You would call it a city. In fact, second to Tokyo, Yokohama is Japan’s largest city. It’s also Japan’s largest port city. One would never say that though. Unlike Tokyo, it feels extremely quiet. The roads are relatively easy to traverse. Not that many cars or people. Downright pleasant!
We took the opportunity to squeeze in some additional sight-seeing when TPU offered to arrange visits to some of Yokohama’s (more structural engineering orientated) landmarks. Early one morning we got on a train to Yokohama Station, unaware of the nightmare lying in wait. Just kidding. All went well. It turned out to be a lovely day apart from the fact that we spend a lot of time commuting. And I mean a LOT!
At Yokohama Station, we spent considerable time finding the correct bus for our first stop. Sankei-en Gardens is a definite landmark and some even consider it the only worthwhile reason to visit Yokohama. Oh, did I mention this place is a bit boring? Not the gardens. Yokohama. When you tell someone from Tokyo that you plan to go to Yokohama they say one thing. Why?
Anyway, Sankei-en Gardens (not Senkei as I rapidly discovered), is not very old in itself (90 years or so), but it belonged to some or other millionaire who, back in the early 1900s, brought there more than a dozen historical buildings from all over Japan. This is the first time that we realised that the largest portions of tourists in Japan are Japanese people themselves. That also explains why so little tourist attractions offer English language information. The (absolutely lovely) garden was scattered with tripod carrying elderly Japanese people. At one point we contemplated whether it may be a photography club getting together.
This was also our first encounter of the infamous open door Japanese toilets. There are a couple of things the Japanese really got spot-on. (Like their obsession with packaging but that’s another story. I’m starting to call this the Land of Individual Wrapping). Right on the other end of the scale is the weird open door thing. Not to even start with the “Japanese Style” toilets. How can you seriously choose a hole in the ground above a state-of-the-art-bum-warming-super toilet? Talk about extremes.
We were planning a stopover at Yokohama China Town for lunch and hopped back onto a bus. When we got off at China Town we discovered we only had 30 min to catch our train to Shin-Yokohama station to make it in time for the first ‘visit’ of the day – the Shin-Yokohama Prince Hotel. We hot-footed it through Chinatown towards the station. Vowing to return one afternoon to spend some more time there.
Oddly, Tokyo has no China Town section and the one in Yokohama is the largest in Japan. It apparently has to do with Yokohama being the first real international port of Japan. It’s well known for its large base of foreigners who have settled all over Yokohama. Things didn’t really happen fast for Japan since they closed their country to foreign trade back in the day. Yokohama grew in leaps and bounds since the late 1800s and boast many of Japan’s firsts. Like Japan’s first bakery (!) in 1860! How did they survive before this?
Meeting Andrea and Kawana-san at Shin-Yokohama station we made our way to the Prince Hotel. Normally there would be absolutely NO reason to go there, but the building is home to the largest application of the “Shimizu Super Sloshing Damper (SSD)”, which Lisa’s tutor had a hand in designing. It really is stupendously unspectacular. Right at the top of the building, there are 30 ‘water tanks’ about 2m high. That’s it. Apparently groundbreaking in terms of its ability to dampen the movement of tall buildings (be it natural or assisted by wind or another factor). And some technical stuff that goes with it which I'm sure I do not appreciate as much as I should.
I would stick my neck out and say that the highlight of the visit for all in attendance was having the opportunity to climb up to the service deck above and enjoy the view. Wow! What a view. A rather treacherous steel-rung ladder guarded by a chain had to be traversed for you to be deposited on top of a (not so wide looking) steel-grid. Great fun! I did not even attempt to coerce Lisa into attempting the climb. She surprised all (and probably herself) when she scrambled to the top.
Back to Yokohama Station and from there to Sakuragicho Station heading towards Minato Mirai 21. We were heading towards The Yokohama Landmark Tower for another arranged visit. Being Japan’s tallest building (at 296 meters) it houses extremely advanced dampers to counter the movement of the building. Right on the top floor is two enormous “Tuned Active Dampers”. In terms of a sheer lasting impression, they blew the Super Sloshers out of the water!
They are 9 meters x 9 meters x 5 meters, weighing in at 250 tons apiece. In a way, it was a pity that it was an absolutely wind still day. If would have been brilliant to see those monstrosities in action.
Being the “landmark tower” the building has an observation deck at 273m for the “paying public”. We were taken up to the Heli landing pad and Our guides were eager to point out the Yokohama landmarks from the unobstructed rooftop. Even being able to spot most of the major buildings and sights in the nearby Tokyo skyline was truly remarkable. An absolute once in a lifetime opportunity; which everybody enjoyed thoroughly.
Minato Mirai is some sort of 21st Century development with all kinds of world-class facilities. Some of the sights are truly remarkable. We found the place to be rather dead with not much entertainment that we enjoyed.
The only other highlights of the evening were going in search for some plasters to patch a sore toe. I had to wear “nice” shoes for the visits. Paid the price for that. Ended up buying a 100 pack of plasters.
We contemplated going up the 2nd largest Ferris wheel in Japan. Stumbled on the escalator and spilled a million little chocolate ice-cream balls. Little balls rolling on the escalator. Getting smaller and smaller. Everything nice and sticky. We turned around and quickly walked away - leaving the Ferris wheel for next time.
Dinner was at the RedBrick Warehouse. They even had tiny bottles of red wine which was almost drinkable. It was called Kirin Seven Days and said on the label: “A little drink of wine every day can make your life brighter. Feel comfortable and dream what’s waiting for you tomorrow.” Wise words indeed.
We’re definitely going to try and go back to Yokohama before we leave Japan. Even if it’s just to experience a bit more of the China Town area.