29km (18 miles) S of Tokyo
Few attractions in Yokohama warrant a visit if you're just in Japan for a short time. If you're in Tokyo for an extended period, however, Yokohama is a pleasant destination for an easy day trip. Be sure to make time for wonderful Sankeien Garden; although a mere 100 years old, it ranks on my long list as one of the top gardens in Japan.
A rather new city in Japan's history books, Yokohama was nothing more than a tiny fishing village when Commodore Perry arrived in the mid-1800s and demanded that Japan open its doors to the world. The village was selected by the shogun as one of several ports to be opened for international trade, transforming it from a backwater to Japan's most important gateway. Yokohama subsequently grew by leaps and bounds and was a pioneer when it came to Western goods and services, boasting Japan's first bakery (1860), photo studio (1862), beer brewery (1869), cinema (1870), daily newspaper (1870), public restroom (1871), and ice cream (1879).
Now Japan's second-largest city with a population of almost 3.6 million, Yokohama remains the nation's largest international port and supports a large international community, with many foreigners residing in the section called the Bluff. Yokohama has an especially large Chinese population and Japan's largest Chinatown, whose restaurants serve as a mecca for hungry Tokyoites. Befitting a city known for its firsts, Yokohama constructed Japan's first and largest urban development project more than a decade ago -- Minato Mirai 21, with a conference center, museums, hotels, shopping centers, and restaurants. Hard to imagine that a mere 150 years ago, Yokohama was a village of 100 houses.
Getting There -- Because many Yokohama residents work in Tokyo, it's as easy to get to Yokohama as it is to get around Tokyo. Although Yokohama Station is the city's main train station, I suggest taking a train from Tokyo that will take you farther to Sakuragicho, Minato Mirai, or Motomachi Chukagai station, since most attractions are clustered here. (However, if you're headed first to Sankeien Garden, you'll want to disembark at Yokohama Station and transfer to bus no. 8 at the east exit.) Best is the Minato Mirai Line (of the Tokyu-Toyoko private company), which departs from Shibuya and reaches Minato Mirai in about 30 minutes on the limited express. A one-way fare costs ¥440; an all-day Minato Mirai Line pass, including transportation from Shibuya and back, is worth the cost of ¥840. Alternatively, the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line travels through Ueno, Tokyo, Yurakucho, Shimbashi, and Shinagawa stations before continuing on to Sakuragicho, with the journey from Tokyo Station taking approximately 40 minutes and costing ¥540 one-way.
Visitor Information -- There are several Tourist Information Centers in Yokohama, but probably the most convenient and easiest to find is Sakuragicho Station Tourist Information Center (tel. 045/211-0111; daily 9am-7pm), located in a kiosk outside JR Sakuragicho Station in the direction of Minato Mirai and its Landmark Tower. The main office, the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau, is located in the Sangyo Boeki Center (nicknamed Sambo Center), 2 Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku (tel. 045/641-4759; www.welcome.city.yokohama.jp/tourism; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm), close to the Silk Center and Yamashita Park. Both have excellent city maps and brochures.
Next door to the Convention & Visitors Bureau, in the Silk Center, is the Kanagawa Prefectural Tourist Office (tel. 045/681-0007; www.kanagawa-kankou.or.jp; Tues-Sun 10am-6pm), with information on Hakone and Kamakura, both in Kanagawa Prefecture.
Getting Around -- If you start your day in Yokohama at either Sakuragicho or Minato Mirai Station, you can visit the museums and attractions there and then walk onward to Yamashita Park via a waterfront promenade (about a 30-min. walk, with a stop, perhaps, at the Red Brick Warehouse shopping mall on the way). If you prefer not to walk, there's a red retro-looking tourist bus called the Akai Kutsu, which makes the rounds of central Yokohama, including Sakuragicho Station, Minato Mirai, Yamashita Park, and Chinatown throughout the year, with departures every 20 to 30 minutes and costing ¥100 per ride (pick up a map and timetable at the Sakuragicho Station tourist office). To reach Sankeien Garden, take bus no. 8, which departs from Yokohama Station's east exit and passes Minato Mirai, Chinatown, and Yamashita Park on its way to the garden. If you end the day with a meal at Chinatown, you can catch the Minato Mirai Line back to Shibuya at nearby Motomachi Chukagai Station.
