By Matthew Hernon - OCT 31, 2017
One of the leading destinations for travelers coming to Yokohama, Ishikawacho station is used, on average, by more than 30,000 passengers daily. Of course, that includes residents and workers, but it’s also a popular location for tourists (more than two million annually) as it's seen as a gateway to the vibrant Chinatown across the river as well as the upscale Motomachi shopping district that’s just a few minutes up the road.
Other nearby sites include Yamashita Park, which stretches around 750 meters along the city's waterfront, and several European buildings such as Antonin Raymond's splendidly designed Ehrismann Residence, Berrick Hall where British trading merchant Bertram Berrick lived in the 1930s, and the Bluff 18 House inside the resplendent Italian Yamate Garden.
For those planning a trip to the Yokohama, these places are definitely worth visiting, but before doing that we'd recommend spending some time looking around Ishikawacho station, which was built in 1964 and has a wonderful shōtengai. Foreigners have been drawn to this part of the city since the mid-1800s, when Yokohama opened its port to the outside world. The establishment of Tsuruya Gofuku clothing shop (predecessor to the world-famous Matsuya Ginza department store) in 1869 attracted a large number of visitors to the area, and while it’s no longer there today, there are a number of businesses from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) still operating in the neighborhood.
Smaller and a little more low-key than other shopping streets in the region, it has a nice mix of old-fashioned and new stores standing side by side. Around 710 meters long, it is split into five different districts. You'll find various restaurants, bars, cafés and salons as well as numerous fashion, accessory, craft and art stores.
Nearest to Motomachi and Chinatown is the first district (1-chome), a 100-meter road which has undergone a bit of a facelift in recent years. On April 1, 2013, it was given the trendy sounding name of i-canal street and now has a different vibe. It is managed by Mr. Oshima.
"We've got a great location that is not only near the station, but also many sightseeing spots," he says. "What we don't want is people ignoring the stores around here and simply passing through. On this street, you'll find some fantastic restaurants, chain stores and various smaller businesses selling all kinds of things. It has been an interesting place to shop for a number of years. The problem previously, however, was the area itself didn't come across as appealing enough and wasn't very convenient.
"We've worked extremely hard over the past few years to change that," he continues. "The street has been completely renovated. The roads have been widened and the surface is now much smoother. The setback of buildings from the public pavement has altered the perception of the streetscape and in general I just think it looks a lot better. There has also been a big push to create a barrier-free environment, making Ishikawacho easily accessible for everyone.
The second district (2-chome), where you'll find Ishikawacho station, has also been revamped in recent years. Run by Mr. Sato, it is known as Hiragana Street, a name he tells us was chosen because it is easy for both adults and kids to remember.
"At least I hope it has that impact," he says with a smile. "In the past, this area was what you would call a traditional shōtengai full of butchers, fishmongers and so on. It now has more of a modern look with hairdressers, aesthetic salons, trendy cafés and some delicious eateries as well as cocktail, whisky, wine and soul bars. At the same time, you still have shops that are over 100 years old dotted around here and there so it hasn't forgotten its past.
"What you'll also find here is a real sense of community. This can really be felt at the Market Terrace Cafe, which is a two-minute walk from Ishikawacho station. As well as being a very relaxing place for a coffee, it is also like a multi-purpose center. There is a rental space that can be used for meetings or seminars, and a lot of interesting classes take place there. Neighborhood associations get to together to discuss ways of developing the area to make sure it’s as comfortable as possible for customers who visit."
Another item that is regularly on the agenda at these meetings is "events." Numerous festivals are held throughout the year at Ishikawacho. In addition to the spring and autumn sales, there is a charity flea market as well as special Halloween and Christmas events in which presents are handed out to kids. West Avenue in particular has become well-known for its festivals. The third to fifth district (3-5-chome) of Ishikawacho, it is managed by Ms. Iida.
"Yes, I've got the largest area," she says with a smile. "West Avenue has a bit more of an artistic feel than other parts of Ishikawacho. We've got creative cafés, stylish bistros, shops selling hand-crafted goods and an art gallery. We have many events every season. In October, for example, there is the Street Art Project. The focus is on street culture such as skateboarding and graffiti art. You'll be able to see oil paintings and carvings, and there will be food stalls and music. I think it is going be a fantastic atmosphere with a large crowd."
It will no doubt be a lot of fun with a good mix of tourists and locals. Regarding the latter, all three managers believe it is of paramount importance to maintain good relations.
"Of course, we want to encourage large crowds to come here and we hope to see all the shops in the area thriving, but that isn't the be-all and end-all," says Mr. Oshima. "We have a great relationship with local communities around here and we are not prepared to damage that in the pursuit of a big profit. It's vital that the streets don't get too dirty and noise levels don't get too high. I feel this a unique neighborhood and the only way of keeping it that way is if standards are kept so we can’t afford to become complacent.”
Shopping & Dining Recommendations
Events & Festivals
Street Art Project
Christmas & Winter Illumination
Near "Ishikawacho Station" (South Exit) : JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi Line
10min. Walk from "Motomachi-Chukagai Station" : Minato-Mirai Line