Yokohama (pop. 3,654,000) is Japan's second largest city. It was no more than a small fishing village 150 years ago before becoming a treaty port allowing Europeans and Americans to trade and to set up diplomatic missions. Just like Hong Kong or Shanghai, Yokohama grew into a major international port from the second half of the 19th century thanks to the establishment of foreign concessions.
The city played a key role in Japan's modernization. Everything started in 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry arrived just south of Yokohama with a fleet of American warships, coercing Japan into opening some of its ports for commerce. During the last four decades of the 19th century, Western products and inventions entered Japan mostly through Yokohama. Japan's first bakery, brewery, or ice-cream shop came into being in the streets of the foreign concession. The country's first English language newspaper, the Japan Herald, was first published here in 1861, followed by Japan's first daily newspaper in 1870.
From 1868 Yokohama prospered as a port exporting silk. The trade was conducted chiefly by British merchants. In 1872, the British elp build the first Japanese railway line, linking Yokohama's Sakuragichō Station to Tokyo's Shimbashi Station. The same year Yokohama got equipped with gas-powered street lamps, ahead of any other Japanese city. Being such a vanguardist city at the time, it is little wonder that Jules Verne, in his epical novel Around the World in 80 Days (published in 1873) has Phileas Fogg and Passepartout visit Yokohama on their way from Hong Kong to San Francisco. In 1887, a British merchant, Samuel Cocking, built the city's first power plant, paving the way for Japan's industrialzation.
Yokohama, along with the other treaty ports of Kōbe in Kansai or Nagasaki in Kyushu, acquired a more cosmopolitan atmosphere than other Japanese cities. These ports have remained famous for their Western settlements, with handsome Victorian mansions in the hilly residential neighbourhoods and massive bank headquarters downtown, as well as for their substantial Chinese community, centered around their respective Chinatowns.
Nowadays foreigners make up 2% of Yokohama's population. Westerners only represent an insignificant part of it. There are only about 5,000 registered Europeans or Americans living in Yokohama. The Chinese community, in spite of its conspicuousness, only amount to 30,000 residents.
Yokohama is a sprawling city, spanning all the way from Tokyo Haneda Airport to the confine of Kamakura city, over 20 km (12 mi) from north to south. The area of interest for tourists is fortunately much smaller. Yokohama Station is not in the tourist centre, let alone the shinkansen station of Shin-Yokohama which is well 5 km north. The attractions are in the Naka Ward, concentrated on a 3 km (2 mi) stretch of harbour south of Yokohama Station, roughly between the JR stations of Sakuragichō and Ishikawachō (Negishi line), or the metro stations of Minato Mirai and Motomachi-Chukagai stations (Minato Mirai line). On a north-west to south-east angle, the quarters developed below are respectively Minato Mirai 21, Shinko Island, Kannai, Chinatown, and Yamate. The Sankei-en Gardens are another 2.5 km south-east of Chinatown, beyond the hilly neighbourhood of Yamate.
Minato Mirai 21 Yokohama's futuristic harbour front, boasting Japan's highest skyscraper and largest convention complex.
Sankei-en Gardens Beautiful traditional Japanese garden complemented by a dozen historical buildings from the Kanto and Kansai regions.
Other Sights Sōji Temple, Okurayama Memorial Hall, Former Negishi Horse Racetrack, Shōmyō Temple, and Hakkeijima Sea Paradise.
How to get there
There are frequent trains between Tokyo and Yokohama on the JR Keihin-Tōhoku, Tōkaido and Yokosuka lines (from Ueno, Tokyo Station, Shimbashi or Shinagawa), Toyoko line (from Shibuya) and Toei Asakusa/Keikyu line. The cheapest way is with the Toyoko line from Shibuya (￥260, 27min) or the Keikyu line from Shinagawa (￥300, 21min), depending on which part of Tokyo you are coming from.
Coming on the Tōkyū-Toyoko or JR lines you should get off at Sakuragichō for Minato Mirai 21, or at Ishikawachō for Chinatown, Motomachi and Yamashita Park.
Yokohama is on the main shinkansen line linking Hakata, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Tokyo and Sendai. Bullet trains stop at Shin-Yokohama Station, 5km north of the city centre. From there you can either take the metro to Sakuragichō or Kannai (15min, ￥260), or a local JR train to Sakuragichō via Higashi-Kanagawa (15-20min, ￥160).
Map of attractions in Yokohama