Once a sleepy village by the sea, since the end of Japan’s isolation Yokohama has grown into a bustling international port, but the city still retains its seaside charm. The breezy board-walks of Yokohama’s Minato Mirai district are perfect for charming strolls by the water as the seagulls call above, and foodies will be spoiled for choice by the endless spread of restaurants in Yokohama’s famous Chinatown. Combined with the assortment of shops and museums to explore, Yokohama gives nearby Tokyo some heavy competition.
The harbour of the future
Minato Mirai, meaning “the harbour of the future” in English, is a district in Yokohama Bay featuring a wealth of entertainment such as shopping plazas, museums, and the rides and attractions of Cosmoworld amusement park. It’s characterized by tall skyscrapers right along the water and the iconic Cosmoworld Ferris Wheel. Once the world’s biggest clock, this giant Ferris wheel illuminates the night sky in flashing rainbow colours and has become a symbol of Yokohama. Minato Mirai can be accessed through Minato Mirai Station or Sakuragicho Station. Cosmoworld’s romantic atmosphere, especially once the sun sets and the rides light up, has it pegged as a date spot. Couples flock to this amusement park in the heart of Minato Mirai to ride the 115-metre-high Ferris wheel, which gives riders a bird’s-eye view of the sparkling sea and city below. However, there are other rides for the thrill-seekers out there, like the diving coaster that snakes around the park. There is also a kiddie area for families.
When it comes to shopping, you could spend a whole day browsing the options in Minato Mirai alone. Queen’s Square and Landmark Plaza are great for checking out the latest Japanese fashion brands, but for something more offbeat head to the Red Brick Warehouses.
These two warehouses have been renovated since the early days of Japan’s expansion. They now house shops and boardwalk cafés opening onto a gorgeous view of the sea and Minato Mirai skyline. The plaza between the two buildings hosts cultural festivals and exhibitions throughout the year. It’s the perfect place for souvenir shopping, as among these shops you can find one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and jewelry.
But for a truly unique souvenir, head to the Cup-noodles Museum, where you can mix up your own cupnoodle flavour to take home. Just make sure to give yourself plenty of time, as the line for the personal cupnoodles can be long, especially on a holiday. At just ¥310 (about $3.50) for entry and ¥1,000 (about $12) to make your own noodles, it’s an inexpensive way to experience one of the hallmarks of modern Japanese culture.
And speaking of noodles, don’t miss out on the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum. This museum is built to mimic the classic style of the ‘50s in Japan. Though ramen originated in China, it’s now one of the most popular comfort foods in Japan, and the Japanese have given it their own classic spin. The Ramen Museum features a collection of restaurants selling different types of Ramen from all over the country. Be sure to order the mini bowls so you’ll have lots of room to sample as many of the unique regional recipes as possible. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum can be reached from Shin Yokohama Station.
Yamashita Park and Chinatown
Both Yamashita Park and Yokohama’s famous Chinatown are a short walk from Motomachi-Chukagai Station. The vast green spaces and seaside promenade of Yamashita Park attract many visitors looking to spend a relaxing sunny afternoon.
The nearby Marine Tower, built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Yokohama port, is 106 metres tall and features a 360-degree observation deck. You can see all the way to Mt. Fuji on a clear day, and at night visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view of Minato Mirai and the Yokohama Bay.
You’ll know you’ve arrived in Yokohama’s Chinatown by the elaborate Chinese-style gates at the entrance. The Chinatown in Yokohama is the biggest in Asia, and it’s packed with shops and restaurants serving up Chinese cuisine with a Japanese twist. It’s the place to get some of Japan’s best nikuman—large, fluffy steamed buns filled with juicy pork. Shumai, savoury pork dumplings, are another popular dish, often served with spicy mustard. And don’t leave without sampling the famous Peking duck. Before taking a trip to Chinatown it’s best to do some research and find out which restaurants are most popular, as they’re not all created equal. One well-known spot is Shaten-ki 2, which specializes in Chinese rice porridge.
Yokohama’s eats and treats
One of Yokohama’s biggest draws is the fabulous food, especially the Chinese cuisine. Boasting the biggest Chinatown in Asia, Yokohama offers a plethora of Chinese and Chinese-inspired dishes, from down-home comfort food to high-end delicacies.
Shumai: These soft dumplings, also known as one of the staples of dim sum, are often filled with juicy, garlicky ground beef, chicken or shrimp. They go great with spicy mustard. Photo ©ACworks Co.,Ltd.
Nikuman: The larger cousin of shumai, nikuman are fluffy buns usually stuffed with meat and vegetables. Though you’ll find them at any convenience store in Japan, the best are served up in Yokohama’s Chinatown. Photo ©ACworks Co.,Ltd.
Yokohama Bay cruising and stunning Sankeien
While the view of Yokohama Bay is gorgeous on land, it’s even better right on the water. Many companies offer day or night cruises. The perfect end to a day in Yokohama is a cruise at sunset as you take in the glittering Minato Mirai skyline from the deck of a cruise boat. A jacket is mandatory as the open air, while refreshing, can also be chilly as the sun goes down.
Beautiful Sankeien Garden, commissioned by silk trader Sankei Hara, opened to the residents of Yokohama in 1904. It’s slightly off the beaten path, requiring a bus ride from Yokohama Station, but it’s well worth the short journey. This sprawling garden features 175 square metres of tranquil ponds, streams and lovely strolling paths. It’s also the site of many traditional Japanese structures designated as Important National Cultural properties which Sankei Hara imported from all over Japan. The best times to visit are during cherry blossom season, when delicate pink petals dust the trees and the ponds, or during autumn once the leaves turn and the garden comes alive with colour.
From a tiny fishing village to the second-largest city in Japan, Yokohama has grown into a cosmopolitan metropolis with an iconic culture all its own.
All photos courtesy of Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau unless otherwise noted