Seeing the Sights
Minato Mirai -- There's no mistaking Minato Mirai 21 (www.minatomirai21.com) when you see it -- it looks like a vision of the future with its dramatic monolithic buildings. It boasts a huge state-of-the-art convention facility, three first-class hotels, Japan's tallest building, office buildings, two great museums, and an amusement park. It's all a bit too sterile for my taste, but its museums make a visit here worthwhile.
If you arrive at Sakuragicho Station, take the moving walkway that connects the station to the Landmark Tower in Minato Mirai in 5 minutes. Otherwise, the Minato Mirai Line will deposit you directly in the middle of the massive urban development.
There are several shopping malls in Minato Mirai, including Queen's Square, Yokohama World Porter's, Landmark Plaza, Jack Mall, and the restored Red Brick Warehouse, but the area's most conspicuous building is Landmark Tower, Japan's tallest building and also with Japan's highest observatory in a building. The fastest elevator in the world will whisk you up 270m (886 ft.) in about 40 seconds to the 69th floor, where there's an observation room called Sky Garden (tel. 045/222-5030; daily 10am-9pm, to 10pm Sat). From here you can see the harbor with its container port and Yokohama Bay Bridge, as well as almost the entire city and even, on clear days in winter, Mount Fuji. However, its admission fees -- ¥1,000 for adults, ¥800 for seniors and high-school students, ¥500 for elementary and junior-high students, and ¥200 for children -- make it too expensive in my book. Better is Landmark Tower's 70th-floor Sirius Sky Lounge; although there's a cover charge, its atmosphere is more relaxing .
Maritime buffs should spend an hour checking out the Yokohama Port Museum (Yokohama Minato Hakubutsukan), 2-1-1 Minato Mirai (tel. 045/221-0280; www.nippon-maru.or.jp), which concentrates on Yokohama's history as a port, beginning with the arrival of Perry's "Black Ships." Other displays chart the evolution of ships from Japan and around the world from the 19th century to the present, with lots of models of everything from passenger ships to oil tankers and a full-scale simulator that lets you bring a cruise ship into Yokohama's port. Kids like the three telescopes connected to cameras placed around Yokohama and the captain's bridge with a steering wheel; sailing fans enjoy touring the 96m (315-ft.), four-masted Nippon-Maru moored nearby, built in 1930 as a sail-training ship for students of the merchant marines. Admission is ¥600 for adults and ¥300 for children. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.
The most important thing to see in Minato Mirai is the Yokohama Museum of Art, 3-4-1 Minato Mirai (tel. 045/221-0300), which emphasizes 20th-century art by Western and Japanese artists in its ambitious goal to collect and display works reflecting the mutual influence of Europe and Japan on modern art since the opening of Yokohama's port in 1859. The light and airy building, designed by Kenzo Tange and Urtec, Inc., features exhibits from its permanent collection -- which includes works by Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Max Ernst, Dalí, and Japanese artists -- that change three times a year (you can tour its four rooms in about 30 min.), as well as special exhibitions on loan from other museums. Open Friday through Wednesday from 10am to 6pm. Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for high-school and college students, and ¥100 for children. Special exhibitions cost more.
It would be hard to miss Yokohama Cosmo World (tel. 045/641-6591), an amusement park spread along both sides of a canal: It boasts one of the largest Ferris wheels in the world. Other diversions include a roller coaster that looks like it dives right into a pond (but vanishes instead into a tunnel), a haunted house, a simulation theater with seats that move with the action, kiddie rides, a games arcade, and much more. Admission is free but rides cost ¥300 to ¥700 apiece. The park is open 11am to 8pm in winter and 11am to 10pm in summer; closed most Thursdays (except in summer).
In & Around Yamashita Park -- You can walk to Yamashita Park from Minato Mirai's Cosmo World in less than 30 minutes along a waterfront promenade. Along the way you'll pass the Red Brick Warehouse (Aka Renga), located in the Shinko-cho district of Minato Mirai (tel. 045/227-2002). This restored waterfront warehouse is home to dozens of shops selling crafts, furniture, housewares, clothing, and jewelry, as well as restaurants, with most shops open daily 11am to 8pm. If you don't want to walk, take the Minato Mirai Line to either Nihon Odori or Motomachi Chukagai Station, from which Yamashita Park is about a 5-minute walk.
