Yokohama as nature made it is oceans, hills and surrounding mountains. Onto this lovely canvas man has added gardens and shopping malls, temples and towers and, like so many of its national cousins, it comes complete with a skyline of soaring skyscrapers. Among Japan’s cities Yokohama is only second in size to Tokyo but in many ways it couldn’t offer more of a contrast to its near neighbor. Yokohama has a distinctly more relaxed air which has rather more elements at times of a charming coastal town than a heaving metropolis or major port which is why it is not just popular with oversees visitors but also the Japanese themselves including Tokyoites on day trips.
Some of the essential and distinctive elements of this city have come about because of its colorfully-interesting history. It was one of the first places in the country to which foreigners came, both to trade and settle, once Japan opened its doors to the outside world in the 19th century after a long era of closed-away isolation. Such a story explains the existence of a vast Chinatown, the area of Yamate which has all the appearance of a European suburb and a general air of internationalization which has influenced its architecture, cuisine and overall diversity. The city has also known its share of tragedy. The great earthquake of 1923 left thousands of dead and the city in many places as nothing more than piles of rubble. No sooner had it got up from its figurative knees than World War II arrived and again Yokohama saw death and destruction on a grand scale as it burned and collapsed under a spate of bombing raids. But, once more, the city got to its feet, reconstructing and reinventing itself while incorporating what had survived structurally from older times so that Yokohama today is full of the fascinating, special and even the entirely unique.
The following day itinerary has been put together to allow you to make the most of your Yokohama time and ensure all of its major must-sees play a part in your visit. The majority of these are huddled around the ultra-modern Minato Mirai area while the center of the city generally is relatively compact which means you can explore on foot. If you choose to preserve your energy though or want to travel a little further afield where choices are presented to you the city has an efficient and extensive subway system. Of this, the Minato Mirai 21 line which runs between the principal harbor area and Chinatown is pretty much all you are going to need for your exciting day ahead.
Another excellent getting around alternative for fresh-air fans is the city bicycle share scheme. Because all the rental bikes are power-assisted you don’t even need to think about using up any energy. Docking ports for picking up a bike are found around the city and you can later return it to whichever dock you find yourself closest to when your exploration is done.
A Morning in Yokohama
From high-rise platforms from which to get your bearings and enjoy views which stretch all the way to Mount Fuji to the chance to go a little James Bond on an amphibious craft –this is what you can look forward to on your morning in this maritime city. In between the two you will also have the chance to visit at least one of Yokohama’s excellent museums or galleries with options ranging from the quirky to the quintessentially Japanese.
The Yokohama Landmark Tower
What better way is there to get your bearings in a city on first arriving than to gaze down at it from a heady height of almost 300m. If you make your way to the Yokohama Landmark Tower this is exactly how you can begin your day of exploration. This boxy, almost Lego-like construction with its distinctive flared base and 73 floors claims the title of Japan’s second tallest building and is by quite some way the city’s highest skyscraper. At just 4 floors short of its entire height can be found an observation deck –known as the Sky Garden -which when it was completed in 1993 ranked as the highest in the country. Getting from ground level to the Sky Garden is an event in itself –something you will achieve in just 40 seconds courtesy of the world’s second fastest elevators.The deck itself offers 360 degree views thanks to north-, east-, south-and west-facing viewing areas. This means that not just Yokohama in all its coastal and metropolitan glory is laid out below you but on a clear day the far reaching views will also take in Tokyo (40km away) and Mount Fuji. Strategically placed maps help you identify some of the more distinctive sights, buildings and landmarks which make up the fantastic whole.
A Choice of Museums or a Beer Factory Tour
Once you have come back down to earth you can look forward to a morning filled with cultural treats with a plethora of quality museums to choose from. To make life incredibly easy the centrally located Minato Mirai area clusters together an incredible number of museums which means you can visit more than one if the array leaves you torn for choice, without having to make very much effort.
The Nippon Maru Ship Museum
While quite which of this area’s museums will interest you most is going to be down to personal preference one major contender for the brightest jewel in the crown goes to the floating museum known as the Nippon Maru. Impossible to miss on the waterfront at the foot of Landmark Tower, this impressive historic ship with her towering masts served as a sailing training facility from 1930 until her retirement in 1984. During those years she racked up a total of sailing miles which equated to more than 45 turns around the globe.
Today this beautiful ship welcomes visitors aboard to stroll her gleaming decks beneath billowing white sails and explore her below-deck rooms for a glimpse into the world of what life on-board was like for the captain, officers and cadets who called her home for months at a time.
