Isezaki-cho, located in Yokohama’s Naka-ku, is a bustling hub of culture, entertainment and shopping. Here you’ll find an eclectic mix of Japanese confection shops, the latest fashion and some fantastic street art. Isezaki Mall was established in 1874 and now boasts a 400-meter stretch of 130 shops, several of them hailing from that time. However, Isezaki’s history goes much further back.
From Ocean Bay to Yoshida Shinden
During the Edo period, the piece of land that Isezaki Mall sits on didn’t even exist. It was a small bay until 1656, when a land reclamation project began. It was completed in 1667, consisting of an island that connected to the mainland via multiple bridges. Named Yoshida Shinden, the area covered what is now known as Naka-ku and Minami-ku. Locals from the surrounding village gradually moved into the newly constructed landmass and by 1700, 81 people lived there with 117 remaining in the surrounding villages.
Yoshidabashi — Bridging the Gap Between East and West
When Yokohama Port opened to the world in 1859, Isezaki-cho’s population and popularity exploded. The area developed rapidly, requiring further land reclamation to accommodate its new role as a hub of culture, art and commerce – a role it continues to carry to this day. Yoshidabashi Bridge, the first Western-style iron bridge in Japan, served as a checkpoint for Yokohama’s international guests. Kanmon, the checkpoint gate separating the foreigner settlement area in the east— Kannai — from Japanese residential areas in the west such as Yoshida Shinden, known as Kangai. Kannai remains on the map, while Kangai is only referred to by locals who know the area well. The promenade that runs through what is now Isezaki Mall connected directly to the harbor via Yoshidabashi Bridge, allowing Western influences to trickle through.
Odeon Theater — The Western Big Screen Hits Japan
Isezaki Mall’s unique location meant it remained on the cutting edge of new trends hitting Japan even into the 20th century. An iconic landmark that has changed over the last 100 years, the Odeon Theater still maintains a presence on Isezaki Mall — if only by name. Opened in 1911, Odeon Theater premiered the first Western movie in Japan. Though the building was destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, it was rebuilt by early 1924. Just 10 years later, Yokohama boasted 26 cinemas, most of them in Naka-ku and many in Isezaki-cho. The Odeon Theater, with its facelift of lush carpets and chandeliers in 1936, was considered a mecca for Western cinema and drew movie fans from all over Japan. The Odeon has seen several incarnations since then. Most recently it was renamed the NEW Odeon Building and though it’s a commercial complex since 2014, it still serves as a draw for people from all over.
Take a stroll down Isezaki Mall’s tree-lined avenue and enjoy its cosmopolitan mix of old and new. Enjoy works of art dotted along the street, attend one of the many events or do some people watching from one of the many benches along the way.
More information at www.isezaki.jp
Isezaki Mall Free Weekly Events
Where: 1F JRA Excel Isezaki
When: 1-2pm on Tuesdays (Jazz), Thursdays (rakugo comedic storytelling), and Fridays (J-pop and classical)