Historic treasures at home in modern metropolis


Staff Writer

The city of Yokohama has long attracted tourists with its rich tourism resources, based around its unique identity as a port city that opened its doors to the world more than 150 years ago.

The capital of Kanagawa Prefecture adjacent to Tokyo used to be a small fishing village, but the opening of the Port of Yokohama in 1859 turned the settlement into a bustling trade center that is now one of the largest cities in Japan, boasting about 3.72 million people.

According to Yokohama’s Culture and Tourism Bureau, a record 37.6 million tourists visited the city in 2015. Its proximity to Tokyo and Haneda airport ensures travelers easy access to Yokohama. From both Tokyo Station and Haneda airport, it only takes about 25 minutes to get to Yokohama Station.

Many of Yokohama’s popular tourist sites have deep ties with the city’s history. For instance, Yokohama Chinatown in Naka Ward dates back to when Chinese merchants and traders arrived following the port’s opening.

Stepping out of the nearby Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minatomirai Line, visitors are soon immersed in the exotic atmosphere of one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. There are more than 600 shops packed within the tiny 0.25-hectare district, which enables visitors to enjoy various Chinese food and culture.

Accessible by bus from Motomachi-Chukagai Station, Sankeien is a 17.5-hectare traditional Japanese garden in the ward’s Honmoku area. The vast garden was designed and landscaped by wealthy silk trader Sankei Hara who was based in Yokohama, the largest port for raw silk export in Japan. It’s worth visiting to see many historical and valuable Japanese structures, relocated from all over Japan to the site.

Travelers getting off at the line’s Nihon-odori Station will find a number of unique Western buildings among the many government offices and modern structures.

The Yokohama Three Towers — a group of historical buildings with distinctive exteriors — are the Yokohama Customs building, the Kanagawa Prefectural Government’s Office and the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall. They are nicknamed The Queen, The King and The Jack, though why they have such nicknames are unclear.

Among them, the neo-renaissance style Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall is designated as a national important cultural property. The best viewing spot of these iconic structures is arguably from nearby Osanbashi Pier.

The Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal is a port of call for many cruise ships, including the Queen Elizabeth 2. It is the oldest pier in the city, originally constructed in 1894.

A short walk from the pier takes visitors to Yamashita Park, which offers magnificent waterfront views of the city. At the park, the ocean liner Hikawa Maru, launched in 1929 for Nippon Yusen, is permanently berthed and used as a museum ship. Waterbus and cruise ships are also operated from the park pier.

After strolling around the area and enjoying the ocean breeze, a view from above completes the sightseeing experience. The 106-meter Yokohama Marine Tower in front of Yamashita Park is an ideal choice for getting a bird’s-eye view of the city and harbor.

The tower has served as one of the most-recognizable landmarks in the bay area since its construction in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the port’s opening. On clear days, visitors can see Mount Fuji in one direction and the Yokohama Bay Bridge in another from the tower’s observation deck. The dazzling night view is also magnificent.

From Bashamichi Station, the Shinko area across Bankokubashi Bridge is a must-see. The iconic Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse used to be a government’s customs inspection facility, and today houses many shops and restaurants in its two buildings that were constructed more than a century ago.

The five-story Cupnoodles Museum, formally known as the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum, is a unique interactive facility that allows visitors to learn the history of instant ramen noodles.

At the museum, people can create their own chicken ramen noodle, which was invented by the founder of Nissin Food Products Momofuku Ando. The Noodles Bazaar restaurant has the atmosphere of an Asian night market, and diners can choose from eight varieties of noodles from around the world. They include lagman from Kazakhstan, Lanzhou beef ramen from China, pho from Vietnam and laksa from Malaysia.

Famous for its giant Ferris wheel Cosmo Clock 21, Yokohama Cosmoworld theme park is the place for those looking to sate their amusement park appetite. The family friendly park boasts the Kids Carnival Zone that has many rides children enjoy. The lighting at night creates a romantic atmosphere for a stroll.

In the Minato Mirai area around Minatomirai Station, the 296-meter Landmark Tower lives up to its name. The second-tallest building in Japan houses offices, a hotel, shops and restaurants. An elevator takes only about 40 seconds to whisk visitors to the 69th-floor observation deck, where they can take in a panoramic view of up to 80 kilometers away.

At the foot of the tower lies a restored stone dock named Dockyard Garden. Additionally, the former training ship Nippon Maru is docked near the landmark building. After 54 years of service, the retired ship is open to the public, enabling visitors to walk around the decks. The adjacent Yokohama Port Museum introduces the port’s history.

Meanwhile, Kishamichi Promenade is a 500-meter-long boardwalk created by overhauling an unused section of train track previously used by the former Japan National Railways. The promenade includes three bridges connecting the Nippon Maru Memorial Park and the Shinko area.

Outside the Pacifico Yokohama convention complex, lies the largest park in the Minato Mirai district. Rinko Park offers another impressive view of the port, and gives people comfortable respite on the grass.

There is another facility in Yokohama that will surely entertain children, as well as fans of all ages of the children’s book and TV show character Anpanman. Near Shin-takashima Station, the Yokohama Anpanman Children’s Museum and Mall is where people can enjoy the world and characters of Anpanman.

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