Below decks several rooms have been fitted out exactly as they would have been during the ship’s working years. You can see the wooden bunk-filled room where the cadets slept as well as the officers’ salon and the captain’s private office and reception room.
As you wander this lovely ship’s almost 100m of length you will discover all kinds of riggings. fittings and equipment pertaining to sailing life. If you would like to understand a little more about what you are seeing or the intricacies and purpose of some specific features there are a team of knowledgeable volunteers on-board who will help you out. Throughout the year the Nippon Maru also serves as a venue for various events which includes concerts and markets.
If after leaving this museum you still haven’t had your fill of Yokohama’s marine and port history head to the Yokohama Port Museum located directly across from where the ship is docked. Recently remodeled,this museum is home to exhibits which tell the city’s 150 year story of port life as well as giving you some insights into the whole marine theme in broader terms.
While the magnificent Nippon Maru ranks as one of the area’s top must-see museums there is no shortage of other choices all within walking distance of each other. Included on the list of possibilities are the Museum of Art, the CUPNOODLES Museum, the NYK Maritime Museum, the Tattoo Museum, the Japan Coast Guard Museum, Orbi, the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum, the Haratetsudomokei (model train) Museum and the Silk Museum which is a little way away from the main cluster.
The Museum of Art – Home to works by the likes of such masters as Dali, Magritte, Cézanne and Picasso and with extensive photography focus, the Museum of Art is one of the country’s largest exhibiting art spaces. Incorporating seven separate galleries, this highly-respected institution has an airy and spacious feel and is also home to the Art Information and Media Center which holds workshops, art-related facilities and a library of around 110,000 subject-related books.
The CUPNOODLES Museum – One of the city’s quirkier choices, this incredibly popular novelty museum tells the story of the instant snack beloved the world over from its invention and all through its epic rise to becoming the world star it is today. With a huge range of hands-on features on offer you can make your own ramen from scratch, sample some of the more inventive varieties and even produce something entirely customized to suit your own tastes.
NYK – With a story which began in the 1880s, the Nippon Yusen Kaisha international shipping company is one of the largest commercial shipping concerns in existence anywhere in the world. Their museum tells its history from its first seeds to the present day while also showcasing how marine technology and the methods of commercial shipping have changed over the years.
Orbi – Rather more highly-immersive nature experience than museum, the high-tech Orbi represents a wonderful marriage between the video-game superstars Sega and BBC Earth –the British broadcasting’s nature filming and documentary branch. While positively crammed with fascinating features the museum’s major triumph is its ground-breaking theater where amazing nature footage is shown on a vast curved screen enhanced with further surround screens. Totally unlike any other cinematic experience, the state-of-the-art equipment here allows visitors to not just see nature in all its glory but to also feel the wind and earth movements and even be able to smell the smells of where they have been transported to.
Elsewhere in the museum interactive exhibits separated into themes such as jungle and ocean allow you to ‘step in’ to the very places where the documentaries were filmed. One such of these will take you on a flight above the Earth where you will feel the high-speed wind in your face while another allows you to experience an Antarctic blizzard.
The Model Railway Museum – As Yokohama is where Japan’s history of railways all began it seems fitting that the city is today home to this vast collection of model trains –widely considered to be the world’s largest. The whole is actually part of the private collection of Tokyo-born Nobutaro Hara who traveled the world for many years to hunt down items for his model train hoard with much of what you see actually hand-made by Mr. Hara himself.
The Silk Museum – Japan has been producing silk for 1,700 years and for much of its history this represented the country’s most important industry. Inside the Silk Museum you will not just be able to enjoy the displays of marvelous historic silk clothing and costumes but also learn of the silk industry’s history and the processes involved, from silk worm farming through to weaving and dying.
A Museum Alternative – The Kirin Beer Village Tour
As an alternative to the many museum choices or even as a mix-and-match inclusion to your itinerary you can take an 80 minute free tour of a factory belonging to one of Japan’s beer producing giants. As your guide leads you through this working plant you will be able to watch various stages of the beer making process from elevated gallery windows and learn –among other things -how it is possible to fill 2000 beer cans every minute. At the end of your tour is included a free tasting session where you can sample a variety of Kirin’s beers for free.
