History of Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

Japan finally ended its more than 200-year Edo period policy of national isolation and opened up its doors to the rest of the world. One of its trading hubs at the time was Yokohama. The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse came into existence in response to the needs of the times and has survived throughout the tumultuous 20th century to the present day. We reflect on this history through a combination of photographs from then and now.

1. The Opening of Yokohama Port and the Birth of Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

Yokohama Port is opened, a new era dawns

1859Ansei 6
Japan’s policy of national isolation throughout the Edo period was brought to an end by the arrival of the Black Ships led by Commodore Perry and the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa and the Treaty of Amity and Commerce.
The history of the city of Yokohama goes back to the selection of the small village of Yokohama, with its 100 or so households and population of around 500, as a place to be opened up to foreigners. Later, when the Meiji era began, it became necessary to establish a port for foreign trade, and as Yokohama’s population rose sharply, its modern urban development moved forward at a rapid pace.
Landing at Yokohama (Yokohama Archives of History collection)

The birth of Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse

1911Meiji 44
Just after being opened up to trade, Yokohama had no quay that ships could reach and so the construction of a full-scale dock became a high-profile national issue. A steel pier (the precursor of the Osanbashi Pier) was completed in 1896 (Meiji 29) in the Meiji government’s first phase of harbor construction. To cope with the sharp rise in cargo that came with the rapid growth of foreign trade, a second phase of construction included a new wharf started in 1899 (Meiji 32), the first berthing wharf in the East. It was during this phrase that the current Red Brick Warehouse was constructed as a bonded warehouse1 (called the Yokohama Customs Shinko Wharf Warehouse). Shinko Wharf was Japan’s first modern port facility and included a transit shed2, a warehouse, cranes and a railway.
Construction of Warehouse No.2 was started in 1907 (Meiji 40) and completed in 1911 (Meiji 44) under architect Yorinaka Tsumaki, head of the Ministry of Finance’s Temporary Building Department.
  • 1: A bonded warehouse is a facility for the temporary storage of cargo transported from overseas that has not yet cleared import procedures.
  • 2: A transit shed is a facility used for the unloading and loading and the temporary storage of cargo between the ship and the warehouse. Unlike a warehouse, it is a building with no walls, just pillars and a roof.
1913Taisho 2
Construction of Warehouse No.1 was started in 1908 (Meiji 41) and finished in 1913 (Taisho 2). The completed Red Brick Warehouse was a state-of-the-art, world-class warehouse fitted with Japan’s first cargo elevator along with sprinklers and fireproof doors. A quakeproof reinforced brick construction method was adopted, the then leading-edge technique of embedding steel material into bricks. All the bricks were made in Japan, nearly 3.18 million of which were used in Warehouse No.2 alone. Incorporating such new technologies, the two buildings were completed as model warehouses for Japan.

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Building No.2 upon construction, “Front of Red Brick Warehouse” (Yokohama Port Museum collection)

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Building No.1 upon construction (Port of Yokohama collection)

2. The Great Kanto Earthquake and Post-quake Restoration

Great Kanto Earthquake hits, warehouse half destroyed

1923Taisho 12
When the Great Kanto Earthquake struck on September 1, the facilities at the docks of Yokohama were devastated. The Red Brick Warehouse also suffered heavy damage, including a collapsed section in the middle of Warehouse No.1, although Warehouse No.2 escaped serious harm. Many brick buildings collapsed in this earthquake and so steel-reinforced concrete structures became mainstream. The brick structures that remain today are few in number, and are architectural heritages.
The damaged Red Brick Warehouse (Museum of Yokohama Urban History collection)

Restoration work ends, operations resume

1930Showa 5
Upgrade work was carried out, such as reducing Warehouse No.1, which had been damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake, to almost half its size and installing retrofit shear walls inside made of steel-reinforced concrete, and removing the cranes from Warehouse No.2 in order to increase its quake resilience.
Yokohama Bay after earthquake reconstruction (Museum of Yokohama Urban History collection)

3. Requisition, Derequisition, and Resumption of Operations

War ends, US requisitions buildings for use as harbor HQ

1945Showa 20
When World War Ⅱ broke out, foreign trade ceased and the Red Brick Warehouse became a military supply depot. After the war ended, it was requisitioned* by GHQ along with many other facilities in central Yokohama and used as the US military’s harbor headquarters. It stopped functioning as a port warehouse and was installed with offices and a canteen.
  • * Requisitioned means forcibly seized. After Japan’s defeat in the war, many of its key facilities and buildings were requisitioned.
Requisitioning and handling cargo in front of the Red Brick Warehouse
(Port of Yokohama collection)

Derequisitioned, resumes operating as a port warehouse

1956Showa 31
Requisitioning ended after about ten years, and Warehouse No.1 became a customs warehouse and Warehouse No.2 a public transit shed. Overseas trade was restarted and pre-war records such as vessel tonnage and cargo volume were broken. About 90,000t of goods were handled in 1974, mainly imported sheep’s wool and exported tires, optical devices and synthetic resins.

