Our Town Yokohama : Events
The Honmoku area jazzes it up at the end of summer
Honmoku is a confusing area of Yokohama: just south of Yamate (aka The Bluff, the center of the foreign community), it celebrates its fishing port roots, but the original port is now landfill on which Japan’s biggest natural gas tank farm, plus oil refineries, rests; the port now mainly serves LNG carriers. With those humble fishing port roots, prewar, it was also an area for country homes of some of the city’s wealthiest families. (Hence one of the city’s blessings, the Sankeien, a beautiful park with a collection of historic structures and gardens founded by silk merchant heir cum poet Hara Sankei). It’s very humble and fishy, but has been developing into a fairly upscale residential and shopping area—whose merchants rejected connection to the new Minato Mirai subway line, which would have made the major shopping center there more easily accessible. It also has over fifty years of smoldering resentment over so much land in Honmoku being expropriated by the US military during the Occupation (land that has now been returned and converted into said upscale housing and shopping). At the same time, Honmoku celebrates the end of summer every year with a jazz festival, one of Japan’s oldest, with clear roots in decades of contact with the groups associated with the US military as well as all the bars and restaurants that served the crews of the cargo ships of old.
The upshot of all this confusion is that Honmoku somehow organizes one mean jazz festival, with an emphasis on Japanese funk groups. It’s all afternoon and evening, out of doors, all the jazz you want for 4,500 yen (a great price, but early ticket purchasers get deep discounts). This year, the festival, their 26th, is on Sunday, August 27.
Honmoku is great fun, but its festival is just a warmup for the Yokohama Jazz Promenade, Japan’s largest and most exciting jazz festival, which will be held October 7-8 this year. While Honmoku may be a little confused, the Yokohama Jazz Promenade knows exactly what it’s about—world-class jazz in the heart of a world-class city, with the best of the old and the new. This year’s schedule is set; I’ll be telling more about it soon. Meanwhile, save that weekend and prepare to promenade.
The west (landward) side of Yokohama Station is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first shopping arcade there. It’s hard to imagine now, looking at the department stores, restaurants, boutiques, banks, hotels, cram schools, and all the other businesses clustered there that until well after WWII, the west side of the station was a wasteland.
Major train stations—and Yokohama Station, with at least 7 lines converging there, is one of the three busiest in Japan—naturally become commercial centers as well. With a million or two people pouring through daily, why not try to snag a few as customers for your donuts or Prada bags or Thai curries? The result of that entirely logical thought in Yokohama’s case is a concentration of opportunities to shop and make use of services.
It seems so obvious now, but it must have taken real vision back in 1956 to imagine what had been a fuel storage area and parking lot as a thriving commercial paradise. Some bold soul did, starting with a shopping arcade. Then the Takashimaya department store—my personal favorite for the quality and variety of their merchandise—moved in, others followed, the center of the wasteland became a huge city bus nexus, an underground shopping mall was dug beneath it, more train lines arrived, and on it goes.
The banners in the photograh celebrate the 50th anniversary with a bit of Yokohama dialect: “Yappa, Yokohama Nishi-guchi, jan” (Yokohama West Exit, natch). I’d guess that the face (the character for “mouth,” with features added) is by Rokko, a local artist who got his start applying graffiti to the truly hideous walls beneath the elevated train tracks running between Yokohama and Sakuragicho stations (Sakuragicho being the next stop; it’s also in Yokohama and in fact was the original Yokohama Station).
The areas around major train stations are a good place to catch a bit of music in the evening. Rock groups predominate, and a Friday night may see several taking turns performing while hoping to pick up some small change or even to catch the ear of a manager or record company scout. Frequently there’s someone with a guitar and a need to wail, but there are also accomplished musicians who for some reason are short of places to perform. We’ve run into jazz quartets more than once, and the popularity of Latin American music has made the sight of poncho-clad musicians not unusual. I think my favorite so far is a hammer dulcimer player, who had set up the stand for his instrument and was whanging away at it with great concentration and verve. (I associate the hammer dulcimer with Taiwanese temple orchestras as well as celtic music; it’s the ancestral piano, sans keyboard.) But the most astonishing was a trombone quartet playing, if I recall correctly, something by Handel. They were performing in broad daylight near the edge of the sidewalk, right beside all the taxi and bus traffic, but had no trouble being heard over the engine noise. Some of the rock groups seem to come with their own claques; the trombonists collected a crowd as we watched through sheer amazement at what they were doing.
The saxophone quartet shown here was also a treat—how often do we get to hear soprano, alto, baritone, and bass sax together? They were performing in a spot favored by musicians at Yokohama Station, under the deep overhang in front of the Takashimaya department store, on June 3, 2006.