By Lisa Wallin - OCT 31, 2017
Nestled between the districts of Noge and Isezakicho, Yoshidamachi is a bustling drinking street choc-a-bloc full of bars. It’s not a particularly long street, measuring just 250 meters, however it counts an impressive 72 bars and drinking emporiums. It’s not a fancy affair – in fact it might be labeled gritty by some – but the realness of the street is one of its major charms.
Full of history and nooks and crannies, the local atmosphere of Yoshidamachi has an unusual pulling power. It’s old Japan so if you’re looking for glitz and glam then it’s probably best to head somewhere like Bashamichi or other more upmarket areas instead. It might not have the contemporary elegance of destinations in Tokyo such as Aoyama or Nakameguro, but if you are searching for a dip into Japanese history then Yoshidamachi is very much your cup of tea.
The street’s history dates back to around 1859 at the end of the Ansei period in Japanese history. Ansei means “tranquil government,” and the era spanned from 1854 to 1860. In those days the street was made up of rice fields until a gentleman named Kambei Yoshida settled there. Due to its location just next to the Ooka river and its proximity to Yokohama’s ports, the area was at the center of the seismic cultural and historical shifts which took place in Japan at that time.
Yokohama opened its port in 1859, and while the foreign ships docked near Kannai, Yoshidamachi was still very much solely for the local Japanese people and merchants. The foreigners who arrived mainly holed up near the more upscale Bashamichi district, although they were allowed to go Yoshidamachi after passing customs and immigration. In those days the street was known for lumber companies, and later in the Meiji era (1868-1912) for wholesalers such as butchers who did a roaring trade with foreign visitors and sailors.
After the war, the area once again became a kind of rubicon. With the American navy mostly congregating on the pier front near Bashamichi, and the sailors generally staying clear of Yoshidamachi, the latter became a kind of black market area for people selling gold, watches and valuables, and trading in currency.
Yoshidamachi was burned to the ground during the war and major regeneration happened once the war was over, with the street becoming known as a very reasonable location to rent space and open local businesses, much like it is today. It has approximately 110 stores now (the majority being drinking establishments) and various kinds of art spaces, constructions companies such as the legendary Shimizu Corporation whose history dates back to the beginning of the area. In fact Shimizu not only contributed to the founding of the local shrine but added a tea shop and was involved in the reconstruction of the street after the war.
Mr. Sakuma, the managing director of Yoshidamachi, says, “The place has always had a local atmosphere but when the area was given back to the Japanese after the war in 1952 it began the transformation of which we still see today.” However, he adds that “the area was occupied by the Americans, so the street still holds an American presence today with famous craft beer bar American Antenna being located in the area.”
Indeed, over the past few years American Antenna has become a must-visit destination for hop-heads all over the world. It has another space in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district but the main store is in Yoshidamachi. There’s something about Yokohama that craft beer lovers adore. There are several top-class breweries in Kanagawa Prefecture and it’s become a rite of passage for beer lovers to come and spend some time in the bar.
As previously mentioned, the street has a plethora of bars but, interestingly, not only your run-of-the-mill chain brands which blight Tokyo and other major urban centers. Yoshidamachi boasts a magic bar where you can witness top-class magic tricks while sipping on a pint. It also plays host to the iconic Bar Noble, which is run by world-champion bartender Takafumi Yamada. It’s a classy establishment and a must-visit for tourists and locals alike. With beautiful handcrafted zelkova tree counter tops, truly world-class cocktails, and impeccably trained staff, it’s a go-to destination for people with a taste for the finer things in life. It has a ¥700 table charge (which is not so rare in Japan) while the drinks come in at around ¥1,300 to ¥1,500. Not cheap but definitely worth a visit.
Another bonus about Yoshidamachi is that a few times a year the street is transformed into one giant beer garden. Closed off to cars, the street is decorated with chairs and tables set out by the local stores, and people can pop in and out of their favorite spots to drink and buy food. It’s a true carnival atmosphere and one that shouldn’t be missed. In 2017, the summer festival lasted from July 22 to August 26, from 3pm to 9pm each day. For the more adventurous drinkers, some of the bars on the stretch stay open 24 hours a day, with a few of these bars only opening at midnight and continuing to trade during the wee small hours. It’s a drinker’s nirvana.
Yoshidamachi is a town full of history and tradition. A few minutes by taxi or train from more popular spots such as Kannai and Sakuragicho, it’s been overlooked by many for far too long. It’s a fascinating little area full of odd bars, restaurants and other stores which demand your attention.
For many tourists, it’s a strange phenomenon to explore an area that has been rebuilt on several occasions. Britons and Europeans, for example, are used to walking the streets in their cities and seeing grand monuments that have been around for centuries. Yoshidamchi, and to an extent Yokohama and greater Tokyo, could be described as an urban palimpsest. It has been built upon layer by layer over centuries, but if the savvy visitor pays attention you can find old Japan in all its glory right at your feet.
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
Art & Jazz Festival in Yokohama Yoshidamachi
May 3rd., Saturday of Late July and Late August
Yoshidamachi Beer Garden
Saturday of Late October
Yoshidamachi Halloween Party
1 min. walk from JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi Line "Kannai Station"(North Exit)
1 min. walk from Yokohama Municipal Subway Blue Line "Kannai Station"