By Paul Mcinnes - OCT 31, 2017
Bashamichi is one of the most important and studied areas of eastern Japan. A vital port and customs area for the arriving foreign ships post-Edo period, the area named after horse-drawn carts ridden by wealthy foreigners has become synonymous with affluence, sophistication and cosmopolitanism. The port opened in the 1850s and Bashamichi was used for consulates, immigration and customs. Imagine it, if you will, as the Roppongi and Hiroo (in Tokyo) of those times in Japanese history.
It was the locality of the first gas lamps, ice cream, and photography, and a major gateway for foreign culture into Japan. In 1868 one of the Japan’s first photography studios was established here by Shimooka Renjo. In 1869 Fusazo Machida opened Japan’s first ice-cream store here. The area also hosted the headquarters of the former Yokohama Shokin Bank, which was constructed in 1904. The building still exists today and has been designated a vital cultural property of Yokohama city. It presently houses the Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.
Bashamichi didn’t start out as the bustling center it is today; rather, it was originally a rural town that suddenly sprang into life after soaking up cosmopolitan vibes and culture, and transformed into one of the major shopping areas in the country. It’s now a sophisticated shōtengai with a cool international atmosphere. Although probably not the go-to place if you’re on the hunt for brand names, sportswear or chain stores, Bashamichi is, however, full of interesting and unique stores offering items and products local to the area that you will not be able to buy anywhere else.
The design of Bashamichi is based on British architecture of that time, so you could be forgiven for imagining you are in London or Manchester as you take in the red brick facades. In recent years it’s become a haven for creative types who are opening new businesses and creating new opportunities for the area. And there has been no resistance from the old time locals who appear to embrace artistic entrepreneurs as a way of keeping the district alive and kicking as we move further into this new century.
According to managing director Mr. Soichirou Noritake, “We live in an era of immediacy and quick communication. From 2017, we began utilizing social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to open up communication between shopkeepers and customers. We are often asked why foreigners come to Bashamichi now. It’s because it has over 150 years of history and culture. Bashamichi, and Yokohama as a whole, taps into a gap left by Tokyo and Kyoto. It offers a different kind of experience which hopefully foreigners and tourists enjoy.”
It’s a bustling place these days with beautiful architecture and a huge variety of shopping experiences. It has hotels – both luxury and more affordable options for families – gyms, cafés, retail stores and craft beer bars such as the now legendary Bashamichi Taproom, which is part of the Baird chain of craft beer pubs and brewery. If you stop by for a beer, we recommend you try a pint of the Wheat King Wit. In terms of beer, it’s a game changer. It’s that good. The pub also has an array of great food and it offers American-style barbeque as part of the menu. So if in search of a little piece of home or you just need a quick rest, then Taproom is the perfect spot.
There’s a beautiful and very apt aphorism by famed English author G.K. Chesterton. “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” It’s always better to be the traveler, naturally, and Bashamichi – and Yokohama in general – is an ideal place to wander aimlessly around the streets and backstreets, soaking in the sights and atmosphere. If you become a fully bona fide tourist then you miss out on so much that Yokohama has to offer. You miss the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the city.
Bashamichi also holds its own festival every year, along with a variety of events, to commemorate its unique history. During the Bashamichi Festival, horse-drawn carriages, rickshaws, and women dressed in clothes from the Rokumeikan era (a time during the 1880s when there was enthusiasm for all things Western) stroll through the street. There is a market, concerts, traditional Japanese storytelling (rakugo), a gas lamp lighting event, and much more for citizens and visitors.
Perhaps Yokohama and Bashamichi aren’t only about shopping. Of course the shōtengai has many kinds of stores lined up and down its streets but it’s not really all about that. It’s about culture, history, architecture and atmosphere. While Tokyo’s riot of neon and cramped streets has a certain charm, it can become tiring to many after a few days or weeks. Yokohama, with its port, sea, museums and international outlook, offers something different to the sights and attractions of, say, Tokyo and Kyoto.
It’s a location for respite, an idyll for dreamers who want to reach out and touch Japan’s complex past and quickly evolving and developing future. If treading the streets of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Asakasa or Kyoto becomes a little bit hackneyed then Yokohama is a vital alternative. Stroll down its wide open streets, walk along the seaside gazing at the departing ships, try the authentic Chinese food from Chinatown, and lose yourself in its quaint and abundant backstreets which have kept visitors beguiled for centuries.
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
Memorial Event of the Origin of Ice cream
October 31st. ~ November 3rd.
near "Bashamichi Station" : Minato-Mirai Line
3min. Walk from "Kannai Station" : JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi Line, Yokohama Municapal Subway Blue Line