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The Modern Side of Yokohama

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After dedicating the morning to Yokohama’s historic harbor district and grabbing lunch in Asia’s largest Chinatown, we moved farther north up the bay and spent the afternoon in the more modern part of town.

Modern Yokohama

The 1980s were an exciting time for Yokohama. At the beginning of the decade, it surpassed Osaka in population to become Japan’s second-largest city. In 1983, work began on Minato Mirai 21, a sprawling complex built on reclaimed land that was destined to become the city’s new business and entertainment district. And in 1989, Yokohama unveiled both the world’s tallest Ferris wheel (the Cosmo Clock) and the 860-meter Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Modern Yokohama

Our afternoon began at the Red Brick Warehouses, located across from Osanbashi Pier. These twin buildings were built in 1905, and managed to survive the disasters that leveled the rest of the city, thanks to the durable material with which they were constructed. Today, they host upscale shops and provide a unique setting for special events.

Modern Yokohama

From here, it was a short walk to Cosmo World, home of the aforementioned Cosmo Clock. The amusement park is free to enter and we wandered underneath a roller coaster to watch a steady procession of screaming adolescent girls splash down the water log ride. (Amusement parks in Japan seem to be popular with screaming adolescent girls.) We considered riding the Ferris wheel, but the sky was turning a strange color, so we decided to keep our feet on the ground.

Modern Yokohama

Sure enough, as we crossed a bridge into the Minato Mirai 21 district, an astounding wind storm kicked up. I hadn’t felt wind like this for a very long time, nearly strong enough to knock us both over. Umbrellas and hats were flying, bikes were being blown over, and hairstyles were being ruined all around us. This was chaotic fun for a couple minutes, but made it impossible to appreciate the architecture of this modern urban district, whose name means “Port of the Future in the 21st Century.” Soon, we were running for shelter in the Landmark Tower.

Modern Yokohama

Until being bested by Osaka’s Abeno Harukas in 2014, the Yokohama Landmark Tower was the tallest building in Japan. Completed in 1993, the tower boasts an observation deck on its 69th floor, and elevators that reach speeds of 28 mph.

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Almost two months after having arrived in Japan, it was from atop the Landmark Tower that we finally saw Mount Fuji. The wind storm had removed some of the smog, revealing the famous flat-capped mountain on the horizon. We sat down in comfortable chairs facing west, ordered wine, and stayed put as the sun went down. It was the perfect way to end an exceptional day in Yokohama.

Locations on our Map: Red Brick Warehouses | Cosmo Clock | Landmark Tower

Hotels In Yokohama

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June 26, 2014 at 6:50 am Comments (2)

Yokohama’s Chinatown

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Outside of China, the largest Chinatown in Asia can be found in Yokohama. Hundreds of restaurants and shops are packed into this colorful and boisterous neighborhood, along with a multitude of gates and temples, and (if you’re visiting at lunch time) approximately 34 billion students looking for a cheap meal.

Yokohama China Town

Yokohama’s Chinatown feels like a theme park, with large gates clearly defining its borders and a festive atmosphere reigning in its pedestrian-only streets. This isn’t a normal neighborhood with residents quietly going about their lives, but a boisterous place where people go to eat and have fun. Chinatown is a completely different beast from the rest of Yokohama, which we had found to be quiet and relaxing.

China and Japan haven’t always enjoyed the rosiest history of friendship, and the fortunes of Yokohama’s Chinatown have waxed and waned with the tension between the two. The neighborhood was established when Japan opened its borders in 1859, and grew rapidly until the Sino-Japanese War of 1937. Relations stabilized after WWII, with Japan’s embrace of pacifism, and today Yokohama is home to thousands Chinese expatriates, most of whom are Cantonese.

Apart from admiring the neighborhood’s elaborate gates and its temples, the main thing to do in Chinatown is eat. There are so many options, it’s hard to know where to start. You can pig out on street food like dumplings, fried chicken, pork buns, chestnuts, rice cakes and kebabs. Or you can choose a lunch special offered by one of the hundreds of restaurants. Spicy Szechuan tofu dishes, Beijing duck, Shanghai-style fish, or an infinite variety of noodle and rice meals.

