The Word Works

Our Town Yokohama


Re Nuclear Reactor Meltdowns -- Don't panic says BCCJ

Published By: John on 03/15/11

UK Chief Scientific Adviser and Deputy Director of Emergency Preparedness say, “Unequivocally, Tokyo will not be affected by the radiation fallout of explosions that have or may occur at the Fukushima nuclear power stations.”

Hi Everyone - Thought this update from the British Chamber of Commerce would help allay peoples fears about radiation:

BCCJ Members Update on Japan’s Nuclear Power station situation

At 5pm Tokyo time (Tuesday 15th March 2011) an telephone briefing was given by Sir John Beddington the UK’s Chief Scientific adviser and Hilary Walker Deputy Director Emergency Preparedness at the Department of Health.

“Unequivocally, Tokyo will not be affected by the radiation fallout of explosions that have or may occur at the Fukushima nuclear power stations.”

The danger area is within the 30 kilometer evacuation zone and no one is recommended or will be allowed to enter this area other than those people directly involved with the emergency procedures currently being undertaken at both Fukushima 1 & 2.

Sir John went on to answer a series of questions including a comparison between Chernobyl and Japan. He said “they are entirely different, Chernobyl exploded and there was a subsequent fire with radioactive materials being launched 30,000 ft into the air.” The maximum height of any Fukushima explosions would be no more than 500 metres.

“The radiation that has been released is miniscule and would have to be orders of 1,000 or more for it to be a threat to humans” This was confirmed by Hilary Walker.

He went on to say that the Japanese authorities are doing their best to keep the reactors cooled and that this is a continuing operation. All workers on site dealing with the emergency are being fully decontaminated at the end of each shift.

When asked on how reliable was the information coming from the Japanese authorities as to radiation levels he said “this cannot be fabricated and the Japanese authorities are positing all the readings on the recognized international inforamton sites which they are obliged to do. Independent verification shows that the data provided is accurate”.

In answer to a specific question from the Head of the British School in Tokyo, Sir John Beddington and Hilary Walker said that there was no reason at all for the school to be closed unless there were other issues such as power outages and transport problems.

David Fitton, First Minister at the British Embassy in Tokyo moderated the teleconference and confirmed that a transcript of the briefing will be available on the Embassy website later today.

BCCJ members are encouraged to regularly check the Embassy website as well as the Chamber website and Facebook sites for the latest information.


Red Brick Warehouses win UNESCO Award image

Published By: John on 10/18/10

The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouses will celebrate their hundredth birthday next year. The 2010 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award of Distinction comes as an early birthday present, one that the warehouses, and the city that has restored them so sensitively, well deserve.

Designed by Tsumaki Yorinaka for Japan’s Ministry of Finance and built just north of the main passenger pier in the Port of Yokohama, these buildings were bonded customs warehouses through which imports passed. Built of red brick, then a material signifying sophisticated modernity, they incorporated such innovative features as elevators and fire extinguishers. Unlike many brick structures, Tsumaki’s warehouses survived the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake in reasonably good shape. One of the 10,755 square meter warehouses was intact. Half of the other collapsed, but the other half was returned to use. image
The warehouses served on through the war and reconstruction, but by 1989, their usefulness was over. With the shift to container shipping and deeper-draft vessels, activity in the port had moved away from the original area. What had been cutting edge in 1911 had become sadly outmoded and decrepit. The warehouses were headed for the scrap heap.
The city of Yokohama was, however, planning to revitalize its historic port area. Recognizing that the Red Brick Warehouses could serve as one of the keystones of waterfront redevelopment, the city acquired them from the national government and then spent a decade on renovations.
The renovations, designed by Chiaki Arai Architect and Associates and executed by Takenaka Corporation, were completed in 2002. The structures have been sensitively restored, with details from the decorative iron finials to the massive interior steels doors and their huge hinges back in place.
The larger of the two warehouses is now a commercial space, with a variety of shops and restaurants, the most exciting of which is a live jazz spot offering world-class performances. (Jazz and Yokohama have a long and vital history.) The smaller is now a multipurpose public space that hosts concerts, exhibitions, films, and dance festivals. The space around them attracts an amazing variety of events, from ice skating to Oktoberfests to brilliant lighting displays.
Visiting the Red Brick Warehouses is always a delight. Whether walking there as part of a long waterfront stroll or heading there from Bashamichi Station for a specific event, I experience a little thrill at how handsome they are and how beautifully they have been restored. As a Yokohama resident, I had been intrigued by the restorations as they proceeded behind tall steel fences. Seeing the tall protective roof structure, slowly rolling the length of each building as the work proceeded, whetted my curiosity. The results exceeded my expectations from the moment I saw them and have continued to do so with every visit.
Well done, Yokohama! Congratulations on the Asia-Pacific Heritage Award!


