Yokohama Station West
Yokohama Station West
By Lisa Wallin - OCT 31, 2017
A bustling mini metropolis outside Yokohama’s west exit, Nishiguchi Gobangai shōtenkai is full of life both day and night. With plenty of restaurants, game centers, anime-related shops and a slew of other stores in a retro setting, this shopping area is a pleasure to explore.
Nishiguchi Gobangai shōtenkai has been around for over 50 years and though many shops have been replaced over the decades, the area still retains much of the old nostalgic atmosphere from its early days – even if it’s much more family friendly these days.
Back when the shopping street had its heyday, thanks to its close proximity to the station, it was a kind of seedy nightlife area with a dance hall, cabaret club and plenty of hostess bars. Gobangai’s current chairman Yasaburo Nanao explains, “It was the kind of place mothers would tell their children they absolutely weren’t allowed to enter. It was very much an adult entertainment area back then.”
However, as times have changed, so has the general atmosphere. In the past, almost all visitors to Gobangai were adults, while now there are more young people and families coming to the area. This is in part an active effort from the shōtenkai’s side, as they hope to make it a more attractive hangout space for younger crowds who are increasingly drawn to the area.
Gobangai means 5th Street, or Avenue, and the name was directly inspired by New York’s upscale thoroughfare with the same name, so perhaps the wild nightlife wasn’t the primary intention for the area. However, it received almost the same level of fame as the New York equivalent within Japan in 1973 when Mariko Takahashi released a single called “Gobangai Marie e,” which became a huge hit nationwide. The song tells of a search for a long lost love named Marie, who used to live in the area. The lyrics are simple, but resonated with the audience, perhaps especially because of the lyrics “Though Gobangai is close, it’s also very far away,” describing how difficult it may be to see someone from your past, even if you want to.
However, over the years Gobangai has changed from a middle-aged man’s paradise to a place that’s fun (and safe) for people of all ages. Restaurants make up the majority of the area, with several of them offering reasonable lunch sets. At dinnertime they fill up early with businessmen and the like looking for good food, good drinks, and a good time with friends and family.
There are traditional Japanese fast food favorites like sushi, okonomiyaki (a savory pancake-like dish), yakitori (chicken skewers), and oden (a kind of hotpot cuisine), as well as Chinese and Italian food, and a vast array of cafés. For those looking for a “deep Yokohama” experience, there is also standing bar, Choi Nomitei Yokohama, which offers guests a chance to experience a typical spot for casual drinks. There are no seats in the entire venue, which makes it surprisingly easy to strike up conversations with those around you.
For anime and vintage fans, Gobangai is a great place to pick up games, CDs and DVDs – especially those that are hard to find and may be unavailable elsewhere. Showa-era magazines can be found lining the walls, and offer great insight into the fashion and hairstyles of Japan’s postwar boom period. There’s even a store that sells old pre-smartphone-era cellphones and trading cards. While it would be hard to say Gobangai is equivalent to Akihabara, it does have the advantage of being smaller, making rare items easier to find – not to mention there is less competition.
For those looking for more modern gadgets, Smapho Station has a variety of smartphone accessory brands in store, ranging from reasonable classics to pricey exclusives.
Those with fashion on their mind have a choice between trendy secondhand vintage clothing stores and so-called “trad” shop Jan Tokunaga, which deals in custom-made suits and finer men’s wear. Jan Tokunaga has a history dating back to the Meiji period as it was opened in 1880, and is one of the oldest clothing shops in Yokohama (even older is Shinanoya in Naka ward, which opened in 1866). The shop, which moved location to its current spot in Gobangai in 1960, has solidified itself as one of Yokohama’s most prestigious purveyors of fashion over the years. With a focus on simple stylishness, Jan Tokunaga has a vast array of sophisticated accessories for the discerning man. The store also has a playful side, noticeable in for example its selection of tiepins, which includes a series of rose buds available in a range of colors from gray to red to green.
Despite Gobangai meaning 5th Avenue in English, it’s less of a street and more of a block full of shops, so it can be a little tricky to find your way around the first time you’re there. For many, that’s part of the appeal – it’s an adventure and you don’t know what you’ll find around the next corner. For others, there’s an information center with multilingual guides providing details on the shops, as well as a map showing free wi-fi spots in the area.
As for Gobangai’s future, Nanao is hopeful. “Without change, the area will stagnate. One day, I hope to offer experiences to people visiting here. For example, people could visit and not just eat soba or gyoza, but also be able to make it as well. I think it would add a bit of fun to the area, and give people a chance to do something they’ve never tried before.”
Nanao hopes more visitors from abroad will drop by Gobangai for a true “deep Yokohama” experience and that they enjoy the fun, lively atmosphere the place has to offer.
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
Yokohama Station West Summer Festival
Yokohama Station West Halloween
Yokohama Station West Town Bar (Machi-Baru)
Just near "Yokohama Station" West Exit
JR Lines, Keikyu Line, Tokyu-Toyoko Line, Sotetsu Line, Yokohama Municipal Subway Blue Line