When I travel, I like to visit as many sightseeing spots that I can that interest me. I like to get up early and to pack as many things as possible into the day as possible. My fiancé doesn’t like to get up early though, so our compromise was to leave for Yokohama 横浜 around noon.
We got to Yokohama just around lunch time, so the first thing on our agenda was lunch. We hadn’t planned ahead, so our idea was just to wander around until we found something good. I don’t recommend this method of finding a restaurant unless you want to spend a lot of time walking and trying to find something that looks good, or unless you’re near a station or department store with a lot of options in a small area. We ended up leaving the Queen’s Square where the train dropped us off and wandering up and down the streets nearby. A lot of the restaurants were closed and there weren’t many options, but we finally decided on ramen.
We ate at a place called Ichiran 一蘭, which is a tonkotsu ramen chain. Tonkotsu is a creamy kind of broth with a strong taste that comes from boiling pork bones. When you walk into Ichiran, you buy tickets from a vending machine for your main ramen dish and for any extras you want, such as seaweed or boiled eggs. There is a display near the vending machine that shows which seats at the counter are vacant and which are occupied, so you pick the number of the vacant counter seat and sit down.
On either side of the counter there is a wall so that even if someone sits next to you, you can’t see each other. The edge of the counter opposite you also has a bamboo screen which blocks you from the staff, who are in the center of the counter. After you sit down, there is a paper with a checklist that you can select how you want your ramen, from the thickness of the noodles to the concentration of the broth. Once you’ve made your selections, you push a button to call the staff. They open the bamboo screen, but you cannot see their face and they cannot see yours. You give the staff your paper and your tickets, and they prepare your ramen. When the ramen has been served they bow to you and close the bamboo screen again. Then you can enjoy your ramen in near-solitude. Although you can hear the other people eating and the ramen preparation, it’s like a private (claustrophobic) room.
The idea behind Ichiran is that the counter is sectioned off and you have limited contact with people, so that it is pretty much anonymous. This is so that people, especially women, can go alone to a ramen shop and not feel intimidated. In my hometown in Yamanashi prefecture, I never felt intimidated at my local ramen shop because the owners always took care of the foreign students and the customers were never inappropriate. Apparently, though, in larger cities like Tokyo, men can intimidate women and make them feel uncomfortable to eat alone. The space is really small because of the partitions, so it can be kind of claustrophobic, but if you want to grab some ramen by yourself without having to make awkward eye contact across the counter at other people, it’s a great place!
Yokohama’s main shopping and tourist center is Minato Mirai 21 みなとみらい21, which means Future Port 21. Yokohama was turned into a main port city when Japan opened up to the world. Tokyo Bay is the main port and there are boats that carry passengers around the bay. On the bayside, there is a boat museum, the Nippon Maru 日本丸, and Cosmo World, an amusement park with a giant Cosmo Clock ferris wheel that lights up at night. Yokohama is in Kanagawa prefecture, and it is only about an hour away from Tokyo.
After we finished eating we went back to the Queen’s Square area for shopping. We spent a lot of time looking in the Queen’s Square Yokohama クイーンズスクエア横浜 and the Yokohama Landmark Tower 横浜ランドマークタワー, and there are so many shops I didn’t have the stamina to see them all. Since it was near Christmastime, there were Disney-themed Christmas trees in various locations around Tokyo and nearby areas. Cinderella was the theme in the Landmark Tower.
In Minato Mirai 21 there are a lot of high end shops, character shops, and goods shops that you can find many other places in Tokyo (Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I think the shopping is fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely, but I wouldn’t make that the main focus of your trip to Yokohama. Personally, I think that the main draw of Yokohama is the international shopping. There are international goods and international restaurants with food from around the world. Why would you go to Japan and buy goods and food from other countries? you may ask. Because Japan does international in a very distinct way. The goods offered are of high quality and the food, although not always 100% authentic, is always delicious. Japan puts its own spin on everything from pasta to tacos, and it’s always amazing. Try mentaiko 明太子 (walleye pollack roe) on pasta, or whitewashed tacos with fresh shredded lettuce and a Corona. Minato Mirai 21 does the international port theme well.
One other main attraction in Yokohama that I particularly enjoy is the Chinatown 中華街. This is Chinatown done Japanese-style. Chinese food is very common in Japan, but in Yokohama all types are consolidated into one area. I particularly recommend the dim sum. There are also many shops with Chinese goods, foodstuffs, and souvenirs. This is the largest Chinatown in Asia!
In Yokohama, there are so many places to go and so many things to see that doing the tourist thing really wears you out! If you’re not up for a lot of walking, or if you want to take it easy, I suggest picking just a few places to visit and just a few stores to shop in. You can look up the stores in each place online and find the ones that meet your needs for clothes, home goods, kids shopping, and restaurants.
Have you been to Yokohama’s Minato Mirai 21 or Chinatown? What are your favorite places to visit there?