Yokohama Development Process

Published By: John on 05/17/09

Ruth and I have begun word on a paper on the history of city planning in Yokohama, to be delivered at the July 2-5 SEAA meeting in Taipei. On a recent visit to the Yokohama Archives the librarian kindly said, “This is the book you need.”  image

When this book was published in 1981, then Mayor Saigo Michikazu wrote,“Yokohama took its first step into history in 1859, the year that the port was opened. In the 120 years since, Yokohama has grown into today’s port city, with both industrial and commercial and residential functions and a population of 2.8 million people. It cannot be denied, however, that as it grew from a fishing village to a great port, Yokohama was lacking in roads, sewers, parks and other urban infrastructure. As we look ahead to the 21st century, this book looks back on the planning that has been done to equip Yokohama with facilities and an environment befitting a great city.”


Yokohama Through Tokyo Eyes

Published By: John on 05/08/09

This image from the cover of a mook normally dedicated to evaluating different parts of Tokyo. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the port, this edition evaluates Yokohama. The image s in the upper band represent the Tokyo-oriented folk who live along the Tokyu railway lines. Those in the lower band represent real hamakko, Yokohama-oriented types who live, work, and play in Yokohama.  image


Yokohama Through Tokyo Eyes

Published By: John on 05/08/09

This image from the cover of a mook normally dedicated to evaluating different parts of Tokyo. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the opening of the port, this edition evaluates Yokohama. The image s in the upper band represent the Tokyo-oriented folk who live along the Tokyu railway lines. Those in the lower band represent real hamakko, Yokohama-oriented types who live, work, and play in Yokohama.  image


Happy New Year!

Published By: John on 12/31/06

For John and Ruth, 2006 was a very special year. The baby in our New Year card is Keegan James Glynn, our grandson, born on June 10. He is looking forward to a great 2007. We hope that you are, too.image


Honmoku Jazz Festival

Published By: John on 08/28/06
Categories: Events

The Honmoku area jazzes it up at the end of summer

Honmoku is a confusing area of Yokohama: just south of Yamate (aka The Bluff, the center of the foreign community), it celebrates its fishing port roots, but the original port is now landfill on which Japan’s biggest natural gas tank farm, plus oil refineries, rests; the port now mainly serves LNG carriers. With those humble fishing port roots, prewar, it was also an area for country homes of some of the city’s wealthiest families. (Hence one of the city’s blessings, the Sankeien, a beautiful park with a collection of historic structures and gardens founded by silk merchant heir cum poet Hara Sankei). It’s very humble and fishy, but has been developing into a fairly upscale residential and shopping area—whose merchants rejected connection to the new Minato Mirai subway line, which would have made the major shopping center there more easily accessible. It also has over fifty years of smoldering resentment over so much land in Honmoku being expropriated by the US military during the Occupation (land that has now been returned and converted into said upscale housing and shopping). At the same time, Honmoku celebrates the end of summer every year with a jazz festival, one of Japan’s oldest, with clear roots in decades of contact with the groups associated with the US military as well as all the bars and restaurants that served the crews of the cargo ships of old.

The upshot of all this confusion is that Honmoku somehow organizes one mean jazz festival, with an emphasis on Japanese funk groups. It’s all afternoon and evening, out of doors, all the jazz you want for 4,500 yen (a great price, but early ticket purchasers get deep discounts). This year, the festival, their 26th, is on Sunday, August 27.

Honmoku is great fun, but its festival is just a warmup for the Yokohama Jazz Promenade, Japan’s largest and most exciting jazz festival, which will be held October 7-8 this year. While Honmoku may be a little confused, the Yokohama Jazz Promenade knows exactly what it’s about—world-class jazz in the heart of a world-class city, with the best of the old and the new. This year’s schedule is set; I’ll be telling more about it soon. Meanwhile, save that weekend and prepare to promenade.


