By Matthew Hernon - OCT 31, 2017
A nostalgic trip down a shopping arcade in Japan during the heyday of the Showa Period: That is what it feels like strolling around the central streets of Rokkakubashi.
While other shōtengai in and around the capital have tried to modernize and keep up with evolving trends, this particular area has stayed true to its origins. Devoid of big concrete buildings taking up space, it is full of small stores (around 170 in total), many of which are owned by people born in the neighborhood.
This is particularly true of the covered Nakamise street. It is the most popular area of the region and for good reason. Here you will find butchers, fishmongers, green grocers, kimono-sellers, stylish cafés and nice confectionary shops as well as businesses that have become extremely rare in Japan such as shops selling geta (Japanese clogs) and zori (Japanese sandals) .
"The look and atmosphere of Rokkakubashi is what we call ‘Showa retro’," says chairperson Mr. Ishihara. "Around the start of the Heisei period (1989- ) you saw a lot of supermarkets and chain stores opening up throughout the country, and many shōtengai decided to redevelop in order to keep up. For us, it was important not to lose our identity.
"The essence of the shōtengai can be seen in the little mom and pop stores you see around here," he continues. "That's not to say chain shops or new establishments aren't welcome, it's just that they should adhere to certain guidelines. We have a strong community spirit in Rokkakubashi and there has to be consensus amongst the locals before a new business opens."
The area, which was used by samurai as a gateway to Kozukue Castle in the 1400s, was officially named Rokkakubashi Town in 1927 (having previously been merged with other villages). Hakuraku Station had been built a year earlier and Rokkakubashi Station, a tramcar station now abolished and removed, had been located later. These stations had subsequently attracted more visitors to the neighborhood, as did Yokohama College of Technology (present day Kanagawa University), which was relocated to the area in 1930.
Many buildings in Rokkakubashi were destroyed as a result of World War Two, but the resolve and determination of the locals remained. Once the conflict had ended they managed to bring customers back to the neighborhood by settling many small shops in the row houses and an arcade. Some of the businesses that emerged at the time can still be found in the town today. It was a hugely significant period for the town and is still reminded today via the famous Dokkiri yami-ichi (“startling black market”) that takes place from spring to autumn on the third Saturday of every month except for August.
"It starts from 8pm when all the shops are closed and is held in what is quite a narrow area so it gets pretty lively," says Mr. Ishihara, the chairperson of Rokkakubashi cooperative association. "There's food and drink as well as street performances, flamenco and live music. You even get some famous groups turning up to play for free. It’s just a great atmosphere, I think it's reminiscent of how things were back in the late 40s and early 50s.
"At the next Dokkiri yami-ichi coming up in September we will have what's called hito hako furu hon ichi (one box for secondhand books) At this event, you can sell or swap not only books but also CDs, DVDs, computer games and so on. After 11pm there is a chance to participate in the Charity Nojuku (outdoor sleeping) event. People bring their own sleeping bags, blankets, cardboard etc. and lay them down somewhere in the street. They then have the option of going on a specially arranged night tour around the area or they might just prefer drinking and chatting. Either way, it's a fun way to meet new people in what is quite an unusual setting. I don't think there are any other shopping arcades doing anything like this."
Down the years, Rokkakubashi shōtengai has attempted to entertain its residents and visitors with an array of events. One of the most successful has been pro wrestling, which is now more than a decade old. Every year in the first week of August somewhere between 500 and 600 people turn up to watch a variety of contests including individual bouts, tag teams and an iron cage death match.
Events like these take a lot of organizing, and according to Mr. Ishihara they wouldn't be possible without the help and support of students from Kanagawa University. "It's a very special relationship," he says. "Pupils from Jindai (as Kanagawa University is commonly known) have been enthusiastically contributing to Rokkakubashi's festivals and various other functions for a long time now and the number of volunteers from the college has been increasing year on year. They have a committee for the Dokkiri yami-ichi and are regularly communicating with local people from the area to make sure everything is done in a proper way that benefits the neighborhood."
Students from Kanagawa University are also involved in the "Orange Project"; an initiative set up by Rokkakubashi shōtengai to help raise awareness of dementia for shopkeepers and citizens, and to encourage a more supportive community for dementia sufferers or senior residents. Mr Itoi believes it’s important, in a neighborhood that has traditionally attracted a lot of senior citizens, to create an environment that is as comfortable as possible.
Rokkakubashi remains a popular spot for the elderly, however, in recent years the number of younger visitors to the area has increased dramatically. One of the main reasons for this has been the media and television coverage the neighborhood has received. It has featured in a variety shows and dramas, including most famously Kodoku no Gourmet. With interest continuing to grow, the district is thriving again. Shops that were previously boarded up are no longer vacant. The impressive turnaround was acknowledged by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism who gave Rokkakubashi the "Monthly Town Revitalization Award". The shōtengai was also named by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry as one of the "top 30 emerging streets" in the country.
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
Third Saturdays (April to October, except August)
Dokkiri Yami Iciba (Night Flea Market)
First Sundays (March to November, except July and August)
Umaimono Ichi (Yummy Foods Market) by Lady's Assocication
Pro Wrestling at Shotengai
Just near "Hakuraku Station" (West Exit) : Tokyu-Toyoko Line
1.5km away from "Kishine-Koen Station" : Yokohama Munisipal Sabway Blue Line
1.8km away from "Higashi-Kanagawa Station" : JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi Line