Yokohama’s Three Famous Towers
While you are in this area be sure to check out the city’s historic King’s, Queen’s and Jack’s towers which are three of the city’s most iconic landmarks.It is said that the nicknames of all three towers were begun by foreign sailors. During the era in which they came into being Yokohama had few high-rise structures so this trio of towers would have served as distinctive reference points for anyone sailing into port.
Legend also has it that if you head with your loved one to one of the spots from which you can see all three towers at once your relationship will be blessed with longevity. Why? Supposedly it is because all three towers have weathered earthquakes and war and are nevertheless still standing tall -thus they represent survival.
The King’s Tower – Located within a stone’s throw of the Landmark Tower can be found the Kanagawa Prefectural Government’s Office, known more colloquially as the King’s Tower. Decidedly non-Asian in appearance, this 1920s Art Deco-influenced building with its squat tower is a popular filming location for Japanese-made movies and television.There is an exhibition hall on the sixth floor as well as a rooftop observation look-out which are both open to the public.
The Queen’s Tower – Just 200m from Landmark Tower, this pale-stoned building – actually the Yokohama Customs – is topped by a domed tower which soars high enough to make it the city’s second tallest building. The first floor has an exhibition hall which you can visit.
Jack’s Tower – Arguably the most distinctive of the Yokohama tower buildings in this regally named group, Jack’s Tower sits atop the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall. Dating from 1917 it is also the oldest of the three although it had to be restored following the 1923 earthquake. Constructed from red bricks interspersed with paler trim this Tatsuno free-classic style building has an almost striped appearance from a distance and the tower has a clock on one side. You can enter this building if you wish to explore the interior decor features and stained glass or visit the information hall.
Coffee in Yokohama
Like its neighbor Tokyo, Yokohama has its fair share of quirky and themed cafes including a very well-known Hello Kitty option. Most famous of all are its cat cafes where the feline-friendly head to get cuddly with cats during their coffee break. Animal lovers of different varieties are not left out either –there are also such things as a hedgehog cafe, an owl and hawk cafe and a chameleon cafe. The following options however have been included as they are close to the attractions in your itinerary and require little effort to get to.
A short stroll from the Nippon Maru Ship Museum or each of the three iconic towers can be found the lovely red-canopied Anniversaire Cafe. As the name might suggest this little gem is designed to bring a French cafe to mind and has tables and chairs which spill out onto the pavement to heighten the effect. With a range of coffees, teas, soft drinks and food the added bonus is that it faces the harbor so you can enjoy a great view while you take your morning break from sightseeing.
If the Yokohama weather is a little chillier or you are a chocolate addict the VAnilla Beans Minatomirai Main Branch is a good option. Simply and casually furnished with mismatched chairs, the exposed brick walls and bare wood floors make this a comfortable and cheerful space. VAnilla Beans are best known for their bean-to-bar connoisseur chocolate production which means if you are a hot chocolate fan you are in for a very special treat. The high quality hot chocolate menu choice includes such temptations as Berry Berry and Trinidad & Tobago along with tea, coffee and soft-drink choices with a range of sweet treats as accompaniment. VAnilla Beans cafe offers a choice of both indoor and outdoor seating.
The Yokohama Sky Duck –Tour Both Land and Water
While many major cities around the world offer open-top buses, hop on hop off tours and even water cruises (if the destination is coastal) for general sightseeing Yokohama offers something a little rarer. Amphibious craft which can travel on both land and water are usually more typically associated with James Bond films or elite military ops rather than tourist itineraries. However here in Yokohama you can experience your very own land and water tour without even having to change transport on the Sky Duck. Relatively new to the Yokohama scene, the Sky Duck offers regular departures from the Nippon Maru Memorial Park where your one hour tour first takes you around some of the city sights by road before plunging dramatically into the waters of the bay, without pausing for breath, to continue your sightseeing trip.
On first sight this distinctively bright red and blue vehicle just looks like a slightly odd-shaped high-seated coach with no real signs of what it is actually capable of. Unsurprisingly, most of those who take this tour cite the ceremonial transitioning from land to water as the highlight of the tour. To add to the whole feeling of special occasion the Sky Duck passengers tend to find themselves receiving cheery waves from everyone they pass; for most Yokohama locals the Sky Duck is still something of a novelty sight which carries a certain celebrity status. The duck-shaped ’emergency’ whistle you are given on entering the vehicle and are allowed to keep makes for a great Yokohama souvenir too.
If touring on an amphibious craft is not quite adventure enough or you have some excess energy to spare another unusual way to tour the harbor is by Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP).
