Yokohama is Japan’s second biggest city, the capital of Kanagawa prefecture, close to Tokyo. It has a population of about 3.5 million. Yokohama is also Japan’s second largest port and luxury cruise destination. Historically, the city has been Japan’s gateway to the world, giving it something of a cosmopolitan air. The city’s seafront location and pleasant parks also give it a relaxed atmosphere, enhanced by the smattering of historic sites and buildings in the Yamate district. Yokohama is noted, too, for having Japan’s largest and most colorful Chinatown. It is also home to the futuristic Minato Mirai 21 Development on the waterfront. Yokohama was the first port opened to foreign trade by the Japanese government since 1635. 1635 was when the Dutch were confined to what at the time was Dejima Island in Nagasaki as the only foreign traders allowed to reside in Japan. This move was the final measure of the many for the expulsion of foreigners from Japan that had begun with the expulsion of foreign missionaries in June 1587. The opening of Yokohama can be traced to the signing in the port of Shimoda of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (the “Harris Treaty”) of July 29 1858 which America, with its military might, forced on Japan – along with other Western powers, each with their own treaty. However the Harris Treaty specified nearby Kanagawa, not Yokohama, as the port of extraterritoriality in Tokyo.
The first resident British ambassador to Japan, Rutherford Alcock, arrived in Tokyo on 26 June 1859. Shortly afterwards he discovered that the Japanese government was putting the finishing touches on an elaborate settlement for foreign trade, complete with granite piers and custom house, built at great effort and expense, but on the marshes of what was at that time the tiny fishing village of Yokohama, not the treaty port of Kanagawa.
Kanagawa was on the Tokaido highway, the main thoroughfare between Kyoto and Tokyo (known as Edo at the time), and was therefore ideally suited to quick and easy communications. Yokohama on the other hand was several miles from the Tokaido, and having only a single road for access this meant that all trade between the settlement of Yokohama and the rest of Japan could be easily monitored and restricted, and indeed initially was by requiring the purchase of a licence by Japanese to even access Yokohama.
The Japanese government was adamant in the face of protests by the British ambassador, Alcock, and the American ambassador, Harris. The Japanese government had its hand strengthened by the fact that the foreign merchants, eager to start trading with Japan quickly, moved in to Yokohama with its extensive, ready-made, facilities, oblivious to political wranglings when the long-awaited chance to begin trade with Japan beckoned. The foreign trading community thus lived in Yokohama, while the diplomatic community lived in Kanagawa.
Yokohama’s Chinatown, founded in 1863, is the largest in Japan. Chinatown, as you would expect, has an amazing selection of Chinese restaurants and shops. Look out for the Kantei-byo shrine with its attractive ornamental gateways. The shrine is dedicated to Guan Yu, a former warlord and the spiritual guardian of Yokohama’s estimated 2,000 ethnic Chinese inhabitants.
Landmark Tower at 296 m is one of Japan’s largest buildings and the centerpiece of the Minato Mirai 21 (MM21) development. Landmark Tower was completed in the early 1990s. There is a viewing gallery on the 69th floor – the Sky Garden, accessed with the world’s fastest elevator, with excellent views on a clear day. Pacifico Yokohama is a huge, curving conference center, somewhat reminiscent of a sail, and contains the Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel. The Yokohama Maritime Museum nearby contains the pristine 1930s sailing ship, the Nippon Maru. A short walk away is the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel – one of the largest in the world and located on a small island – Shinko-cho – along with two restored historic brick warehouses, which form the centerpiece of the Akarenga (red-brick) shopping & entertainment center. The Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel is 112.5m high and can carry 480 people. The towers of the Queen’s Square complex include shops (Uniqlo, L. L. Bean, Timberland), restaurants and the Pan Pacific Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu. The Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall is also part of the complex and houses a pair of concert halls designed for classical music. World Porters is another popular shopping, cinema and restaurant mall on the island, directly opposite the Cosmo Clock Ferris Wheel and the Yokohama Cosmoworld amusement park with its roller coaster, water slide and other attractions mainly aimed at children and young couples.
As well as the museums mentioned above, Yokohama has a large number of other interesting museums and galleries, many connected with the history of the city as a port and a gateway between Japan and the world. Yokohama’s museums include the striking Yokohama Museum of Art, designed by Kenzo Tange near Landmark Tower. The Yokohama Museum of Art focuses on art produced after 1859, the year of Yokohama’s founding and is well known for its exhibitions of Surrealist and modern art and its collection of photography, a medium that was largely introduced to Japan through Yokohama by foreign photographers. Behind the Yokohama Museum of Art is the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum, which displays a rocket engine, a deep-sea submarine and visitors can try their luck on a helicopter simulator. The Japanese Overseas Migration Museum is located on the Shinko Island and traces the history of Japanese migration mainly to North and South America. Close by is the Japan Coast Guard Museum, which details the work of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) and displays a North Korean spy vessel sunk by the Coast Guard in 2001 and later salvaged and brought here. Both the Japanese Overseas Migration Museum and Japan Coast Guard Museum are free to enter. The Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum opened in 2011 and like the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda, Osaka is dedicated to the work of Ando, the inventor of instant ramen back in 1958. Visitors can make their own ramen from 5,460 flavor combinations, see the Instant Noodles History Cube with over 3,000 product packages on display, see a recreation of Ando’s wooden, garden shed where he worked on his inventions and a CG animation movie on the story of instant noodles.