Is Yokohama Japan’s Next “It” City?

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  • Let’s face it, Yokohama has always been an “it” city, but the city has had a major struggle that might be finally coming to an end.

    Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city after Tokyo and an economic powerhouse. However, its proximity to Tokyo has always been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, being so close to Tokyo means that Yokohama can benefit from Tokyo’s infrastructure and businesses, allowing many companies like Nissan to establish their head offices in Yokohama and use Tokyo’s Haneda and Narita airports to conduct business. On the other hand, though, that proximity has made it very difficult for Yokohama to achieve one of its most important visions. That vision is related to tourism.

    by Martin Danker

    That’s not to say that the city does not receive a large number of visitors. In fact, Yokohama attracts millions of people each year. Tokyoites wanting to get away without going too far tend to head to Yokohama to enjoy the bay vistas, fresh air, and shopping, and foreign visitors tend to add a trip to Yokohama to their itineraries because of how convenient it is to get there from Tokyo.

    However, Yokohama’s vision is to make those visitors stay longer, even if it’s only one night. Revenue from hotel stays is very important to cities’ economies, and ensuring that people stay longer also means that visitors will be more willing to spend more on the local economy.

    This is one of the reasons Yokohama was so interested in opening integrated resorts (IR) when Japan announced that it would allow cities to bid for some casino permits, prompting major casino operators to savor what opening properties in Japan would bring. Then, COVID-19 happened. On top of that, it turned out that the idea to open an IR in Yokohama was not as popular as initially thought. In 2021, Yokohama elected Yamanaka Takeharu as its new mayor. Yamanaka ran his campaign voicing his opposition to the casinos, and once elected, Yokohama withdrew its bid. That presented a big headache for many casino operators who had wanted to build in Yokohama because of its proximity to Tokyo. The withdrawal also meant that some casino operators were no longer interested. In the end, the three cities that ended up with IR proposals were Sasebo in Nagasaki Prefecture, Wakayama, and Osaka.

    While scrapping the casino project could have made it seem like Yokohama was damaging its own vision, the city simply continued moving forward with its projects without relying on an integrated resort that could have potentially transformed the city into something residents never wanted.

    And after so much perseverance, Yokohama is in the midst of becoming Japan’s next “it” city. One of the earliest projects that started to bring more attention to the port city was NEWoMan. NEWoMan is an upscale commercial facility developed by JR East. The first one, NEWoMan Shinjuku, proved to be a great success, with JR East quickly adding the brand to its portfolio of commercial facilities that include the popular Lumine and Atre department stores. JR East has done an exceptional job in making a business that is profitable beyond its train operations. By building Lumine, Atre, Atre view, and NEWoMan adjacent to its busiest train stations, JR East guarantees that passenger numbers also become foot traffic in its commercial facilities. After NEWoMan Shinjuku’s success, NEWoMan Yokohama opened to much fanfare.

    Then came Hammerhead. Located on Pier 8, Hammerhead offers great views of the bay and Minato Mirai from its multiple restaurants, which offer anything from delicious hamburgers to craft beer. Hammerhead is also home to Intercontinental Yokohama Pier 8, one of the many new luxury hotels popping up in Yokohama.

    In Minato Mirai, the Kahala Yokohama graces a coveted spot next to Rinko Park. The hotel is the second Kahala in the world after the one located in Hawaii, and it’s one of the most luxurious hotels not only in Yokohama, but also in Japan.

    Marriott International, the largest hotel operator in the world, showcased the elegant and modern The Westin Yokohama in Minato Mirai, while Hyatt opened the Hyatt Regency Yokohama a stone’s throw away from Yokohama Chinatown, one of the most popular places in the city.

    As if those new hotels were not enough, Four Seasons is also set to open in Yokohama inside a new complex that will also have an aquarium, restaurants, and many shops.

    If hotel operators are excited to open locations in Yokohama, then the city is just one step away from succeeding in achieving its long term goal. Once Japan reopens to foreign visitors, Yokohama will have everything it needs to lure them in and make them stay the night.

    *Featured Image by yokohamaroyalparkhotel on Instagram