Lunch in Yokohama
While Tokyo has a reputation as a center for foodies generally its neighbor Yokohama adds an extra element. As a Japanese city which has long been home to Europeans and Chinese and with a far-reaching history of mixing together Eastern and Western elements, this whole aspect has extended to influence its culinary offerings too. As a result Yokohama presents an incredible diversity of great quality dining choices showcasing both authentic and specific food genres along with some uniquely innovative infusions. So much so in fact that it has become a place to which Tokyoites head to eat.
If you want to treat yourself to an elegant lunch after your morning’s explorations you can find one such choice very close to the Sky Duck pier. Offering principally French cuisine with Japanese twists, the Queen Alice located in the Yokohama Bay Hotel is one of a restaurant collection under the umbrella of Yutaka Ishinabe who is something of a celebrity chef in Japan. After traveling the world to study at some of the planet’s premier French restaurants, Ishinabe returned home to Yokohama to deliver the results of his culinary pilgrimage to his native city. Queen Alice’s decor is decidedly French bistro-influenced with a garden-like air, delivering a combination of bright colors and elegance with stylish wooden latticing, soft hanging fabrics and with tables spaced well apart (not something always easy to find in Japanese restaurants). Although the appearance creates a great atmosphere the food here is really – and as it should be – star of the show. Expect stunning as regards both presentation and taste, a focus on fresh seasonal ingredients and a service which is consistently described as outstanding. To make life easy opt for the ‘prix-fixe’ lunch option which features appetizers, meat and seafood choices with desserts.
Another option which definitely falls within the elegantly refined category but which offers traditional Japanese cuisine is the Bay Sheraton Hotel’s Ko-No-Hana which takes up the majority of the hotel’s eighth floor. With a Japanese garden view (hence the name Konohana which translates as flowering trees) this restaurant offers plenty of sushi choice and seafood such as octopus, lobster and squid and is also a good choice for sake fans. There are more than twenty options here with an expert on hand to recommend which would serve as the perfect complement to your meal choice.Like Queen Alice Ko-No-Hana also offers some set multi-course lunch menus.
If you can’t really decide what kind of lunch will appeal wander the choices inside the historical and vast Red Brick Warehouse before making a choice. Here , in Building No. 2 of what were once government bonded warehouses you will find a range of charming shops very popular with tourists as well as plenty of dining options. Take your pick from such things as Chinese, crepes, fresh seafood, gourmet burgers and Italian with settings ranging from casual food court to atmospheric restaurants. Head up to the third floor for some options which offer balcony seating with lovely views of the port and Landmark Tower thrown in. And if it is views you are looking for the Red Brick Warehouse’s top choice is probably Bill’s which is run by Bill Granger – a celebrity figure in the world of Australian chefs. Consistently receiving rave reviews and particularly popular for its breakfasts, Bill’s offers casual dining with a very extensive lunch menu. The views are enjoyed by way of a lovely conservatory area with walls of windows.
An Afternoon in Yokohama
Once you have satisfied your appetite you will still have a whole Yokohama afternoon to fill with fresh delights. On the agenda is a choice between Japan’s largest Chinatown or stunning traditional gardens along with the chance to participate in a classic tea ceremony. However, the journey on foot from lunch venue to these major attractions is an adventure in itself. Your path takes you along the waterfront Yamashita Park and then through a beautiful hilly historical area where you can simply enjoy the sights or investigate further if something piques your interest.
From Minato Mirai you will pass by the distinctive Osanbashi Pier and through to the start of Yamashita Park. This 750 long paved promenade lets you meander with Yokohama’s Tokyo Bay waters as a constant companion on one side and a green, flower-and tree-filled space on the other. Along the way you will also encounter fountains, memorials and statues and a couple of extra treats of a size which makes them impossible to miss.
Interestingly, this seaside-like park is actually a living example of Yokohama’s indomitable spirit in the face of natural disaster. The city was all but destroyed in September 1923 when the 7.2 magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake toppled structures ancient and contemporary with the same heartless indifference. Seven years after this event Yamashita Park was opened to the public, built from -and with every appearance of a phoenix rising from the ashes -the earthquake’s rubble to reclaim the land.
Street performers are an often-encountered impromptu delight of the park while fixed features include a rose garden and a bronze statue entitled ‘The Little Girl with Red Shoes On’ – a character from a popular children’s song of Japan based on a real story. A plaque beside the statue gives the song’s full lyrics.
