In Store: Red brick revival

Once at the heart of Yokohama's bustling port industry, Akarenga Soko has a new lease of life as an exclusive entertainment and retail complex. Martin Webb delivers his verdict on the venerable edifice's latest incarnation.

Built in 1911, Yokohama Akarenga Soko (Red Brick Warehouse) was an architectural achievement at a time when there were few substantial brick buildings in Japan. Just last week, this symbol of pride for what has since become the number one port in Japan was reborn as a shopping and entertainment center for the 21st century. Innovative shops, international restaurants, bars and live venues threw open their doors, offering some of Tokyo's best opportunities for excitement and indulgence.

Isao Matsuno, creative director of the ambitious project, explains that he took his inspiration from Akarenga's bustling heyday. "We wanted a challenge to work towards," he says, "and we decided simply to try to recapture the vitality of the era in which Akarenga was built."

Shop til you drop
The reinvigoration certainly seems set to achieve its goal. With four distinct sections, Akarenga boasts enough space and variety to captivate shoppers and revelers from all over the Tokyo metropolitan area. For that special someone, the gift zone contains various stores stocking wrap-able products: Harajuku hats and caps from CA4LA, street-conscious shoes and bags from art-berg do, and jewelry from Michal Negrin and SWC. For a more pungent present, head to UK cosmetics store LUSH. The powerful scent of these ethically sound, handmade products has led such celebrities as Madonna, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and Leonardo DiCaprio to stock up on body scrubs, face masks, cleansers and bath products. For product information in English and shop lists, see www.lush.co.uk.

The remainder of the ground floor provides opportunities for further indulgence, but rather than olfactory arousal it will be your taste buds getting a special treat. Adjacent to the gift section are imported grocery specialist Kaldi Coffee Farm and, for devilish dessert cravings or steamy summer afternoons, Yokohama Bashimichi Ice, Japan's own premium ice cream creator. Rounding out the area are the more savory flavors of Kamakura Ham Kitchen, a delicatessen offering European and Japanese-style hams of all imaginable varieties. Try taking home their newest nama (prosciutto-style) Tomioka Shokai ham, which combines traditional taste with melt-in-the-mouth texture. At the heart of the ground floor are four family-friendly eateries offering a choice of Hawaiian burgers, French crepes, Chinese cuisine or yoshoku (Japanese-style Western food.) For a more grown up luncheon, walk through to the enclave of French sophistication that is Cafe Madu. A firm favorite among Aoyama loafers, the café offers not only well-prepared French fare (lunch from ¥1,200), but a selection of well-priced ethnic homewares. Adding further hues to the multicultural cuisine rainbow is international restaurant New York Dining, which serves up its catholic interpretation of Big Apple fusion cuisine.


Inside scoop
To burn off some of those calories, tramp up the almost century-old staircase to the second floor (gliding up by elevator is also an option) and start searching for stuff to push your residence one step closer to dream home status. For an injection of the exotic, pick some items imported from Indonesia, China or Africa at Oriental Acote, an interior store run by fashion designer dardaredare. Perhaps living in the megalopolis has you longing for a touch of the rural. If so, Depot 39 will be right down your lane. The Jiyugaoka store can deliver its country dweller simplicity to your city pad.

Those aspiring to the elegance of the age of empires should march on into The Globe. This European antique specialist aims to offer total interior solutions, stocking everything from furniture to fabric, lampshades to lacquerware. Continuing with the European theme, but at the opposite end of the price range is Salut!, which supplies a myriad of Parisian interior trinkets all at ¥100. Another store targeting bargain hunters is Unico, a specialist in cute, basic and reasonably priced furniture. Rounding out the second floor are retro accessory maker Free Style, gift store Y's Factory and T-shirt boutique Goody Laundry, where you can also pick up vintage cameras, key holders and other intriguing junk salvaged from flea markets.

 

 


 

 

 


Sound bites
The top floor of Akarenga, housing some tantalizing new dining, drinking and musical projects, will undoubtedly be the biggest draw for those traveling from outside Yokohama. Cavernous beer restaurant Beer Next fills one-third of the top floor and offers diners hearty meals accompanied by a selection of 30 draft beers in a dynamic, modern setting. Incorporating a live music area and private party lounge, Beer Next also offers pasta from ¥1,000 and rotisserie roast chicken from ¥1,300, as well as a smooth house wine at the bar for ¥400 per glass. In the neighboring space café/restaurant Chano-ma brings its Nakameguro street cred to Yokohama. To the sounds of loungey beats from the DJ booth, sink into the luxurious seating while sipping cocktails from ¥600 and filling up on Japanese fusion favorites like salad onion noodles (¥700) or satsuma kara curry rice (¥850).

Undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of this grand old building reborn is Motion Blue, the latest venture by live jazz landmark Blue Note Japan. With nouvelle cuisine, the finest of wines and cocktails and a state-of-the-art acoustic interior, what better environment in which to dig the vibes of the world's top live music maestros? Blue Note is importing a host of talent in the opening month: Bluey from Incognito, Larry Carlton, Irma, Makoto Ozone, Koop and Fertile Ground will all perform between the opening night on April 12 and May 1. For details see Metropolis listings or visit www.motionblue.co.jp.

With so many scintillating sights, sounds and sensations, Akarenga's latest incarnation is sure to attract plenty of repeat visitors and finally deliver the red-brick behemoth a return to its former glory.

Yokohama Akarenga Soko. Open 11am-11pm. 1-1-2 Shinminato, Naka-ku, Yokohama. Tel: 045-226-1911. Nearest stn. Sakuragicho. 8min walk. From the station walk over the Kishamichi Promenade and continue with Yokohama World Porters on the left and Navios hotel on the right for about 500 meters. For information in Japanese see www.yokohama-akarenga.jp

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