Isezakicho (Theater Street): Meiji Era - Today:
"Novelist Osaragi Jiro remarked that he had never seen a foreigner during his boyhood in Yokohama. The comment is telling. We tend to focus on the port and the Foreign Settlement, but foreigners were never more than a fraction of Yokohama’s population. By the 1870s the city consisted of the Settlement and the Japanese quarter Within the Gates (Kannai) surrounded by Tobe and Yoshida, along Yokohama Road from the Tokaido, and Chojamachi. In the latter areas, Kangai (Outside the Gates), toiled the shopkeepers, artisans, and laborers who supplied the mercantile houses in Kannai. (...)
Isezakicho (just Outside the Gates) was the theater district. Isezakicho (also called Theater Street) provided people Outside the Gates respite from hardscrabble lives. Theaters opened as early as eight o'clock in the morning and the day’s program ran through eleven o'clock at night. (...)
Here, Outside the Gates, were cheap tenements for dock workers and young women who worked in the tea-processing factories. In 1903 there were an estimated six to seven thousand such unfortunates living in the neighborhood, most of whom hailed from northern Japan. There were a hundred men for every eighty-three women and only one in twenty of the men had a family. Still, one foreigner noted "many children with black eyes and runny noses
". Many were put to work at such trades as chimney cleaning when only seven or eight. There was little except theaters to brighten the lives of these workers. (...)
The large picture signboards, programs posters, were placed over the entrance. Sometimes the boards stretched in series the length off the façade. Azure, crimson, and gray banners announcing actors' names in bold theatrical calligraphy hung from bamboo poles that leaned at a rakish angle over the road down which rolled drays, rickshaws, and mobile restaurants.
Isezakicho offered more than the kabuki. There were cheap bazaars, teahouses, baths, curio shops, restaurants, archery galleries, and raree shows. Henry Frinck, music critic for the New York Evening Post, made a round of Isezakicho raree shows in the mid-1890s. He witnessed a demonstration of "the wonders of electric light, telephone, and phonograph… to gaping natives
". Some shows were decidedly less progressive. He "saw a poor crippled girl without hands an feet, sitting on a table, holding in her mouth a pencil, with which she drew very fair pictures of ships and animals. Then she took a stick in her mouth, and with the aid of her stumps of arms and legs, made a paperboat. After her came an idiotic-looking individual with a heavy sack on his shoulders spinning around like a top, evidently not having enough brains to get dizzy with.
Post-quake fires incinerated all Yokohama’s theaters. Theater Street survived only on picture cards. After the quake, roadside trees were planned, and movie theaters were built. The Nozawaya and Matsuya department stores were reborn in ferroconcrete.
Isezakicho burned in the incendiary raids of 1945. The U.S. Occupation Forces requisitioned the few buildings that survived. Clubs sprang up to cater to the Occupation Forces. Black GIs stimulated interest in jazz. Black musicians played in clubs in Kannai along Isezakicho’s back streets. (...)
The Yokohama jazz scene ebbed with the gradual repatriation of the Occupation Forces. (...)
In 1978 Isezakicho was closed to traffic and turned into a pedestrian mall."(Burritt Sabin, 'A historical guide to Yokohama', ed. Yurindo, Yokohama, 2002, p. 101-108)(John Carroll, 'Trail of Two Cities', ed. Kodansha, Tokyo, 1994, p. 108-109)