However, the park’s most unmissable landmarks are the mammoth-sized former cargo and passenger ship at permanent anchor here –the Hikawa Maru, nicknamed the Queen of the Pacific –and the Yokohama Marine Tower. Before its retirement in 1960 the opulent Hikawa Maru had served as sailing host to such distinguished guests as Charlie Chaplin and even emperors while also taking the guise of a hospital ship during World War II. Today it is a floating museum with preserved or reconstructed 1930s interiors. This vast ship’s neighbor is the 106m Yokohama Marine Tower which was once the tallest lighthouse in the country and today has an elevated observation deck for some wonderful 360 degree views.
From the beginning of the 17th century until the mid 18th century Japan was a country entirely hidden from all other countries behind impenetrable curtains. Any kind of interaction with the outside world was prohibited until the 1850s at which time a handful of places become open to foreigner traders. One such was the port of Yokohama. From this period Chinese settlers started to
create Chinatown while Westerners gravitated to the Yamate area’s hills –a district often referred to as ‘The Bluff’.
At the end of Yamashita Park a further short stroll will bring you into this historic area which has a number of beautiful grand buildings of distinct European styling, most of them once homes of the influential and rich and which together tell a story of former times. Most visitors here simply enjoy the elegant and distinctive exterior architecture and the European-feel setting but if you want to delve a little deeper that is also possible. Several of these buildings are open to visitors, free to enter and elegantly furnished just as they would have been in their former days of glory. There are few however which date back further than 1923 –the year of the Great Nakto Earthquake.
You can easily take in the sight of all of them on a set route or pick those which most interest you, especially as many are clustered together. Two of the most notable are the 1930s British House which was the former residence of the British Consul General and the Spanish-style Bluff No. 111, both of which are located in Harbor View Park. Arguably the most striking of all the historic buildings in this area is the Victorian-style Diplomat’s House near Ishikawacho Station, a location which is also home to Bluff No. 18, once the private residence of the city’s Catholic Church priest.
Also of note in this area is the foreign cemetery whose first grave in 1854 was that of a sailor. Seven years later the site was officially recognized as a cemetery for non-Japanese and many notable foreigners are interred here. A designated section of the graveyard can be explored and by reading some of the memorials and inscriptions the visitor is given a small glimpse into history. At the side of the cemetery entrance can be found a modest museum with some old photographs and pictures of the area from bygone days.
Take Your Pick –the Bustle of Chinatown or the Tranquility of Sankeien Gardens
After your waterfront stroll and early afternoon of exploring the residences of Yokohama’s former rich Westerners you have a choice of where next to direct your footsteps. If you are not yet tired of the city-vibe your first option is the incredible color and buzz of Chinatown. If however, you find yourself in need of a serene escape opt for the lovely traditional Japanese gardens of Sankeien.
Just a 10 minute walk from the foreign cemetery will bring you to Yokohama’s Chinatown – the largest in the country. With a story which stretches back to 1859, when Japan first opened its doors to foreign visitors after a long era of total isolation, this district is not just fascinating but also forms a significant part of Yokohama’s historical canvas.
In Chinatown’s developing days this area was home to Chinese traders, today it is mostly restaurants and shops with a decided element aimed at visiting tourists but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much of interest to keep you entranced. There are plenty of wares in the cheap knick-knack category but a little patience and fun exploration of the lantern-filled narrow streets will also unearth rather more unusual souvenirs and hand-crafted gifts. For the greatest density of souvenirs head to the shopping complex of Okohama Daisekai which is not just home to the area’s largest souvenir shop but also the Yokohama Chocolate Factory and Museum and the Trick Art Museum.
There are also sights for those more intent on hunting down the cultural rather than the retail opportunities. Chinatown’s perimeter is marked by four colorfully-ornate gates set at cardinal points while a further six such beautiful gates –all of which represent something significant in Chinese culture -can be found once inside. Also dotted around are a number of wonderful elaborately-detailed temples and shrines, the principal two of which are the 1873 Kanteiboyo, which pays homage to the gods of sound business and associated prosperity and Masoboyo. While the constant comings and goings of Chinatown life represents great fascination for the foreign tourist this area is really best known for its incredible range of food stalls, eateries and restaurants which allow the visitor to effectively work their way around China on a culinary tour.
If you really want to explore but find yourself running out of energy opt for a rickshaw tour and discover Chinatown’s treasures the way it’s first residents did in the early pioneering days. This old-fashioned and highly traditional form of transport is even said by some to have been invented in Yokohama itself by a foreign missionary who wanted to make life easy for his invalid wife.
