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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.

Yokohama Japan

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)

Other Sights in Kawagoe

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We had spent the morning admiring Kawagoe’s Edo-style kura-zukuri buildings and visiting the museums found along its main strip. After a long lunch, we felt rested enough to continue our exploration of the city.

Sights in Kawagoe

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Candy Shop Lane, where we sampled the famous treats of Kawagoe. The candy production based here kept Tokyo’s sweet-tooth satisfied during the lean years after the great 1923 earthquake. There are fewer shops today, but this lane is still filled with people selling traditional sweets like candied yams and red-bean cakes. We found a lollipop sculptor, who crafted an attractive (and delicious) flamingo for us. And by showering us with samples, a wily old woman guilted us into buying a couple bags of salty rock candy.

Sights in Kawagoe

We now made our way to the east, toward the former site of Kawagoe’s castle. Because of its upstream location on the Sumida River, Kawagoe was of great strategic importance to Edo, and the scene of many battles. After falling victim to fire, the castle was mostly demolished in 1870, replaced by public parks and sport fields. You can still visit the Honmaru Goten, which was the castle’s main residence. Today, it holds archaeological artifacts.

Sights in Kawagoe

For a better picture of life in medieval Kawagoe, we visited the nearby City Museum. Meant to resemble a modern kura-zukuri warehouse, this large white building isn’t particularly appealing from the outside, and we almost skipped it. But once inside, the museum does a good job of bringing the history of the city to life, with explanations of how the kura-zukuri were built, along with full-scale replicas.

Sights in Kawagoe

One task remained on our long itinerary in Kawagoe: the Kita-in Temple, to the south of the former palace grounds. Believed to have been founded in 830, the Kita-in was of great importance to the Tokugawa Shogunate. When it was destroyed by fire in 1638, a section of Edo Castle was transferred to Kawagoe to help with the temple’s reconstruction process. This is the only part of Edo Castle which has survived into the present day. It’s now home to a museum, although the exhibits are just a handy pretext for getting to see the interior of this historic building.

Also within the temple’s expansive grounds, we found a courtyard with a collection of 500 statues. Carved from stone a couple hundred years ago, each has a different posture and expression. Additionally, the Kita-in has a shrine for the spirit of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, a bell tower and a mausoleum which holds the remains of Kawagoe’s former lords, or daimyo.

Locations on our Map: Candy Shop Lane | Honmaru Goten | Kawagoe City Museum | Kita-in Temple

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May 28, 2014 at 6:34 am Comments (0)
A Trip to Yokohama 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.
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