Yokohama is a city of exciting contrasts: a mix of business and relaxation, skyscrapers and gardens, glittering scenery and ocean views. Here's how to spend a day here...
Yokohama is a city of exciting contrasts: a mix of business and relaxation, skyscrapers and gardens, glittering scenery and ocean views. It’s Japan’s second largest city, with one of the largest expat communities in the country, and the largest Chinatown. Located just 30 minutes south of Tokyo, it still has the capital’s cosmopolitan buzz – but it feels far more laid back, with streets lined with colourful art and cool cafés. It’s also very walkable, with most of the main attractions centred around the port.
In part, that’s why Yokohama is often described as ‘Japan’s first port of call’. The whole city is centred around the port, with an increasing number of visitors arriving on cruise ships to explore. In fact, Yokohama was Japan’s literal ‘first port’ – the first city to open up to the outside world after the country’s 200 years of self-imposed isolation. It threw open its gates in 1859 and has been welcoming travellers from afar ever since.
There are several train routes from Tokyo. For the fastest (and cheapest) though, take the JR Tokaido line from Tokyo Station to Yokohama station (25 minutes, from ¥480) or the Toyoko Line from Shibuya Station (25 minutes, ¥280).
The nearest aiport to Yokohama is Haneda Airport. You can reach the city from the aiport on certain Keikyu Airport Express trains. (25 minutes, from ¥340).
The number of visitors arriving into Yokohama by cruise ships is on the rise year on year. Since it’s an easy city to explore in 24 hours, it makes for a great place to spend the night as part of a longer cruise. Yokohama is the only city in Japan to operate a ‘Cruise Friendly programme’. This new initiative means that cruise visitors to the city will be given a special map, where they can get special discounts and offers at dedicated shops marked up.
Start your day with some fresh air in Yokohama’s prettiest garden, SANKEIEN GARDEN. The park is huge by Japanese standards – around the size of 100 football fields – but it still retains a classical elegance, making you feel as if you were in a garden in Kyoto. In fact, parts of the garden – including the three-storey pagoda – were transported from Kyoto in the early 1900s, after the garden was opened to the public (before that it was part of the private home of a wealthy silk merchant, Hara Sankei).
Walk beneath the ginkgo trees on the winding paths, watching herons stalk their prey in the ponds. Then stop for a cup of matcha (¥500) at the Sankei Memorial Hall as you take in the garden views.
For lunch, visit Japan’s largest Chinatown. This vibrant area of Yokohama has grown steadily over the past 160 years, ever since Chinese merchants were allowed to enter the port back in the 1800s. Your senses will be overwhelmed as you stroll through the chaotically colourful streets, where vendors tout their food to the streams of hungry visitors. Make sure you try the traditional cantonese cuisine.
Another fantastic lunch spot is Yokahama West Gate, offering a huge array of restaurants. Meat eaters will love Kamakurayama. Translating as roast beef, this restaurant serves up high quality cuts of beef. Also in the West Gate area is Hoshi no Naruki, plating up multiple courses of traditional dishes, so you can try a little bit of everything. For lunch with a view, opt for Hoshi no Naruki in the Yokohama Sky Building, where you can sample Japanese food while looking out over the glittering city beneath you.
After lunch, spend your afternoon sampling sake. At Meishu Center Yokohama, one of Japan’s iconic ‘standing’ bars (a small space where everyone crowds in to drink standing up) you can try glasses of artisanal sake (also called Jizake) from small producers from across Japan for just ¥300 to ¥400 per glass.
If you’re looking to dive deeper into the world of sake, the bar also runs a sake tasting workshop (roughly ¥12,000) where you can sample as many as 100 sakes from over 50 different craft producers from across Japan. As you drink, you’ll learn about this history and culture of sake from your guide – a Certified Sake Professional (CPS) from America, who opened the bar a few years ago.
If you can still stand after all that sake, head over to Yokohama’s iconic CUPNOODLES MUSEUM near the port. This quirky centre will take you through the history, invention and subsequent boom of the humble cup noodle. While you’re there, you can try making your own instant Chicken Ramen – kneading and steaming the flour before flash frying it – as well as designing your own pot noodle label: an unusual souvenir to return home with. The museum – particulalry the Chicken Ramen Factory – is very busy, so make sure you book ahead.
Spend the evening in Minato Mirai 21, Yokohama’s bustling harbour area. At night, the ocean reflects the city lights like a kaleidoscope. To see the skyline in full, jump on the Ferris wheel (¥800) – a 15-minute loop that scoops you among the skyscrapers. You should also head to Yokohama’s iconic Red Brick Warehouse – a beautifully rustic building that once acted as a port warehouse. Today, it houses a number of cool shops, bars and restaurants, as well as hosts a rotating calendar of events, including concerts in summer, OctoberFest (for beer) in autumn, and skating rinks in winter.
Stay within the Red Brick Warehouse to visit Motion Blue – a live music venue that has regular bands on stage. Dinner is a modern twist on Japanese ingredients, with dishes like Wagyu beef carpaccio, surf clam in a butter sauce and marinated scallops. You can wash it down with a variety of original cocktails as you listen to the band play in the moodily lit venue.
Located within the new cruise terminal of Yokohama Hammerhead, this elegant hotel offers uninterrupted views of the harbour from their Bay Rooms. They also feature garden-view rooms and city-view rooms, taking in the colourful lights of one of Japan’s largest metropolises. The design is nautically themed, evoking the spirit of the waves that crash beneath the windows. You can sit in their serene Japanese gardens, eat at the vibrant on-site restaurant or drink sake at the bar – all while watching the cruise ships glide majestically into the port.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, travel is still on hold for many of us around the globe. Be sure to check travel restrictions at home and in Japan before planning a trip.
Population: 3.74 million
Time zone: GMT +9
When to go: Year round. Yokohama is a cool city no matter the season, though summer is particularly nice if you’re looking for local festivals.
Currency: Japanese yen
Language: Japanese (though English is spoken in places geared towards travellers)
Visas: If you have a 'British Citizen' or 'British National (Overseas)' passport, you can enter Japan as a visitor for up to 90 days without a visa. You may need to provide evidence of a return or onward ticket.
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