At the very opposite end of the scale to the wonderfully-frenetic Chinatown is the incredible hush and serenity of the oasis inside the city known as Sankeien Gardens. Once the 19th century private grounds and residence of a wealthy silk merchant Tomitaro Hara, this vast classical Japanese space was opened to the public in 1906. Covering more than 175,000 square meters in its entirety, Sankeiein’s expansive outer gardens are completely free to explore but the smaller inner garden attracts an entrance fee. The whole is set around a huge central lake augmented by smaller lily-ponds; so special is this spectacular collection of bridge-crossed streams, waterfalls, bamboo groves, wooded areas, meandering pathways and cascading flowers, it has been named as a nationally-recognized ‘Place of Scenic Beauty’ and has been awarded ‘Precious Cultural Asset’ status. As if the garden isn’t treasure enough, liberally dotted around this stunning whole are a collection of highly historically significant buildings which Hara had moved here from other Japanese locations.
One striking feature of these gardens is their ability to impress and enchant in any season. Spring sees the advent of the cherry blossom season with its carpets of pink; summer is when the ponds are covered in rose-colored lotus blooms; autumn brings displays of gold, red, bronze and orange as the foliage changes along with the vibrancy of wild chrysanthemums; the snow-blanketed scenes of winter have a magic all their own while February sees the plum blossoms burst to life. These truly are gardens for all seasons – with each month having its own marked and specific beauty.
Sankeien’s collection of buildings adds another layer of interest for the visitor although you would need many days to explore all 17 of them. The majority of these structures have such an elevated significance they have been awarded ‘Important Cultural Property’ status by the government. Of these -and impossible to miss no matter where you are in the gardens -is the lovely three-level 15th century pagoda which was once part of Tomyo-ji Temple in Kyoto and brought here in 1914. Perhaps top of the gardens’ most-interesting list is the vast house which was once home to Hara and his family which is only open to the public during summer. Other buildings popular with visitors from the collection of temple halls, houses, tea houses and more are the centuries old Former Yanohara House and the inner-garden-located Rinshunkaku mansion. The Former Yanohara House –once home to a wealthy family -is set in a tucked-away wooded area and comes complete with original features such as its hearth, bathroom and kitchen full of authentic tools and utensils of the era. Head upstairs to see not just the display of porcelain, farm tools and other folk articles relevant to the Edo period but to also be able to fully appreciate the magnificent inner roof construction. Unlike all the other garden buildings Yanohara House is open to receive curious visitors year round. The elegant and 17th century Rinshunkaku villa was once the sophisticated seasonal residence of feudal lord Tokugawa Yorinobu which houses a tea-room within and some stunningly beautiful sliding panels decorated by famous artists of the era with paintings and poetry. When this multi-roomed structure was moved from its original Iwade setting to Sankeien in 1906 it took three years to reconstruct it in its entirety.If you really don’t know where to direct your energies to make the most of your visit you can take advantage of the free guided tour available here and delivered in English.
Like a great deal else in Yokohama these magnificent gardens and their gorgeous buildings suffered extensive damage during bombing raids in World War II. Its restoration to an almost exact representation of its former glory was finished in the 1950s. If this element or the gardens’ history generally interests you be sure to check out the Sankei Memorial during your visit. This museum tells not just of the gardens’ creation and history but also details the extraordinary story of its creator; a man who was instrumental in helping Yokohama recover following its devastating earthquake. As an artist himself and also well-known for his patronage of other artists, the museum isalso home to some of Tomitaro ‘Sankei’ Hara’s very own paintings and calligraphy.
A Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony
Whether or not you are a huge tea fan taking part in a traditional tea ceremony (chado or chanoyu) has to be on the must-do list for anyone with an interest in Japanese culture. Counting as one of the arts of refinement according to classical teachings (perception of incense and arranging flowers are the other two) the intricacy and above all tranquility of such an experience is likely to stay with you long after you have sailed away from the country’s shores. With roots that stretch back more than a thousand years the chado was developed according to Zen Buddhist principles so it is perhaps little wonder that the art of preparing and presenting powdered green tea (matcha) is suffused with such serenity.
If you chose to slot the Sankeien Gardens into your itinerary life couldn’t be easier; Bototei Tea House is located inside the Sankei Memorial Buildings in the gardens themselves so you can transition effortlessly from the hide-away haven of this oasis to the culturally enriching calm of the tea ceremony. Located in a room with expansive windows giving onto a garden view and attended by kimono-clad tea-artists, the setting really couldn’t be more idyllic. You can quietly observe and simply enjoy the solemn rituals or actually participate and learn personally something of the art as your tea-master guides you through the processes complete with intricate etiquette of preparing it yourself.
