Ramen fan April Chong discovers that there is more to the Japanese port city than its maritime attractions.
YOKOHAMA may not seem a likely tourist destination, but after having been there twice, I find it a breath of fresh air compared to its crowded neighbour Tokyo.
Just 30 minutes by train from Tokyo, the city is worth a day trip or more.
Yokohama started out as a small village, and gained prominence as a port town in the late 1800s when Japan opened its doors to trade.
Today, much of its attractions can be found on or near its waterfront, alongside historical structures that have been painstakingly preserved.
Since many of its major sights are concentrated within a relatively small area, you can get around on foot, so wear a good pair of walking shoes.
All about noodles
Yokohama’s famed Minato Mirai area features an amalgamation of hotels, malls, parks and museums that make for perfect city skyline photos.
The amusement park Cosmo World, with its landmark ferris wheel, promises a bird’s eye view of the port area. Entry to the park is free; you just need to pay for the rides.
Adjacent to Cosmo World is the quirky Cup Noodles Museum that pays tribute to the humble instant cup noodles.
There, you will see the history of instant noodles and how the packaging and types of the noodles have morphed through the years.
The museum features interactive exhibits and workshops on how to design your own cup noodles, and a cup noodle-themed playground. Sample different types of noodles at the food court.
The historic Red Brick Warehouses were built more than a century ago as storage spaces for the then burgeoning port trade. These brick buildings have been conserved and now house restaurants and shops.
Along the waterfront, a massive pier juts out to sea. The Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal, which now mainly docks cruise ship, was originally built in the late 1800s.
A walk along the 400m-long pier will give you good photo angles of Minato Mirai.
I came across a vast ocean liner parked alongside Yamashita Park’s waterfront promenade but little did I know that it had an important history.
Hikawa Maru was a luxury liner that used to ply the Yokohama-United States route in the 1930s, attracting many dignitaries. It was later used as a floating hospital during the war days and was eventually retired in 1960. The ship has been converted to a museum and retains the accoutrements of its glamorous past.
Nearby is the Yokohama Marine Tower with a good vantage point from its observatory.
From the Yamashita Park, it is only a few minutes’ walk to Yokohama Chinatown — the largest in Japan and one of the biggest in the world.
Originally an area where early Chinese traders lived, it is now a congregation of hundreds of restaurants and shops.
It is best visited in the evening, when the red lanterns and lighted signboards come alive to transport you back to the days of yore.
If you have time to spare, visit some other attractions that are off the main waterfront.
One cloudy morning, I made a pilgrimage to the Sankeien, an over 100-year-old Japanese garden that is redolent of Kyoto’s gardens. You can almost imagine yourself as a feudal lord or his many consorts enjoying a tranquil stroll amid the greenery, pagodas and ponds.
I was lucky to encounter the garden’s Chrysanthemum Festival in November, with exhibitions of glorious blooms. Entrance to the garden costs 500 yen (S$6).
As a worshipper of ramen, I had to visit the Ramen Museum at Shin Yokohama. Other than housing exhibits that show the history of ramen, the building also replicated the narrow streets of an old ramen town.
Of course, the highlight for me was to feast on the di erent types of ramen served by a multitude of restaurants there.
As in many other Japanese eateries, diners put in their orders through a vending machine. The restaurants here do not advocate sharing, but most have options for a smaller portion of ramen.
I flew on Japan Airlines to Narita Airport in Tokyo. From there, I took a direct airport limousine bus ride to Yokohama. For rail options, various train lines run from Tokyo to Yokohama. Japan’s high-speed rail Shinkansen makes a pit stop at Shin-Yokohama station.
Plan your visit to Yokohama well if you only have one evening there, as many sightseers prefer to visit the different attractions such as like Minato Mirai and Chinatown in the evenings to see the lights.
Source: SG Travellers © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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