By Matthew Hernon - OCT 31, 2017
An intriguing blend of old and new, Isezaki Mall is a 1.2km long shopping street divided into seven blocks. It boasts a huge array of stores ranging from quaint specialist shops to huge chain stores.
Yurindo bookshop's flagship store is located in the area, as is well-known confectionery maker Fujiya's second shop (the first one in Motomachi no longer exists). There are a number of trendy cafes, shops, bars, all kinds of restaurants and places for children to enjoy. In short, there's a little bit of something for all generations.
It's a very short walk from Kannai station to the huge metal gate that welcomes you to Isezaki Mall, which is a specific designation given to the 1st and 2nd street (1-chome and 2-chome) of Isezaki Mall. On very hot days (when it's over 30 degrees Celsius) a machine blows cool mist near the entrance to help keep shoppers cool. This part of the Mall is bright and full of trees, all of which have signs in both English and Japanese telling you the names of the trees. Isezaki Mall, which is roughly 400 meters long and has more than 130 shops, is managed by enthusiastic producer Mr. Ishida.
"Isezaki Mall was established in the seventh year of the Meiji period (1874)," he says. "Some businesses from that time, in fact even before it, can still be found on this street today, though in some cases the kind of products they are selling have changed.
"In addition to the older, traditional shops we also have a variety of popular stores from the modern era such as Uniqlo and ABC Mart so I think it's quite an eclectic mix. However, there aren't really what you would call super high-end brands. It's an unpretentious street for ordinary people and I think that's helped to create a fun atmosphere."
According to Mr. Ishida, Isezaki Mall is an enjoyable place to experience even for those who aren't interested in shopping. One of the main reasons for this is the wide range of events that are held there, almost on a daily basis. During our visit, a large crowd had already gathered in the morning for a 1pm "Yose" performance, which is like a storytellers' theater.
"There are 150 seats and I'm sure it will fill up pretty quickly," Mr. Ishida says. "There's always a lot of interest and we often have people standing on the sides. It's the same for our weekly jazz shows, mini concerts and other programs.
"These performances are held in the JRA Excel Isezaki building and are free for everyone. Some of the bigger events that take place outside include the main summer festival and daidogei (street performances) in April. Then there's the winter illumination that attracts large crowds. All in all, there are around 250 events a year so if you do plan to come here there's a good chance something will be happening."
The Isezakicho area also does its best to promote local talent. Many actors, singers and other celebrities performed there before making it big, most notably popular folk-rock duo, Yuzu. Yūjin Kitagawa and Kōji Iwasawa, who named the band after a yuzu sherbet the latter was eating, used to play in front of what was then the Matsuzakaya Department Store. The last time they busked in Isezaki Mall, a crowd of 7,000 turned up to watch them.
The pair recently returned to the area to play a nostalgic gig at the "Cross Street" club in the area's 4-chome district. Opened in 2010, it is a small, but bright multi-purpose center that was named by Iwasawa and Kitagawa in the hope that it would become a cross point for young artists to gather.
"Cross Street is a very modern venue, yet at the same time it has been built to try and recreate the atmosphere of Isezaki Mall in times gone by," says Mr. Nagai, who manages Isezaki Mall between 3-chome and 6-chome. "It has good acoustics because of the wooden interior, but it's not all about the music. There are art exhibitions, movie screenings, rakugo theater (lone storytellers), various lessons and many other kinds of events. It's an intimate place that only seats 50 people, though with standing you can fit around 100. Because of the glass exterior you sometimes get crowds gathering outside, especially when a group like Yuzu plays."
Yuzu's influence in Isezakicho cannot be underestimated, yet the town was well-known for its musical heritage long before they topped the charts. In 1968, Isezakicho Blues by Shizuko Ihara (professionally known as Mina Aoe) turned out to be a massive hit in Japan and other Asian nations, selling more than one million records, as well as featuring in numerous commercials and films. After Aoe passed away in 2001 a piano monument was erected on the fourth district of Isezaki Mall to honor her and the record (as well as a poster in the background). There's a button you can press if you want to hear part of the song.
"The start of next year will be the 50th anniversary since the hit was released so over the next few months we really want to promote the track and give it the platform it deserves," says Mr. Nagai. "It had a massive impact and helped Isezakicho become well-known, not just in Yokohama, but all over the country so it's an important part of our history.”
Mr. Nagai believes it is vital that a street like Isezaki doesn't forget its past. "Of course, new shops and buildings have emerged and will continue to do so, yet that doesn't mean the old stores are disappearing. You can see many companies here founded in the Meiji and Taisho periods that are still going strong today, particularly in this area (from 3-chome to 7-chome). We also have a wide selection of international restaurants ranging from Greek to Nepalese. There are many foreign residents living nearby who want to eat food from their own countries. Our goal is to make this a comfortable and enjoyable place for visitors and locals alike."
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
May and November
Isezaki Charity Pottery Market
November to January
Isezaki Light Street
1min. walk from "Kannai Station" (North Exit) : JR Keihin-Tohoku Line, Yokohama municipal Subway Blue Line
4min. Walk from "Isezaki-chojamachi Station" : Yokohama municipal Subway Blue Line
7min. Walk from "Hinodecho Station" : Keikyu Line
7min. Walk from "Bashamichi Station" : Minato-Mirai Line