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Friday, Dec. 24, 2004

MINATO MIRAI 21

Loading bay to pleasure haven


By MICHIRU YOSHINO
Special to The Japan Times

Originally home to a huge shipbuilding dock, Yokohama's Minato Mirai 21 area is today a great attraction for day and nighttime visitors alike. The "21" of Minato Mirai's name stands for the 21st century, but plans to redevelop the coastal area were underway by 1965, just as Japan's economy started soaring the year after the Tokyo Olympic Games. The area is studded with impressive structures, including the dramatic Yokohama Landmark Tower, just east of Yokohama Station, and the Red Brick Warehouse in the Shinko area.

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The Yokohama Landmark Tower aims for the sky

Getting to this exciting spot is now easier than ever: The launching of the Minato Mirai subway line on Feb 1 was a welcome development that takes visitors right to the heart of the area. Until then most train stations serving Yokohama were located inland, though the city's main places of interest are concentrated on its seaside. Running right below such tourist spots as the Queen's Square Yokohama, Chinatown and the Motomachi shopping boulevard, the Minato Mirai Line links Shibuya to Motomachi-Chukagai in just 35 minutes.

Though trains are faster, a more exciting way of approaching Minato Mirai is by sea. Ferry boats leave from the Sea Bass Terminal located at the East Exit of Yokohama Station at the tip of Sogo Department Store's parking lot. The boats operate from 10 in the morning to 7 at night, and the fee for a one-way ticket from Yokohama Station to Minato Mirai is 350 yen.

Another delightful way to enjoy the scenery and the gleaming waves of the sea is to rent a bicycle. After leaving a deposit of 1,000 yen, you can borrow a bicycle for just 300 yen for a full day at one of three rent-a-cycle spots in the area: one at the Yokohama Maritime Museum (Nippon-maru); another at the entrance of the Osambashi Pier; and a third at the Red Brick Warehouse.

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While the vintage Nippon-maru's sails brighten the harbor

If you can afford the luxury, an evening helicopter ride over Minato Mirai and the gleaming lights of Yokohama can also be enjoyed for a fee of 9,800 yen to 12,500 yen. Cruise flights leave from the heliport adjacent to the green lawn of Rinko Park near Pacifico Yokohama.

Sights to see, places to go

A great place to start your visit would be the Yokohama Landmark Tower, which at 296 meters is Japan's highest building and a symbol of civic pride. The 70-story tower is open most days from 10 in the morning to 8:30 at night, and its Sky Garden observatory, which occupies the entire 69th floor, offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the Yokohama Bay Bridge and the city below as well as Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji beyond.

For fantastic views of a different sort, the Yokohama Museum of Art is also first-rate. Serving as an international venue for various cultural activities, the museum is currently showcasing a vast collection of photographs in honor of Yokohama's place as the birthplace of Japanese photography. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except for Thursdays and days after national holidays. Admission for its regular exhibits is 500 yen.

News photo
Lights shine off the water at Minato Mirai 21

Another must-visit site is the Red Brick Warehouse. Built over a century ago, this huge edifice has been reborn as a new cultural-cum-commercial facility, housing dozens of shops and restaurants as well as hosting various cultural activities and shows held in the open air at its outdoor Event Plaza.

Located on both sides of the canal, the Yokohama Cosmo World is a compact amusement park for both young and old, boasting the gigantic Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel, which slowly lifts close to 500 people high above the water. Open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays and until 10 p.m. on weekends and holidays, the park is closed occasionally on Thursdays.

Visible from the ferris wheel is the harbor's grandest resident: the Nippon-maru. This gracious sailing ship was originally used for training sailors in the 1930s, and is now moored at the former No. 1 dockyard, which dates from 1899. Just beside the Nippon-maru is the Maritime Museum, which features live images of the Port of Yokohama on its large screen while visitors can test their piloting skills on the vessel maneuvering simulator. Both the Nippon-maru and the museum are open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except for Mondays and days after national holidays.

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While visitors stroll outside the refurbished Red Brick Warehouse

Recently opened in late November close to the Shin-Takashima Station on the Minato Mirai Line is Gento Yokohama, a multiplex facility comprising a cinema complex, a venue for weddings and Yokohama Blitz, a 2,600-square meter live music space that can hold up to 1,700 music fans. Gento Yokohama is also home to the Yokohama Hajimete Monogatari amusement facility, a simulation of the town as it was when the port was first opened in the late 19th century, recreating the shopping streets and dance halls of bygone days.

Hitting the shops

Designated as a Foreign Access Zone (FAZ) by the national government to promote imports, Yokohama World Porters in the Shinko area is a massive shopping complex with a full line of foodstuffs and fashion gear from all over the world.

Connected to the Landmark Tower is the massive Landmark Plaza shopping mall, selling all kinds of goods, from the top end to the more affordable including, books, cosmetics, international brand clothes, jewelry, shoes and bags. This is also the place to enjoy a wide variety of international cuisine from hamburgers to high-class Japanese fare.

Queen's Square is a shopping quarter selling imported casual sportswear mainly from the United States, while higher-priced fashion items are sold in the Queen's east building.

Without a doubt the area's most rewarding shopping experience is offered by the historic Red Brick Warehouse. Recently refurbished, the century-old structure offers a fine selection of trendy shopping spots interspersed with shops selling local crafts and restaurants serving locally produced ham dishes, freshly brewed Yokohama beer and homemade ice cream, allowing visitors to get a taste of this buzzing port town.



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