The Red Brick warehouses are an important Yokohama landmark, a popular meeting place and a favourite tourist attraction. The long brick buildings are crammed with cafes, restaurants and shops while the surrounding space is used for special events such as ice-skating in the winter months and an October beer festival. The well-liked buildings are packed with visitors especially on the weekends and restaurants have queues of diners waiting to be seated. In the evenings the lighting sets the buildings off with a warm glow.
The Meiji government built the warehouses after the fishing village of Yokohama was given the status of the treaty port and newly arrived foreign traders required facilities in which to do business. In 1899 construction began of Shinko Pier, which was be an up-to-date facility with sheds, warehouses, cranes and railways. Building of the redbrick warehouses began in 1908 and they included such modern features as a cargo elevator, earthquake proofing, a sprinkler system and fire doors.
Warehouse number 2 was completed in 1911 and warehouse number 1 in 1913. The main goods traded through them at that time were tobacco, wool and western liquors.
Both warehouses were originally the same length but in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 the middle section of warehouse number 1 collapsed — the extra reinforcement included at the time of building meant they suffered less than most of Yokohama’s buildings. When warehouse number 1 was repaired in 1930 it was shortened in length. At the same time both warehouses were further reinforced for earthquake resistance.
During World War 11 foreign trade with Japan was halted and the warehouses were used by the military. When the war ended the US army used the buildings as harbour offices. After ten years of requisition warehouse number 1 was used as a customs warehouse and number as a public shed. Trade quickly built up again and surpassed pre-war levels. The warehouses were in use until 1989 when increased containerisation and newer facilities to deal with the loading and unloading of container cargo pushed them out of business.
Evening sun on Warehouse #1
The warehouses were restored and reopened in 2002. Both buildings retain many of the original features such as the metal doors and shutters, the iron terraces, the internal sliding doors with metal studs and of course the warm red bricks that give the inside a cosy feel.
Warehouse number 1 includes a hall and exhibition spaces. On the ground floor is an information counter and many display boards giving the history of the buildings. Recessed in the floor, and protected by glass are pieces of the original building.
Warehouse number 2 has many restaurants and shops selling items such as souvenirs, fashion goods, clothing, jewellery and beauty products.
At Christmas time the space between the two buildings is lined with small wooden huts and a European-style Christmas market is set up selling hot wine, beer and sausages. The ice rink is a popular winter activity with adults and children alike. In spring and summer weekend activities and attractions are held in the open spaces between the warehouses and in autumn a large covered area is converted into a German beer festival.
A short walk from number 2 warehouse is a platform and railway tracks — the remains of Minato Station. Special trains ran from Tokyo so the people could catch the outbound ships.
The Red Brick warehouses are a must-visit for tourists to Yokohama and remain a favourite with locals because of the pleasant atmosphere and many retail and dining possibilities.
Address: 1-1 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001
Access: Approximately 6 minute walk from Bashamichi or Nihon-Odori station on the Minatomirai Line