Our Town Yokohama
50 years of Yokohama Station (West Exit)
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).
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