Our Town Yokohama : History
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).
Yokohama keeps reinventing itself.
In 1859, it morphed from an impoverished fishing and farming village well off the beaten track into Japan’s first port to open to international trade. It swiftly became the place to go for new ideas and new products—jazz, formal education for women, ice cream, to name a few—as well as Japan’s most important port. After the devastation wrought by the 1923 earthquake, it rebuilt not by simply putting the city back together but with a thoughtful attempt at urban planning. After it was again
flattened by Allied bombing in 1945, it resumed the planning and rebuilding process as it coped with rapid population growth (now 3.5 million) and a shifting industrial base.
The structures in this photograph are part of its most recent effort to design a livable, vital city: Minato Mirai 21. Built on the site of a shipyard formerly located on the seaward side of Yokohama Station, this new development is anchored by Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building. A complex of office buildings, hotels, museums, hospitals, concert and convention facilities, and residential towers, Minato Mirai has been planned to revitalize the Yokohama experience by connecting the old city center (Sakuragi-cho, Kannai) with the booming commercial area that has grown up since 1956 around Yokohama Station, and incorporating thrilling views of the harbor and Tokyo Bay from every angle. It’s working!
Minato Mirai, like much of downtown Yokohama, is built on reclaimed land and is flat as can be. The Word Works is located slightly inland, on a steep bluff above Yokohama Station.
Yes, that’s Mt. Fuji in the photograph. On a clear day, we can see it from the office, too.