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Short excursions for exploring Yokohama’s waterfront area

by Michiru Mekata

Special To The Japan Times

When U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry sailed his fleet of “Black Ships” from America and urged Japan to open up, there was much fury and discussion as to which ports should be permitted for use by the foreigners. The original treaty between the two countries suggested the opening of Kanagawa, in addition to Nagasaki in Kyushu and Hakodate in Hokkaido. But not wanting the foreigners to be too close to the capitol of Edo (the current Tokyo), and to avoid any clashes with the Japanese locals, the Tokugawa shogunate suggested the use of Yokohama instead of Kanagawa, since Kanagawa served as an important stopover point on the Tokaido route linking Edo and Kyoto.

Despite comprising a part of the Kanagawa area, Yokohama in those days was a remote, fishermen’s village with an elongated (yoko) shore (hama), roughly 50?km west of Edo. The Japanese considered that the jagged cliffs surrounding the shore would serve as ideal posts for keeping a close eye on the comings and goings of foreign ships. That is how Yokohama came to be the first port in Japan to be opened to the world in 1859, after over two centuries of the country’s seclusion from the rest of the world. Since then, all things Western flooded into Japan through Yokohama, while high-quality silk, ceramics and other local goods were shipped from the port to countries around the world.

The port has continued to evolve. During much of the 20th century, the area known as Minato Mirai (literally, “harbor of the future”) served as a shipbuilding dry dock. After the dockyard moved from the vast, 190-hectare area, the unique, sail-shaped InterContinental Yokohama Grand hotel and the adjacent Pacifico Yokohama conference and exhibition center were the very first buildings to be built there in 1991. While the remnants of the dockyard are preserved at the base of the Landmark Tower — also built in 1991 and still Japan’s tallest building — Minato Mirai today abounds in numerous attractions, old and new, within walking distance from Pacifico Yokohama.

One suggested walking route takes you along the bay. After crossing the bridge next to Pacifico Yokohama, you will find the Yokohama Minato Mirai Manyo Club on your left. The hot-springs spa has its bathing water delivered every day from hot-springs sources in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, and Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. This facility offers numerous types of baths, aesthetic care, relaxation options, as well as a variety of restaurants and a good souvenir shop. Across the road is Yokohama Cosmo World, an amusement park known for its gigantic Ferris wheel and a roller coaster that virtually plunges into the water. Farther down the road on the left past the intersection stands the Cupnoodles Museum. This is the place where you can learn the history of the world’s first instant ramen noodle created by Momofuku Ando. It also has interactive features: You can make your own noodles starting from the kneading of dough or create your own cup and combine ingredients to make your original instant noodles out of 5,460 possible flavor combinations. Exiting the museum and following the road further down as it curves, you will come across the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, a shopping and entertainment area of two buildings and a park facing the sea. Built in the late 19th century, the interior has been fully refurbished to allocate many stores selling Yokohama “originals” including Yokohama Glass, Yokohama brand bags, Yokohama silk scarves, Yokohama ice cream, as well as other gadgets and trinkets. You can end your walk here, but if the time and weather allows, the elevated pedestrian walkway further ahead leads to the old downtown area of Yokohama. Harboring a completely different atmosphere, this district is characterized by Yamashita Park, an English garden of roses and green lawns by the bay, as well as the classical Hotel New Grand that stands majestically on a tree-lined road, reminders of the British settlers who first developed this area. Across from the park by the hotel is the Yokohama Marine Tower built in 1961. The tower has places for dining and an observatory 94 meters high that offers great views of the bay.

Another route from Pacifico Yokohama takes you away from the sea. From the second floor of Pacifico Yokohama, enter Queen’s Square, a shopping mall, which includes immediately upon the left the entrance to the Yokohama Bay Hotel Tokyu, another international-standard hotel in the area offering magnificent sea views. Especially notable are its executive rooms on the 23rd to 25th Bay Club Floors, which have recently been fully refurbished. Staying on the second floor of Queen’s Square and going down a few steps, you will find a store on your right called Vivitix. Directly operated by Sanrio, this store sells glittery, upscale Hello Kitty items that are rarely found elsewhere. Taking the escalator down to the first floor, you will find the 109 store to your left selling all the latest kawaii Shibuya fashion items from clothes and shoes to underwear. If you continue walking on the second floor of Queen’s Square, you will come to an exit and find outside a twisted silver monument like a roller coaster. Past this object, you will enter another shopping mall: Landmark Plaza. On the fourth floor is the ever so popular Pokemon Center, flocked by children, especially on weekends. Inside the Landmark Tower building, on the 65th floor of the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel, is Kaiko-an, a tranquil space of its own where you can enjoy a treat of a proper Japanese tea ceremony. On the 69th floor of Landmark Tower is the Sky Garden, an observatory that offers a magnificent 360-degree view including Mount Fuji on a clear day. Exiting the Landmark Plaza at the first floor facing the Bank of Yokohama, make a right and head for the Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum on the next block. Here, visitors can enjoy the experience of designing a jet aircraft, helicopter, ferry or deep submergence vehicle using original software; of fabricating a steam locomotive or a concept car at the Future Studio; or of operating a helicopter inside a simulator called the Sky Walk Adventure. Exiting the museum and making a left, you will find to your left on the next block the Yokohama Museum of Art, built in 1989 to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the port’s opening. The museum has a superb collection of contemporary art and is worth a visit for any art connoisseur.

Further afield but not to be overlooked is the Nissan Global Headquarters building, located close to the East Exit of Yokohama Station. Inside on the ground floor is always a display of the latest automobile models, including electric vehicles and concept cars, with an occasional addition of classic models. It also has a souvenir shop selling original Nissan products that cannot be purchased elsewhere. Also quite a distance from Pacifico Yokohama but popular among fans both young and old is the Yokohama Anpanman Children’s Museum and Mall. While the museum area features all the Anpanman anime characters, its museum shop sells a variety of goods including tasty anpan (sweet red bean-filled bread), from which Anpanman originally obtained its name.

For those seeking a different experience and some fine photo ops of the port city from the sea, highly recommended is the ferry ride called the Sea Bass that journeys from the East Exit of Yokohama Station Cruising Terminal, to the MM21 Pukari Sanbashi Pier behind Pacifico Yokohama, to the Red Brick Warehouse Pier, to Yamashita Park Cruising Terminal and back again. A subway ride on the ultra-clean Minatomirai Line also provides a unique experience of its own, as the extremely long escalator in Queen’s Square descends two floors below ground level to reach Minatomirai Station. Incorporating a universal design and eliminating steps as much as possible, each station on the line has adopted a distinctive interior design related to the history of the neighborhood. The line starts from Yokohama Station and ends at Motomachi-Chukagai Station, just three stops from Minatomirai Station, taking less than 10 minutes to arrive. From there, you can go shopping in the high-end Motomachi shopping area, or enjoy fine cuisine in Chinatown (Chukagai), the largest such district in Japan.

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