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Mid-1950s to mid-1960s – Steam locomotive running in front of Red Brick Warehouse
(Museum of Yokohama Urban History collection)

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Mid-1960s to mid-1970s – O Series Shinkansen train being delivered
(Port of Yokohama collection)

4. Discontinuation of Use as a Warehouse

Conservation of the warehouse is studied

1970Around Showa 45
The early 1970s saw a change toward more container sea shipping and the construction of new wharfs equipped with gantry cranes, vast container yards, and long deep-water quays to accommodate large container ships, and then in 1976 cargo volumes suddenly plummeted. The Red Brick Warehouse’s role as a warehouse was in decline, and just when people assumed it would be closed down and demolished, the city of Yokohama began to look at conserving it as part of its urban renaissance program.
In order to integrate its city center, which had split into the area around Yokohama Station and the Kannai-Isezakicho area, and enhance its urban function, Yokohama City launched the Minato Mirai 21 project in 1983 (Showa 58). This involved developing the neo-futuristic Chuo District around Minatomirai Station, which includes the Landmark Tower, while also developing the historic and scenic Shinko District centered around the iconic Red Brick Warehouse.

Use as a warehouse is discontinued, becomes dormant

1989Heisei 1
The cargo volume of the Red Brick Warehouse continued to fall, and by 1986 it was just 2,000t, mainly made up of imports of salt cured vegetables and bamboo brooms and exports of photocopiers. The site finally stopped being used as a warehouse in 1989 (Heisei 1) and the curtain temporarily came down on its 80-year history.

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Red bricks viewed from the former Yokohama Minato Station
(Port of Yokohama collection)

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Shinko Wharf entrance
(Yokohama Port Museum collection)

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Railway track in front of Red Brick Warehouse (Yokohama Port Museum collection)

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Akarenga Railroad Crossing (Yokohama Port Museum collection)

5. Conservation and Restoration

Acquired from the State by Yokohama City

1992Heisei 4
Yokohama City had been looking at conserving the Red Brick Warehouse and, after negotiations with the State, acquired the land and the building in 1992 (Heisei 4). The city set up a Conservation and Utilization Review Committee and made great progress toward the conservation and utilization of the site.

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Graffiti covering Building No.2 (Port of Yokohama collection)

Upgrading work to conserve the buildings begins

1994Heisei 6
The Red Brick Warehouse had not had any large-scale repairs since the Great Kanto Earthquake and so required a major upgrade. Repair work went on until 1999, including fixing the roofs, restoring the windows and eaves, removing graffiti, and reinforcing the structure with steel frames.

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Repairing the roof (Port of Yokohama collection)
Removing graffiti (Port of Yokohama collection)

Concept of the Red Brick Warehouse project is determined

1999Heisei 11
In parallel with the conservation work, the concept of the project under review was determined.
The aim of the project would be to create a culture appropriate for Yokohama, a place for its citizens to both relax and flourish, “a space that generates prosperity and culture for the port”, and so it was decided that Warehouse No.1 would be mainly for cultural use and Warehouse No.2 for commercial use.

Internal upgrade to facilitate use

2000Heisei 12
Internal upgrading work was carried out to install infrastructure such as gas, electricity, water, etc. and the equipment needed for cultural and commercial facilities. While providing modern functionality, efforts were made to keep the memory of these historical buildings alive by retaining period features wherever possible such as corrugated roofs, fire doors, top-rail sliding doors, and staircases.
Internal upgrade in progress (Port of Yokohama collection)

6. The Red Brick Warehouse is Reborn


2002Heisei 14
Conservation took about nine years. Conversion work was completed, and on April 12, 2002 (Heisei 14) the Red Brick Warehouse came back to life, Building No.1 as a culture facility with a hall and exhibition space and Building No.2 as a commercial facility with an array of restaurants and shops. There was tremendous interest in this fresh start for the revived symbol of Yokohama, and the number of visitors that year reached 5.69 million.

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Inside the warehouse (Port of Yokohama collection)

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In front of Motion Blue, 3rd floor of Building No.2 (Takenaka Corporation collection)

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Inside Beer Next, 3rd floor of Building No.2 (Takenaka Corporation collection)

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Staircase in Building No.1 (Port of Yokohama collection)
2007Heisei 19
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry recognized the Red Brick Warehouse as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization for its significant contribution to the modernization of Japanese industry and for relating the history of the development of Yokohama Bay.
Heritage of Industrial Modernization
2010Heisei 22
The Red Brick Warehouse was the first Japanese site to receive the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation, which promotes public and private collaboration in the conservation and restoration of cultural heritages in the Asia-Pacific region, in recognition of its exceptional results.
UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation
2011Heisei 23
On the 100th anniversary of Warehouse No.2, the total number of visitors exceeded the 50 million mark.
2012Heisei 24
The 10th anniversary of the site’s reopening.
The “umbrella” symbol, celebrating the 100th anniversary of construction.
2013Heisei 25
The 100th anniversary of Warehouse No.1.
A “digital hanging scroll” was projected on the outer walls to commemorate the total number of visitors exceeding 60 million.
The annual visitor count was 6.3 million, the record highest since reopening.
Digital hanging scroll

And so to the next 100 years together.