Overwhelmed by choice, we finally sat down in a random restaurant which looked popular, and enjoyed a delicious multi-set meal for about ¥800. Don’t ask me to share the restaurant’s name or location, because we were so disoriented by lunch time that I remember neither. Anyway, I have a feeling that any place you eat in Chinatown would be excellent.

Our trip to Yokohama was turning out to be a lot more interesting than expected, and Chinatown was the day’s biggest surprise. Even if you have to skip the rest of the city, it’s worth the short journey from Tokyo just to see this neighborhood and enjoy some authentic Chinese cuisine.

Location of Yokohama’s Chinatown on our Map

Hostels In Yokohama

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June 25, 2014 at 9:47 am Comment (1)

A Trip to Yokohama

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After Tokyo, Yokohama is the second-biggest city in Japan, with a population approximately equal to that of Los Angeles. The idea of dedicating a single day to it is absurd, but Yokohama is so easily accessible from Tokyo that it actually makes for an excellent short excursion.

Yokohama Japan

Just hop on the JR Tokaido train heading south out of Tokyo Station and 25 minutes later, you’re in Yokohama. It’s so close that it could be conceivably be considered a suburb, and indeed, many people commute from here to the big(ger) city every day for work. But although it exists under the shadow of Tokyo, Yokohama has an identity and colorful history all its own, thanks largely to its status as Japan’s first international port.

When Japan finally opened its doors to trade in 1854, it did so reluctantly. The shogun designated Yokohama, a fishing village farther down the coast from Edo, as the only port allowed to accept ships from other countries. Foreigners were permitted to settle down here… and only here. The result was that Yokohama blossomed into Japan’s most cosmopolitan city. Strong populations of Americans, Chinese and Brits brought with them innovations and learning that the country had previously shut its isolationist ears to.

The international flavor is still readily apparent in Yokohama, which boasts one of the world’s largest Chinatowns, as well as buildings which wouldn’t look out of place alongside the Thames. We began our day by walking from the train station past the baseball stadium, home of the Yokohama Bay Stars, and down Nihon-dori (Japan Street), which was once the official boundary between the city’s Japanese and the foreign populations.

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Soon, we were at the bay and walked out onto the newly-reconstructed Osanbashi Pier. It’s rare that a pier could be considered a worthwhile tourism sight, but Osanbashi is lovely. Constructed with gentle slopes covered in grass, it looks more like a park than a pier. This has been the center of Japan’s maritime relations since the country’s doors opened, and today welcomes cruise ships full of foreign guests.

We now walked southeast along the bay, through Yamashita Park, where there were a number of statues and kids playing catch, and came upon the NYK Hikawa Maru. Built in 1929, this enormous passenger ship connected Japan to Seattle until the outbreak of World War II. It acted as a hospital ship during the hostilities, and then returned to its peaceful Pacific crossings until being decommissioned in 1960.

It was about noon when we reached the Yokohama Marine Tower, which has an observation deck on its top floor. From here, we had a nice view of the harbor which has played such an important role in Japanese history. Further north, we could spot the modern section of the city, which we’d be visiting in the afternoon. And to the south, Chinatown, which we (correctly) reckoned would be a great place for lunch. There was still a lot ahead of us, but we were feeling optimistic; our morning in Yokohama had already been an unqualified success.

Locations on our Map: Yokohama Station | Yokohama Stadium | Osanbashi Pier | Yamashita Park | NYK Hikawa Maru | Yokohama Marine Tower

Great Hotels in Yokohama

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June 25, 2014 at 7:13 am Comments (3)
The Modern Side of Yokohama After dedicating the morning to Yokohama's historic harbor district and grabbing lunch in Asia's largest Chinatown, we moved farther north up the bay and spent the afternoon in the more modern part of town.
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