Kanagawa: City Hall Architecture through Years Show Yokohama’s Evolution

Courtesy of City of Yokohama Municipal Archive Reference Room
The second Yokohama City Hall is constructed with bricks.

YOKOHAMA — A 155-meter-tall skyscraper was completed near JR Sakuragicho Station on the south side of the Minatomirai district of Yokohama in June 2020. It is the eighth building into which Yokohama City Hall has relocated.

Previous city halls have mostly been located in the Kannai area, such as during the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War II. Relocation of the city’s base of operations from Kannai to Minatomirai signals a turning point for the city.

Yokohama was established in 1889. The population back then was about 110,000, or 3% of its current population of 3.75 million.

The two-story, 231-square-meter building of the then Yokohama ward office, located across from the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall, became Yokohama’s first city hall.

The city purchased land that was a part of a former fish market in the Minatocho area of Naka Ward, in front of JR Kannai Station, to construct a new government building. Residents of Yokohama have come to associate that area with the city hall.

“Kannai has historically been seen as the city center since the port opened,” Yusuke Aoki, vice curator of the Yokohama Archives of History, said. “That’s why the city hall often returned to the Minatocho area.”

The second was a three-story brick structure with a basement. The Renaissance-style building had triangular and semicircular window decorations, bay windows and spires on the roof.

“The beautiful architecture might have been used to convey the message of, ‘You better listen to us,’” said Koichi Yoshida, professor emeritus at Yokohama National University, who specializes in architectural history.

However, even though the structure had been built with reinforced concrete, it was destroyed during the Great Kanto Earthquake. The decorative aspects, though beautiful, proved disastrous as fire from nearby buildings reached the spires and burned the roof down.

The third building was a part of an employment agency in Sakuragicho and was only used for two years after the disaster.

Courtesy of City of Yokohama Municipal Archive Reference Room
The fourth Yokohama City Hall is seen in the Minatomachi district of Naka Ward.

In 1925, a fourth building was constructed. However, the two-story wooden structure in Minatocho burned down during an air raid in World War II. The fifth was built in the Nogeyama area, followed by the sixth that was built in Tanmachi Park in Kanagawa Ward, which was the venue of the Japan Foreign Trade Fair in 1949.

Courtesy of City of Yokohama Municipal Archive Reference Room
The seventh Yokohama City Hall photographed two years after completion

In 1959, Yokohama commemorated the centennial of the port’s opening, and the seventh one was built in the Minatocho area again as a commemorative project. The building was designed with thick-tiled walls and irregularly lined windows and terraces. The bare concrete pillars become thinner as they go up, and inside the building looks like a theater stage. Although its appearance is simpler, the design is more detail-oriented.

This building had been used for a record 61 years and became a familiar sight among the residents. But as the building aged and administrative offices were dispersed to about 20 other locations, it became necessary to relocate.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The eighth Yokohama City Hall

The eighth and newest building has 32 above-ground floors and two basement levels, and its modern design sets it far apart from its predecessors. It stands along the Ookagawa river, away from Minatocho. Its lower floors are used to house commercial facilities, such as restaurants and bookstores, as well as an event space.

At this year’s Coming-of-Age ceremony, Yokohama assembly chairman Masato Yokoyama congratulated the new adults, and soon-to-be adults, as they entered the next stage of their lives that coincide with the building’s opening.

“I’d like you to take the lead in making the eighth city hall a new symbol of peace,” he said.