Traditionally tea ceremonies include sweet treats known as wagashi which you will also get to experience along with your matcha. While the location of the Bototei Tea House makes things simple, the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel’s tea room is another highly-rated option for participating in this spiritually-infused ceremony. This option is a high-rise one, located as it is on the 65th floor of the hotel where you will find yourself led to a traditionally matted room to enjoy your experience, elegant in its minimalist simplicity and with incredible views.
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Yokohama
As the daylights hours of your Yokohama adventures draw to a close you will probably start turning your thoughts to something a little stronger than green tea. You will have covered a lot of ground and there is no doubt you have earned some kick-back relaxation time to simply enjoy your surroundings while remembering the highlights of your day.
If you have arrived in Yokohama in the summer months you will find yourself with a plethora of
beer garden choices made up of roof-top and outdoor terrace locations. Opening only during these warmer months, the Yokohama beer gardens are where the locals head to get their fresh air fixes with their drink of choice in hand and with stunning night-scape views often all part of the experience.
If the scenic element is your main priority the beer garden of the iconic Yokohama Marine Tower is hard to beat. The open-air terrace here offers stunning harbor views while the menu of beers and cocktails has something for everyone.
For cocktails and tapas head to the Ocean’s Bar located on the roof-top of the Grand Oriental in Minato Mirai. At seven floors up expansive ocean views and port panoramas are a given while the romance of the location makes it ideal for couples.
If you would like to combine your pre-dinner drinks with a glimpse of Yokohama as in days gone by head to the Noge area. For no obvious reason this charming area – once the haunt of sailors and visiting traders -got overlooked as the rest of the city (and very specifically the neighboring glamorous Minato Mirai area) enjoyed modernization and renovation; today its wonderfully winding streets which remain lined with traditional Japanese pubs known as izakayas along with a plethora of small independent eateries make visiting here feel like stepping back in time. The atmosphere is lively – indeed many Tokyoites head here of an evening – the streets are hung with both lanterns and neon signs and the skyscrapers of Yokohama might as well be a million miles away.
While some city areas which somehow got left behind can feel shabby and neglected Noge just feels enchantingly lost in time which makes it a wonderful spot for unwinding after a busy day of sightseeing in the city. While this area has a few better known names such as the cozy, friendly Nemanja cocktail bar with its reputation for skilled mixers, Noge is really about wandering its maze and happening on something which fits your personal idea of the perfect place.
For all those who consider pre-dinner drinks mean top-class cocktails there is plenty of choice. Located in China Town, Bar Great Harry’s mood-lighting makes it a popular romantic date spot while the pirate ship design –both exterior and interior – give it a unique air. Cocktails of all kinds are the be-all-and-end-all element here with staff who pride themselves on being able to expertly mix anything you care to name. If you hang around long enough you’ll be able to watch the nightly cocktail-mixing competition in which members of staff pitch their skills against their fellow-workers.
Another choice for the romantically-inclined cocktail fan is Actor & Actress whose regular clientele is made up of discerning and elegant locals. Along with the selection of artistically creative cocktails this bar also has a great range of quality beers and a wine range which includes some highly unusual finds.
No matter what constitutes your idea of the ideal dining venue Yokohama will have it. Whether you are looking for something intimately modest and traditional or prefer something at the internationally-recognized sophisticated dining end of the scale you won’t have to search too hard. And where diversity is concerned this city is hard to beat. Thanks to a history which saw Western and Chinese communities thriving alongside their Japanese counterparts, Yokohama’s cuisine choices have long included the distinctly European and traditionally Chinese while the years have also seen incredible intermingling of cultural influences which today offer diners infusions almost certainly never previously encountered.
If you opted for a beer garden as your pre-dinner drinking venue you can make life easy for yourself and transition smoothly to dining in the same place. Many of the summer beer gardens include an all-inclusive option for fantastic barbeques and grills along with an all-you-can-drink element. Likewise, if you opted earlier to head into the charming maze of Noge this area has something of a reputation for satisfying both gourmands and those in search of the gourmet; the latter is most typically found here without the elements of pretentiousness, the higher price tags and the opulently fancy restaurant interiors found elsewhere.