50 years of Yokohama Station (West Exit)

Published By: John on 06/07/06
Categories: Events History

The west (landward) side of Yokohama Station is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first shopping arcade there. It’s hard to imagine now, looking at the department stores, restaurants, boutiques, banks, hotels, cram schools, and all the other businesses clustered there that until well after WWII, the west side of the station was a wasteland.

Major train stations—and Yokohama Station, with at least 7 lines converging there, is one of the three busiest in Japan—naturally become commercial centers as well. With a million or two people pouring through daily, why not try to snag a few as customers for your donuts or Prada bags or Thai curries? The result of that entirely logical thought in Yokohama’s case is a concentration of opportunities to shop and make use of services.

It seems so obvious now, but it must have taken real vision back in 1956 to imagine what had been a fuel storage area and parking lot as a thriving commercial paradise. Some bold soul did, starting with a shopping arcade. Then the Takashimaya department store—my personal favorite for the quality and variety of their merchandise—moved in, others followed, the center of the wasteland became a huge city bus nexus, an underground shopping mall was dug beneath it, more train lines arrived, and on it goes.

The banners in the photograh celebrate the 50th anniversary with a bit of Yokohama dialect: “Yappa, Yokohama Nishi-guchi, jan” (Yokohama West Exit, natch). I’d guess that the face (the character for “mouth,” with features added) is by Rokko, a local artist who got his start applying graffiti to the truly hideous walls beneath the elevated train tracks running between Yokohama and Sakuragicho stations (Sakuragicho being the next stop; it’s also in Yokohama and in fact was the original Yokohama Station).


Sax Players in Front of Yokohama Station

Published By: John on 06/06/06
Categories: Events

Late on June 3, 2006, we saw this group of sax players performing at Yokohama Station.image

The areas around major train stations are a good place to catch a bit of music in the evening. Rock groups predominate, and a Friday night may see several taking turns performing while hoping to pick up some small change or even to catch the ear of a manager or record company scout. Frequently there’s someone with a guitar and a need to wail, but there are also accomplished musicians who for some reason are short of places to perform. We’ve run into jazz quartets more than once, and the popularity of Latin American music has made the sight of poncho-clad musicians not unusual. I think my favorite so far is a hammer dulcimer player, who had set up the stand for his instrument and was whanging away at it with great concentration and verve. (I associate the hammer dulcimer with Taiwanese temple orchestras as well as celtic music; it’s the ancestral piano, sans keyboard.) But the most astonishing was a trombone quartet playing, if I recall correctly, something by Handel. They were performing in broad daylight near the edge of the sidewalk, right beside all the taxi and bus traffic, but had no trouble being heard over the engine noise. Some of the rock groups seem to come with their own claques; the trombonists collected a crowd as we watched through sheer amazement at what they were doing.
  The saxophone quartet shown here was also a treat—how often do we get to hear soprano, alto, baritone, and bass sax together? They were performing in a spot favored by musicians at Yokohama Station, under the deep overhang in front of the Takashimaya department store, on June 3, 2006.


Minato Mirai

Published By: John on 04/17/06
Categories: History

Yokohama keeps reinventing itself.

imageIn 1859, it morphed from an impoverished fishing and farming village well off the beaten track into Japan’s first port to open to international trade. It swiftly became the place to go for new ideas and new products—jazz, formal education for women, ice cream, to name a few—as well as Japan’s most important port. After the devastation wrought by the 1923 earthquake, it rebuilt not by simply putting the city back together but with a thoughtful attempt at urban planning. After it was again
flattened by Allied bombing in 1945, it resumed the planning and rebuilding process as it coped with rapid population growth (now 3.5 million) and a shifting industrial base.

The structures in this photograph are part of its most recent effort to design a livable, vital city: Minato Mirai 21. Built on the site of a shipyard formerly located on the seaward side of Yokohama Station, this new development is anchored by Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building. A complex of office buildings, hotels, museums, hospitals, concert and convention facilities, and residential towers, Minato Mirai has been planned to revitalize the Yokohama experience by connecting the old city center (Sakuragi-cho, Kannai) with the booming commercial area that has grown up since 1956 around Yokohama Station, and incorporating thrilling views of the harbor and Tokyo Bay from every angle. It’s working!

Minato Mirai, like much of downtown Yokohama, is built on reclaimed land and is flat as can be. The Word Works is located slightly inland, on a steep bluff above Yokohama Station.

Yes, that’s Mt. Fuji in the photograph. On a clear day, we can see it from the office, too.

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