September 23, 2017

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Yokohama's Chinatown is always bustling with commerce. It's an area that is a living example of the city's legacy as an important port town.

People walk into Yokohama's Chinatown area after sunset

The bayside city of Yokohama is one of my all time favorite getaways from Tokyo. While I often head out to the prefectures for much needed retreats, Yokohama has been my go-to choice for an urban escape for quite a long time. From the city’s glamorous Minato Mirai shopping area to the boozy backstreets of Noge, Yokohama has something for everyone. One of the best things about the area is that despite being only 30 minutes south of central Tokyo, Yokohama feels worlds apart from the neon-lit megalopolis to the north. For those familiar with America, the vibe between the two is as different as that between New York City on the east coast and Los Angeles on the west coast.

In addition to its more relaxed atmosphere, Yokohama is also home to some amazing history. The city and surrounding area were the first to be opened to foreign trade ships after nearly 300 years of the Edo period (1603–1868) isolation. While much of Tokyo’s historical legacy from the earlier parts of the 20th century was lost to World War II, Yokohama still clings to whatever bygone vestiges it can. From old European-themed buildings to the remnants of timeworn shipyards, the past is alive and well in Yokohama.

Perhaps one location to best explore Yokohama’s role as a major port is in its famous Chinatown. Situated only a few minutes walk from the harborfront, this section of the city has been called home by many a Chinese trader since the opening of Japan in the late 19th century. Today, the neighborhood is mainly comprised of local shops and restaurants yet the historical trappings of Yokohama’s Chinatown are obvious. From temples constructed by residents in 1873, to the unique cuisine they brought with them, the area’s Chinese legacy is very tangible.

Getting to Yokohama’s Historic Chinatown

A gate at the entrance to Yokohama’s Chinatown at night

If you want to make a beeline for Yokohama’s Chinatown, the closest stations are Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minato Mirai line and Ishikawacho Station on the JR Negishi line. While these might be convenient, Yokohama is a city that should be savored over the course of a whole day. Rather than heading right for Chinatown, my preferred means of enjoying the area involves a stroll over from Minato Mirai Station. On the way you’ll pass not only a bunch of great shopping venues but also the Cosmo World amusement park with it’s iconic Ferris Wheel clock.

You’ll find Yokohama’s Chinatown located a few minutes away from the waterfront Yamashita Park. While there’s plenty of signage in English to help guide you, here’s a link to a Google Map just in case. Regardless of whether you chose to just visit Chinatown or explore more of Yokohama, Hyperdia will be your friend when it comes to figuring out the trains. The city is definitely a walkable one but those pressed for time may find it easier to resort to public transportation when getting around.

What to Do in Yokohama’s Chinatown

Delicious-looking duck carcasses hung out in Yokohama’s Chinatown

As mentioned, much of today’s Chinatown is occupied by shops and restaurants peddling a wide variety of goods. While this is great news for those itching for some authentic Chinese food, the area is an utter nightmare for those on a diet. Expect to be continually harassed by delightful scents all while having to bear witness to the likes of roasted duck hanging from the windows. Rather than torturing yourself all day, I suggest you instead embrace your inner piggy and leave nutrition out of this. You’ll thank me later!

Anyway, one of the coolest things about Yokohama’s Chinatown is its street food culture. Unfortunately, Tokyoites typically refrain from eating while walking as it’s considered to be bad manners. Luckily though, like with Osaka, this precedent doesn’t seem to apply when it comes to Yokohama’s Chinatown. Be it a steamed bun or a couple of dumplings, you’ll find groups of people strolling along while hungrily munching on something scrumptious. Just be careful not to collide with anyone who’s trying to eat ramen while taking in the sights!

The Kantei-byo temple complex in Yokohama’s Chinatown

In addition to all the shops and stalls offering delicious morsels, there are also a number of cultural spots that are worth checking out during your visit. One of the places that should not be missed is the Kantei-byo temple complex. This gaudy structure is a celebration of vibrant colors and is dedicated to the Chinese god of good business and prosperity. After dropping some serious coin on all the great food in Chinatown, it can’t hurt to offer a quick prayer here to recoup your losses.

You’ll find Kantei-byo located right in the middle of Yokohama’s Chinatown. The streets can be a little confusing though so just follow this Google Map. Note that if you’re planning on snapping a few shots, local Chinatown customs hold that you should donate a few yen to the temple first. As of 2017, it seems the exterior of Kantei-byo is undergoing some renovations but the structure remains open to the public.

Attractions Near Yokohama’s Chinatown

Yokohama’s iconic Landmark Tower and Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel at night

As you might have gleaned from the introduction, Yokohama is an awesome day trip and there’s a lot of other amusement in the area. Wandering about in Chinatown will likely take three hours at most so you’ll need to plan for some other festivities in Yokohama. Luckily though, you’ll be spoiled for choices. From the Minato Mirai waterfront to a traditional Japanese garden and even a Cup Noodle museum, Yokohama goes all out! Do your research and choose what best suits your interests.

If you’re into jazz music or want to catch a glimpse of Japan from the 1970 you may want to also consider making a side-trip over to Noge. You’ll find this rustic collection of alleyways on the opposite side of Sakuragicho Station from Minato Mirai. While much of the waterfront area was glammed up during the redevelopment process, Noge retained its classic Showa period (1926–1989) spirit. The area is definitely worth a quick look if you have the time.

Before you go, here’s one final suggestion! If you’re trying to scare away your date or have an undead count to kill, I cannot more highly recommend Garlic Jo’s. This place packs so much delicious garlic into every dish that it would make Buffy the Vampire Slayer blush. You’ll leave Garlic Jo’s feeling more purified that if you had spent a week meditating at a temple in the mountains. Just be sure to do everyone a favor and not get right on a plane after eating here.

Until next time travelers…