Today we’ll be exploring of one of Yokohama’s best kept secrets and one that many Tokyoites are oblivious to. Noge is a hidden gem sandwiched between the bustling business and entertainment district of Minato Mirai (a popular date spot) and the former expat enclave of Kannai. The area’s boozy back streets are lined with a plethora of small bars, eateries, and jazz clubs. In contrast to the bright lights of nearby Minato Mirai, the old school ambiance of Noge creates the perfect spot to unwind after a long day of exploring Yokohama.
That said, first timers are often surprised by the juxtaposition between Noge and the neighboring glitzy Minato Mirai district. Lost to time, a stroll through Noge’s grungy, dusty alleys harkens back to an age in Japan when things were far, far simpler. Indeed, the homely streets of Noge can feel like they were all but forgotten by urban planners. Noge’s vibe is very similar to the spirit of Tokyo’s Yanaka district that survived much of World War II.
Historically, most of Yokohama’s waterfront was home to little more than a train station and hodgepodge of other small bars and residential buildings. In the 1980s however, much of the the bayside was redeveloped in anticipation of a major convention. This location went on to become Minato Mirai. Today, this area stands as the heart of Yokohama’s business and leisure district and provides the image most associated with the city.
Fortunately, the southern side of Sakuragicho Station where Noge is located was excluded during the redevelopment era. Left on their own to observe the changes happening on the other side of the tracks, the bars and restaurants of Noge have continued to exist as they have for years. Undisturbed by the glam of Minato Mirai, a beer-infused bonanza through Noge captures a glimpse of life in Japan during the 60s & 70s.
How to Get There
Compared to other off the beaten path destinations I’ve covered, getting to Noge is trivial. All you’ll need to do is get yourself to Sakuragicho Station so check Jorudan or a similar service to figure out your connections. Once you’re there, head out the south exit and Noge should be mere minutes away.
Here’s a map to help guide you…
Exploring the Noge Area
Once you arrive in Noge, I suggest your start by spending some time strolling up and down the various crisscrossed streets that comprise the block. Part of the area’s charm comes from its worn, lived-in buildings. You can really feel the mellow tempo and cultural warmth permeating the air as you peruse Noge’s various alleys. I imagine this must have been how Japan likely felt during the latter days of the Showa period (1925–1989).
As for which of Noge’s joints you should pop in, I cannot say. Just like with Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, you just need to wander around until one speaks to you. That said, it’s really hard to go wrong in Noge so just follow your nose or if that fails you, the locals. Though the food in Japan is typically to die for no matter where you go, there’s a damn good reason why the denizens of Yokohama chose Noge!
Before we end, a word of advice for the jazz fans out there; Noge is one of the best locales in Japan for a live show! In a time gone by, Americans stationed at the nearby Negishi military base would roll into Noge. When the occupation ended and the soldiers left Japan, the musical culture that they brought with them stayed.
Today, Noge remains home to unique hovel-like clubs and live performance venues kept open thanks to the owner’s love for the genre. Performances often vary and feature diverse musicians ranging from the bartender himself to world-class artists. Whatever the cast, the small statue of Noge’s clubs means that a PA system is not warranted and audiences can experience Jazz beats organically.
If you’re a fan and happen to be visiting in October, be sure to check out Noge’s Yokohama Jazz Promenade!
Other Nearby Attractions
By now it should be pretty clear that you should also definitely check out Minato Mirai if you’re going to make the trek to Noge. The area has a really cool history that is actually quite tangible (as opposed to Tokyo which was bombed flat). Be sure to take a stroll past the Red Brick Warehouses! These used to serve as custom houses and have been converted into artsy shopping areas.
Additionally if your liver can handle it after Noge, one of my favorite craft beer spots (pictured above) is within a few minutes walk away. Known as Antenna America, this hoppy heaven is an awesome spot to kick back with a couple of friends while enjoying an impressive selection of brews. Here’s their site in case you’re interested.
Until next time travelers…