Formerly a small fishing village on the Tokaido road, Yokohama, now Japan’s second largest city, was first made a treaty port in 1859. Then followed an influx of traders, especially Chinese and British, making it the biggest port in Asia by the early 1900.
The heart of the city is compact and walkable. Minato Mirai 21, an area of redeveloped docks, has some creative architecture with high tech earthquake proofing, and now the first ever, urban ropeway, dubbed ”Air Cabin”. Its focal point, the Landmark tower, built in 1993 under US architect Hugh
Stubbins, and at 880ft, was at the time Japan’s tallest building. It has since then taken second place.
Reached by the (then) world’s fastest elevator, at 2500 feet per minute, the 69th floor public lounge has a spectacular 360-degree view. It has now taken second place, however reaching the top floor in only 40 seconds is still quite amazing.
In the older, more attractive part of the town, created on rubble from the 1923 earthquake, Yamashita Park is a pleasant promenade overlooking ships, including the moored liner Hikawa Maru which cruised Yokohama and Seattle in the 1930-60. First launched on September 30th, 1929, she made her maiden voyage from Kobe to Seattle on May 13th, 1930. She had a reputation for service that combined splendid food and beautiful art deco interiors.
Nicknamed “the Queen of the Pacific”, Charlie Chaplin traveled on her for part of the round-the-world tour that he made in 1932. She is now permanently berthed as a museum ship.
Over a century ago, jazz music burst into Japan through Yokohama port. Ocean liners would bring passengers and bands from all over the world through Japan’s maritime gateway. Traveling musicians could head for the bars and clubs to drink, dance, and make music. The local appetite for that “hot jazz” sound was insatiable and its popularity spread rapidly. Jazz cafes and bars sprung up across the city playing the latest records imported from America.
Yokohama Chinatown is the largest of the few Chinatown in Japan. It has a mass of restaurants, food shops, Chinese medicine shops and fortune-tellers. At its heart is the Chinese Kanteibyo Temple (1887), dedicated to ancient Chinese hero Kuan-yu, who was worshiped as a god of war but now is popular as a god of accountancy, business success, and prosperity.
Once the private residence of an extremely wealthy silk merchant by the name of Tomitaro “Sankei” Hara (1868-1939), the lovely landscaped “Sankei en” has been open to the public since 1906. Among the ponds and flowers are sixteen architectural treasures, including a three-story pagoda from Kyoto.
The vast classical garden, covering 175,000 square meters, contains many historical buildings, some of which were brought to the park from locations all over Japan, including the three storied pagoda, set high up on a hill and all lightened up at dusk. Originally constructed in Kyoto in the mid 1400s, it was relocated to Sankei en in 1914.
As you stroll through the park, you will find bridges, streams, small waterfalls, bamboo groves and ponds. The house that Hara and his family lived in ( Kakushokaku ) is a huge, sprawling flat dwelling with dozens of spacious, interconnected tatami rooms, overlooking a private green lawn.
In late march or early April, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. In July and August, there is a pond just by the entrance that is bursting with the beauty of Japanese pink lotus blossoms. Although it is a delight in every season, any chance to either assist at a tea ceremony during its cherry blossoms festivities or a moon viewing event (most probably held there sometime around September) is not to be missed.