Most would venture to guess that Osaka is Japan’s second biggest city. But, in fact that title belongs to Yokohama. Yokohama is located a mere thirty minutes southwest of the Tokyo megalopolis and stands in stark contrast to its older sister. While a short distance separates the two cities, the difference in vibes is as distinct as that between the East and West coasts of America. Unlike the hypermodern neon madness of Tokyo, Yokohama retains a lot of its historical roots. What’s more, the less frantic pace of life makes Yokohama a great escape from the endless concrete jungle of the country’s capital. Today we’ll be taking a look at the famous Minato Mirai and the surrounding areas so make sure to bring your walking shoes!
Yokohama originally served as the coastal rim of a sleepy fishing village up to the end of the feudal Edo period (1603–1868). During this time the country had a national policy of seclusion and allowed no one but the Dutch to enter (and even they were relegated to a small Island in Kyushu). While recent evidence indicates this is not entirely the case, the majority of the country was closed to foreigners until 1653 when Commodore Perry and his black warships sailed into Tokyo Bay demanding Japan open up trade to the United States.
With guns aimed at the coast of Japan, the Americans set their eyes on the important trade post of Kanagawa-juku along the critical trade route linking the capital with Kyoto and Osaka. The Tokugawa were opposed to allowing the foreigners access to Japan’s essential internal trade and commerce and instead ceded a tiny inlet that would grow to become the port of Yokohama pictured in the mural above. As with today, Minato Mirai was an important center to this new gateway to Japan.
Due to the influx of trade from foreign entities, Yokohama quickly grew to become a hub of international commerce. Toward the end of the 1800’s, this port-city saw many national firsts such as the first newspaper, railway, and gas-powered street lamps. Today, the area’s history can still be seen in its lasting architecture. Unlike Tokyo which was bombed flat during World War II much of the brick and mortar infrastructure of Yokohama’s early days is still standing.
How to Get There
There are several routes to get to Minato Mirai but the Keihin Tohoku JR Line and the Tokyu Toyoko Line usually require the least amount of transfers. The former pulls into Sakuragicho JR Station whereas the later lets you off at Minato Mirai Station. Those coming from east Tokyo will likely find the Keihin Tohoku JR Line to be the easiest whereas those coming from Shibuya or Roppongi will fair better on the Tokyu Toyoko Line.
If you’re feeling adventurous and are up for changing trains at Yokohama Station, there are often faster ways to get to Minato Mirai but be sure to consult Hyperdia as always for the best route.
Our first stop in Minato Mirai will be the Yokohama Cosmoworld amusement park. The main attraction of this spot is none other than the massive Cosmo Clock 21 which held the title for world’s tallest Ferris Wheel when it first opened. The surrounding amusement park is home to a splash ride, a roller coaster, and all sorts of other attractions. The area is divided in two by a stretch of water on which you can find a four-masted sailing ship called the Nippon-maru that is permanently docked on the harbor.
The immediate vicinity is also home to the Yokohama Landmark Tower which is the third-tallest structure in Japan and boasts a stunning view of Mt. Fuji. You can fulfill all your shopping needs at the three Queens Square Tower shopping complexes. There is also another mall called World Porters where the first floor maintains a subtle homage to the area’s roots in its huge collection of Hawaiian and American goods.
Those looking for something a little on the whacky side will be happy to learn that this area is also home to the Cup Noodle Museum. Yes, you read that right. If that weren’t enough, reader’s suffering from a vampire infestation will be glad to know that there is a restaurant in one of the three Queen Square Towers called “Garlic Jo’s.” Jo’s cooks with such an abundance of garlic that you’ll never have to worry about kissing anyone ever again. Seriously, it’s THAT bad…
The Red Brick Warehouses
Our next stop on the list will be Yokohama’s famed Red Brick Warehouses. You’ll find this welcoming and intriguing spot located right along the Minato Mirai waterfront. These historical buildings are officially known as the Newport Pier Tax Keeping Warehouses and served as custom buildings during the port’s earlier days. As Japan rapidly modernized at the turn of the 20th century, the Red Brick Warehouses served a critical role in overseeing imports to Japan. Today, the remaining Warehouses №1 and №2 have been converted into shopping complexes complete with an array of vendors and cafes.