For those with a penchant for French cuisine head to Yamate’s Jyubankan, perched on a hill in this lovely European-feel area. Located on the second floor of this historic and beautiful Western-look building you will find an elegant restaurant with garden views. The emphasis here is on using the culinary treasures of the season in combination with fine wines, which means the menu is forever changing while the food presentation is generally considered exquisite. If you are happy to leave your choice in the hands of the expert chefs opt for the set special dinner which presents a range of hand-picked dishes which together showcase the best of the current season.
Should you have your heart set on Japanese cuisine direct your footsteps towards Hanare in the glitzy Minato Mirai area. With all the best-loved Japanese treats of sushi, sashimi and Japanese hot pot (shabushabu) on offer, along with lots more which you might be less familiar with, this restaurant offers a full exploration of Japanese cuisine with some stunning night views thrown in for free.
And speaking of night views, if this happens to feature highly on your must-have list for ideal dining venues, you would find it hard to beat the Sky Lounge Sirius. Perched on the 70th floor of the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel, this French cuisine gem claims the title of the city’s highest restaurant. The elegant food selections here are a real treat for your taste buds but the Sky Lounge Sirius actually offers something of a sensory experience all round with a background serenade of piano music and a glittering panorama of the city after dark as a feast for the eyes.
Another option for the dining-with-a-view passionate is Mangia Mangia. This time the cuisine theme is Italian, the location the fifth floor of the Landmark Tower with a stunning view of the night-lit Ferris wheel and the atmosphere romantic.
An Evening in Yokohama
Yokohama Night Views
As has been mentioned several times already Yokohama is a city known for its spectacular after-dark views which many consider the best found anywhere in the country.The city’s geography made up of land and water combinations -and thus patches of dark alongside stretches of electrically-lit masses -punctuated by glittering light trails on piers, jetties and bridges plays no small part in this. To this base level but sensational canvas can also be added some fantastically-lit high-rise buildings and landmarks which include the neon-pink Ferris wheel – one of the largest in the world – which, because of its circular shape, tends to dominate the city’s night-scapes.
Of course the best way to get a view which takes in the dazzling whole is to get up high and this is incredibly easy thanks to Yokohama’s range of observation decks. If you chose a dinner venue with a view you might have had your fill but if not make your way to the Sky Garden atop the Landmark Tower where your day began. While views from this 69th floor look-out during the day are nothing short of sensational it is an entirely different experience again at night. For this reason it’s far from uncommon for visitors to fit this experience twice into their day. From here you will be able to see not just Yokohama’s glittering carpet laid out far below and all around you but also Tokyo Tower in the capital.
While views of the city lights from on high are a popular way to spend some time in the Yokohama evening so too are night cruises of the bay. Being on the water at night anywhere has an unmistakably romantic air but once you factor in the light shows you will be able to enjoy everything is raised to an even higher level. Cruises come in a variety of forms including those that focus purely on seeing the forest of Yokohama lights with their lovely sea-reflections from the perspective of the water to those which also include either snacks and drinks or dinner.
An Evening of Jazz
Jazz is very popular in Japan. In fact some figures suggest nowhere else in the world has such a high population concentration of the jazz-passionate. Although jazz first arrived in Japan at the beginning of the 20st century it wasn’t until the 1940s –when American troops were stationed here following Japan’s World War II surrender –that things really exploded. As Yokohama itself is credited in playing a highly significant role in this whole musical development it is still considered to be one of the country’s main jazz destinations; so much so that Tokyoites head here to get their jazz fix.
With such a huge popularity it really isn’t hard to find a bar or venue with live jazz however the Noge district – previously mentioned with reference to pre-dinner drinks -is considered a hotspot. The very nature of this lost-in-time area with its small venues scattered around its maze of streets adds significantly to the whole jazz ideal. Here you can take your pick of a range of cozy and half-hidden smoky-aired jazz joints with an ambiance which suggest bygone days and a time when PA plug-ins didn’t exist.
Quite what you might get in the way of performances ranges from locals jamming together to sessions by internationally recognized jazz artists. Elsewhere there are options too. Located close to Yamashita Park, Bar Bar Bar has almost nightly jazz performances while the Motion Blue jazz club –a stroll from the Landmark Tower -is known for its frequent big names. The oldest jazz club in the city, also located within strolling distance of the waterfront Yamashita Park, is the highly-rated Windjammer which is a venue known for its range of unique cocktails too.
If you’re ready to experience life in Yokohama, get in touch with one of our planners and find the right cruise today!