Laid out after the huge 1923 earthquake that destroyed much of Tokyo and Yokohama, Yamashita Park is Japan's first seaside park, a pleasant place for a stroll along the waterfront where you have a view of the city's mighty harbor and Bay Bridge. Across the gingko-lined street from Yamashita Park are two worthwhile special-interest museums. At the west end (closest to Minato Mirai) is the Silk Center, where you'll find both the prefectural tourist office and the excellent Silk Museum, 1 Yamashita-cho, Naka-ku (tel. 045/641-0841; www.silkmuseum.or.jp; station: Nihon Odori). For many years after Japan opened its doors, silk was its major export, and most of it was shipped to the rest of the world from Yokohama, the nation's largest raw-silk market. In tribute to the role silk has played in Yokohama's history, this museum has displays showing the metamorphosis of the silkworm and the process by which silk is obtained from cocoons, all well documented in English; from April to October, you can even observe live cocoons and silkworms at work (compared to the beauty they produce, silkworms are amazingly ugly). The museum also displays various kinds of silk fabrics, as well as gorgeous kimono and reproduction Japanese costumes from the Nara, Heian, and Edo periods. Don't miss this museum, which takes about 30 minutes to see; surprisingly, it's never crowded. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm; admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for seniors, ¥200 for students, and ¥100 for children.
At the opposite end of Yamashita Park is the Yokohama Doll Museum, 18 Yamashita-cho (tel. 045/671-9361; www.museum.or.jp/yokohama-doll-museum; station: Motomachi Chukagai), which boasts a collection of approximately 13,000 dolls from 140 countries, with about 1,300 dolls on display. A trip through the museum begins with a collection of old Western dolls introduced to Japan when Yokohama opened as an international harbor, as well as Japanese dolls sent to the West. Exhibits that follow show dolls from around the world dressed in their native costume, popular international figures of the past few decades (from Hello Kitty to R2-D2 of Star Wars fame), antique dolls (including those produced by such famous doll makers as Lenci and Jumeau), and Japanese dolls, from hina (elaborate dolls representing the empress and emperor, used for the March Hina Festival) to kokeshi (simple wooden dolls). It's open 10am to 6:30pm; closed the third Monday of every month (except July, Aug, and Dec). Admission is ¥500 for adults and ¥150 for children. Plan on spending about 30 minutes here.
Not far from Yamashita Park is Chukagai, Japan's largest Chinatown, with hundreds of souvenir shops and restaurants.
Sankeien Garden -- In my opinion, Sankeien Garden (tel. 045/621-0634; www.sankeien.or.jp) is the best reason to visit Yokohama. Although not old itself, this lovely park contains more than a dozen historic buildings that were brought here from other parts of Japan, including Kyoto and Nara, all situated around streams and ponds and surrounded by Japanese-style landscape gardens. The park, divided into an Inner Garden and Outer Garden, was laid out in 1906 by Tomitaro Hara, a local millionaire who made his fortune exporting silk. As you wander along the gently winding pathways, you'll see a villa built in 1649 by the Tokugawa shogunate clan, tea arbors, a 500-year-old three-story pagoda, and a farmhouse built in 1750 without the use of nails. The gardens are well known for their blossoms of plums, cherries, wisteria, azaleas, irises, and water lilies, but no matter what the season, the views here are beautiful.
Plan on at least 2 hours to see both gardens. Sankeien is open daily from 9am to 5pm (you must enter the Inner Garden by 4pm, the Outer Garden by 4:30pm). Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for seniors, and ¥200 for children. The easiest way to reach Sankeien Garden is by bus no. 8, which departs from platform no. 2 at Yokohama Station's east exit (near Sogo department store) and winds its way past Sakuragicho Station, past Chinatown (via Hon-cho Dori), and through Kannai before it reaches the Honmoku-Sankeien-mae bus stop 30 minutes later (the bus stop is announced in English).