The Warehouse area is also known for hosting a variety of seasonal events and performances that are held on the plaza situated between the buildings. Previous celebrations and activities have featured the October Beer Fest in autumn, outdoor skating rinks in winter, and musical concerts in summer. There’s always something going on at the Red Brick Warehouses so feel free to roll by whenever.
For more information check out the official site…
The Osanbashi Yokohama International Passenger Terminal is one of Yokohama’s major ports offering docking and loading facilities for foreign cruise liners. The pier has roots dating back to the establishment of Yokohama in the very early days of the Meiji period (1868–1912). The construction of Osanbashi’s first iteration was originally completed in 1896 and holds the title as the city’s first pier.
Osanbashi’s current incarnation, designed by architects Alejandro Zaera Polo and Farshid Moussavi, is said to be built in the shape of the backside of a whale. Made from long strips of wood, the whale-shaped pier also includes grassy areas for picnics and is an ideal spot for a leisurely work or a romantic date with a significant other.The present day terminal juts out into the bay and is surrounded by water on all sides. Given its protrusion into Tokyo Bay, the pier also offers the best views of the Minato Mirai skyline.
The Osanbashi pier is also the perfect place to view Yokohama’s three towers, aptly dubbed The Jack, The Queen, and The King. Respectively, these towers are the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall, the Yokohama Customs Building and the Kanagawa Prefectural Office. These structures are also some of the only to survive the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Yokohama folklore tells of a sailor whose wish came true after viewing the three towers from the deck of his ship in the early days of the port-city.
There are a lot of cool little hole in the wall bars and cafes in this area as well as an authentic American diner. If you are considering stopping by somewhere for a drink, I recommend the tiny Cat’s Rock Bar, especially on a cool autumn afternoon. You can find it around here.
Yokohama is a city in which one area gradually gives way to the next. As such, we could continue going on our exploration of Japan’s second largest city but Yamashita Park will be our last spot for today. This article could very easily go on to include the nearby Chinatown and Kannai areas but that in turn sets the stage for Yamate and… Well, I digress. Back on topic! Our next stop is a charming waterfront park nearby Minato Mirai known as Yamashita Park.
Following the mass devastation of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Scotsman Marshall Martin leveraged his role as an advisor to the mayor to pressure the government into transforming the former waterfront into a park. Born from the rubble of the quake, Yamashita Park was officially opened on March 15, 1930. The space was briefly used during the occupation post-1945 as housing for military but was reverted back to Japanese control in 1960.
Yamashita Park is the perfect place to relax on a weekend with a book or a craft beer and the area never fails to be populated by couples and families. The space has a lot of interesting attractions to check out besides another great view of the Minato Mirai skyline. Some of my favorites are as follows:
A ship made for Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha in 1929 that has been made into a museum
Guardian of Water
A sculpture gifted in 1960 by Yokohama’s sister city, San Diego.
Girl with Red Shoes
A statue built in 1979 that honors a Japanese nursery rhyme originally written in 1922 by Japanese poets Ujo Noguchi and Nagayo Motori
Hotel New Grand
The hotel sits directly across from Yamashita Park and is the place where General MacArthur spent his very first night in Japan following the nation’s surrender
Nearby Yamashita Park you’ll also find the legendary Yokohama Chinatown but that’s an adventure in and of itself. Likewise, the rustic Noge district on the other side of Sakuragicho is equally worth its own article and also worth checking out. Lastly, if you’re a craft beer fan and up for a bit of a walk, you can check out Antenna America which is my favorite place to bliss out over an amazing selection of brews following a day of exploring Yokohama.
Until next time travelers…