The good times flow at Oktoberfest
Summer may be the season for beer events, but it’s certainly worth waiting until autumn for one of the best—the Yokohama Oktoberfest. Held for a full 10 days at the Akarenga Soko complex on Yokohama Bay, the annual party features live German music, a variety of food items and a whole lotta beer, mostly from Germany.
But what really sets it apart is the festive atmosphere, which runs from lively in the afternoon to borderline wild later on, as beer-fueled celebrants begin snake-dancing in long lines through the seating area inside the main tent.
While the original Oktoberfest in Munich usually runs from late September to early October, in Yokohama the time frame is more flexible. This year’s event will take place from October 9-18, two weekends with a week in between, giving people more chances to attend. The Akarenga Soko complex, a collection of old brick warehouses, is a ten-minute walk from Bashamichi station on the Minatomirai line. Admission is a nominal 200 yen, with beer and food sold separately.
Visitors seem to attend the Yokohama Oktoberfest in groups, and some of them can become quite spirited as the afternoon runs into the evening. In addition to the aforementioned lines of snake-dancers, you’re likely to meet people who are quite into German beer culture. One group of regulars, which numbers over 20, wears large German hats and drinks weizen, a type of wheat beer, exclusively from large mugs. I don’t think they have a name, so I just refer to them as the “Weizenheimers.”
Several brands of German brews are available in pilsner, weizen and dark-beer varieties. Also on offer is an assortment of Japanese craft beer from nearby breweries, selling for somewhat less than their German counterparts. The cheapest quaffs are from the four major Japanese breweries, and a few of their special varieties are also available.
“It’s really more of a cultural event,” explains Hisashi Imazato, president of Zato Trading Company, a major supplier of beer for the event since 2006. “And since there is beer, people are easily drawn to festivities. There is also music, so it really is a kind of matsuri.”
Imazato was originally an interior designer who worked on exhibits for the Tokyo Motor Show. A few trips to Germany aroused a strong interest in German food and beer, to the point that he opened a small German-style place in Kamiyacho 15 years ago. He began importing beer, first Spaten and then Franziskaner, followed by several brands from small local breweries. His company, Zato Trading, now imports some 20 varieties of German beer, and over six brands of German wine. They also operate nine German-style pub-restaurants throughout central Tokyo, including the Franziskaner Bar & Grill and Franz Club locations.
Imazato and his company participate in several Oktoberfest events held throughout Japan during the warmer months of the year. These include Fukuoka (early May), Tokyo Hibiya (late May), Sendai (mid-June), Niigata (early August), and Shizuoka (early September). The Yokohama event, however, draws by far the most people—and is certainly the most festive.
The Yokohama Oktoberfest opens at 5 p.m. on Friday and runs through Sunday, Oct 18. Admission: 200 yen, plus 1,000 yen deposit for your glass. Hours: Mon-Fri noon-9 p.m., Sat-Sun and Oct 12 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Nearest stn: Bashamichi (Minatomirai line).
Note: if you plan to do a lot of drinking, it is also advisable to bring some bottles of mineral water (sparkling is nice) to keep yourself hydrated between beers.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp)