to be hesitant to interfere in the affairs of a shotengai.
Shotengai can be hundreds of years old. Some date back to the Edo-era. In many cases, shops have been handed down from generation to generation. These days, fast food chains and other chain shops are to be found in shotengai.
The term shotengai is also used to describe shopping streets that don't have a roof but have an entrance gate declaring the name of the shotengai.
Shotengai promote themselves with decorations, events and contests. Some have pretty eccentric decorations.