Great for Kids -- If you have children, you may wish to get on their good side by taking them to Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, Hakkeijima (tel. 045/788-8888; www.seaparadise.co.jp), a combination seaside amusement park and aquarium. Among the dozen thrill rides are a roller coaster that juts over the sea, a fiberglass boat that shoots the currents, a tower ride that lets you "fall" 105m (344 ft.) at bloodcurdling speed, and a carousel. The aquarium features such popular animals as sea otters, Atlantic puffins, polar bears, penguins, and belugas; an underwater tunnel moves visitors past stingrays, moray eels, and exotic tropical fish. There are also marine mammal shows featuring dolphins, belugas, and seals. Admission to the aquarium and its shows costs ¥2,700 for adults, ¥2,200 for seniors, ¥1,600 for children 6 to 15, and ¥800 for children 4 to 5. Individual thrill rides range from ¥300 to ¥1,000. Otherwise, a combination "free" pass good for everything costs ¥4,900 for adults and ¥3,500 or ¥2,000 for children, depending on their age.
The aquarium is open mid-March through August, from about 9am to 8 or 9pm, depending on the season, with shorter winter hours. It takes approximately 1 hour to reach Hakkeijima Sea Paradise from Yokohama Station. Take the JR Negishi Line from Yokohama Station to Shin-sugita, and then transfer to the Seaside Line to Hakkeijima Station. Or, take the Keihin Kyuko Line from Shinagawa or Yokohama Station to Kanazawa Hakkei Station to catch the Seaside Line.
Where to Dine
Chukagai (Chinatown) -- Located in Yamashita-cho, a couple blocks inland from Yamashita Park and next to Motomachi Chukagai Station of the Minato Mirai Line, Chinatown has more than 500 restaurants and shops lining two main streets and dozens of offshoots. Tokyoites have long been coming to Yokohama just to dine; many of the restaurants have been owned by the same families for generations. Most serve Cantonese food and have plastic-food displays, English-language menus, or pictures of their dishes, so your best bet is to wander around and let your budget be your guide. Most dishes run ¥850 to ¥3,000, and set lunches go for ¥900 to ¥1,200. Larger restaurants accept credit cards; those that do display them on the front door. Most Chinatown restaurants are open from 11 or 11:30am to 9:30pm or later; some close Tuesday or Wednesday, but there are always other restaurants open.
While here, you might want to take a spin through the China Museum (Yokohama Daisekai), 97 Yamashita-cho (tel. 045/681-5588), an eight-story building with an interior that replicates Shanghai of the 1920s and '30s (Shanghai and Yokohama are sister cities), with re-created street scenes, artisans producing traditional crafts, souvenir shops, and a food court with stalls offering dishes from around China, most priced less than ¥800. It's open Sunday to Thursday 10am to 9pm, and Friday and Saturday 10am to 10pm.
Minato Mirai -- For sophisticated surroundings or just a romantic evening cocktail, take the elevator up to the 70th floor of Landmark Tower, where you'll find the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel Nikko's Sirius Sky Lounge (tel. 045/221-1111), with stunning seaside views. It serves a buffet lunch for ¥3,500 daily from 11:30am to 2:30pm, which often centers on a changing, ethnic cuisine but also offers items such as salmon, lamb, and pizza. After lunch, it's teatime until 5pm. From 5pm to 1am daily, Sirius is a cocktail lounge (no one under 20 years old allowed) and levies a cover charge: ¥1,050 per person from 5 to 7pm and again from 11pm to 1am; ¥2,100 for live music from 7 to 11pm. It offers a small, a la carte dinner menu, as well as set dinners for ¥6,300 and ¥9,450.
Nearby, a good place for a drink or a hamburger is the local branch of the Hard Rock Cafe, located on the first floor of Queen's Square Yokohama Tower A (tel. 045/682-5626; daily 11am-11pm). Nearby, on the fourth and fifth floors of the Queen's Square Yokohama, is a branch of daidaiya (tel. 045/228-5035; daily 11am-3pm and 5-10:30pm).
The 1911 renovated Red Brick Warehouse also has fast-food outlets, including a Kua' Aina burger shop (tel. 045/227-5300), but for something more substantial, head to the third floor for Beer Next (tel. 045/226-1961; daily 11am-10pm [last order]), which strives admirably to create an international cuisine that goes down well with beer. Pizza, pasta, rotisserie roast chicken, and seared tuna with garlic oil and soy sauce are just some of the dishes offered; prices range from ¥1,470 to ¥2,310.