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Friday, Oct. 10, 2008
A short trip to 'paradise'
Hakkeijima: Exploring Yokohama's theme park by the bay
Special to The Japan Times
Yokohama's close proximity to Tokyo — less than half an hour by express train on the various JR, Tokyu or Keihin Kyuko lines — makes it exceptionally easy to get to, and I'm always looking for an excuse to visit this friendly and cosmopolitan town.
One spot in Yokohama I'd shot past countless times on my way to and from other places, but never taken the trouble to visit, is Hakkeijima, an island in the city's Kanazawa Ward.
Hakkei means "eight views," and while I didn't keep count, I quickly concluded that whatever the actual number, this part of town offers a remarkable contrast from the commercial districts. A tranquil area of marinas, islands and parks, its refreshing sea breeze is both relaxing and invigorating.
And of course there's Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, which this year observes its 15th anniversary. This is an "open" theme park, in that it has no gate and charges no admission to enter. Of course, you have to pay to shop or eat at its restaurants, but access is completely free.
In addition to a "One Day" pass (¥4,900 for adults, ¥3,500 for school-age children) that covers most of the park's rides and attractions, visitors have the choice of two cheaper passes depending on what they want to do — "Aqua Resorts" (¥2,700/¥1,600) or "Pleasure Land" (¥2,900/¥2,600). "Twilight Tickets" offer discounts to evening arrivals.
While the passes are obviously a better deal, the park's dozen rides, including a hair-raising roller coaster that swings out over the bay, can also be accessed with a pay-as-you-go approach.
The Aqua Museum, one of Japan's largest aquariums, features 500 varieties of sea creatures, numbering 100,000 in all. These include huge tuna, manta rays and sharks, but some of the smaller creatures are also worth a look. The synchronized swimming "performance" by a school of some 15,000 sardines — named "Iwashi Illusion" — is notably impressive.
The Fureai Lagoon gives visitors a chance to get within touching distance of a variety of marine creatures. There's also an aquatic petting zoo of sorts that features starfish (which are pretty inanimate) and baby sharks. The latter don't appear to object to being handled, but after having been thoroughly intimidated by Peter Benchley's "Jaws," I decided to keep my hands in my pockets and be content in the role of observer.
At an added cost of ¥8,000 for a session, visitors to the Lagoon can don a wet suit, get in the pool and spend an hour playing with a beluga whale. Requirements are that you be above fifth grade of primary school, able to swim at least 25 meters and have a working knowledge of the Japanese language. (Numbers are limited to groups of 10.) Your instructors are the trainers who work with the animals.
The park's Aqua Stadium shows, featuring lively seals, dolphins and beluga whales, are staged four times on weekdays and six or seven times on weekends and holidays. Best to check the times when you arrive and get there early to grab a seat as performances are usually standing-room only.
If you favor finny friends over the human variety, the park even offers a wedding plan that provides a smiling pair of white beluga whales as bridesmaids.
The park has plenty of tasty, affordable places to eat. I went for a lunch of Turkish doner kebab at Dr. Fish but next time plan to try the Seikairo Chinese restaurant, which offers an all-you-can- eat food and drink buffet for just ¥2,000.
Weather and ocean conditions permitting, you can also take a 15-minute "Paradise Cruise" around the island aboard a paddle-wheel ship. Check the departure times on the sign above the landing, on your right as you enter the park.
In addition to Hakkeijima, the Seaside Line also serves Torihama, home to the Mitsui Outlet Park Yokohama Bayside, a colorful shopping mall modeled after Nantucket, Massachusetts. The stores operate from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and some restaurants stay open later.
Taking in these places as well as the sea park will keep you busy for a full day, but if you find yourself with some extra time, there are other interesting places only a short distance away on the Keikyu Line. Three stops on the local train from Kanazawa Hakkei in the direction away from Tokyo is Anjinzuka Station in Yokosuka, where, if you don't mind a bit of hill climbing (about a 20-minute walk), you can take in Tsukayama Park and view the monument to Miura Anjin. Anjin is the Japanese name given to late-16th century English navigator William Adams, who was the subject of Giles Milton's popular history book "Samurai William: The Englishman Who Opened Japan" (2002) and on whose life James Clavell based his 1975 blockbuster "Shogun." (Adams passed away in Nagasaki in 1620.) The park offers a great view of Tokyo Bay from its 133-meter elevation.
Two local stops after Anjinzuka is Shioiri, where you can see lots of 21st-century seafarers along Dobuita Street. This historical strip that terminates near the main gate of the U.S. naval facility at Yokosuka is lined with colorful shops selling embroidered satin jackets and other retro souvenirs, as well as snack bars and tacky sailors' dives.
One more local stop takes you to Yokosuka Chuo, where you can visit Yokosuka Kaigun Kare Hompo, which serves curry with rice based on the recipe developed a century ago as a staple for the Japanese Imperial Navy, and tour the battleship Mikasa — the flagship from which Adm. Heihachiro Togo led the Imperial Navy to victory at Tsushima in 1905.
Regular season hours (up to Nov. 30) at Sea Paradise are from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays. To get there, take the Keihin Kyuko limited express bound for Misakiguchi or Miura Kaigan. Get off at Kanazawa Bunko (the second limited express stop after Yokohama), change to the local train, and go one stop to Kanazawa Hakkei. Use the pedestrian bridge to cross National Highway 16 and board the elevated Seaside Line (the station is also called Kanazawa Hakkei). Hakkeijima is the fourth stop, a 7-minute ride. (One-way adult fare is ¥550 from Shinagawa or ¥270 from Yokohama, plus an additional ¥250 for the Seaside Line.) Auto parking is available for ¥1,000/day. For more information, in English, Chinese and Korean, you can visit www.seaparadise.co.jp