It can sometimes feel like the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo goes on forever. Sitting on the train as you head south, you can look out the window and see an endless collection of modern buildings whizz past.
But even though the urban scenery looks seamless, you are actually travelling into different cities. Heading south from Tokyo, you first go through Kawasaki. And then you’ll arrive in Yokohama.
It may seem easy to think of Yokohama as just a suburb of Tokyo but, as well as being technically incorrect, that approach may lead you to miss the vibrant cultural and food scene here. There are a lot of things to do in Yokohama and it deserves its own attention.
With a population of about 3.7 million people, Yokohama is the second-largest city in Japan (after Tokyo, with 9.3 million). But it’s a relatively new city and the expansion has been rapid, without the some kind of traditional history as cities like Tokyo or Kyoto.
What you’ll find in Yokohama is an exciting blend of modern development and international influence.
A very brief history of Yokohama
Until the 1850s, this area could best be described as a sleepy fishing village. It was only when Japan began to open itself up to the world at the end of the Edo period that Yokohama started to change. It was here that an international port was opened in 1859 and the city became the centre of Japan’s trading industry with the rest of the world.
The combination of foreign influences and the need for development meant that Yokohama modernised before most of Japan. It saw Japan’s first daily newspaper, first gas-powered street lamps, and first railway. It also was where Japan was introduced to Western fashion, Western food, and Western sports like cricket and rugby union.
Perhaps it’s therefore quite fitting that Yokohama will be the host city for the most important games of the 2019 Rugby World Cup that will be held in Japan during October and November. Players and fans from across the world will come together in the city that introduced Japan to an international audience 150 years ago, and introduced rugby to the Japanese.
Visiting Yokohama for the Rugby World Cup?
On a recent visit to Japan, I was able to go to a rugby game at the International Stadium Yokohama (also known as Nissan Stadium), which will host the final, both semi-finals, and four pool games of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
It was the Bledisloe Cup – and annual competition between Australia and New Zealand (that New Zealand usually wins, if I’m to be gracious) – but it was not the result that I was interested in. To be honest, even the game itself was a bit secondary. What I came to see was the atmosphere – and it was just what you could have hoped for.
I have no doubt that Japan is going to host an excellent Rugby World Cup. This stadium is perfect. Big enough with a capacity of about 70,000 people but also not too large that it becomes unmanageable. There are enough facilities that you never wait long (if at all).
It’s close enough to the centre of Yokohama to walk or it has good public transport if you are staying further away. And, being Japan, everything is well-organised and efficient – from the people at the train station holding signs pointing to the stadium, to the ushers inside who will show you to your seat.
Yokohama: Things to do!
Whether you are visiting Yokohama for the Rugby World Cup or you’re coming here any other time of the year, you’re probably looking for the best things to do in Yokohama. There are lots of them – enough to easily fill a couple of days.
To help you with your planning, I have put together my tips for the best things you’ll find, with a good mix to show you the history, the modern side, the food scene, and the other fun things to do in Yokohama.
You can see them all on the map and I’ve got more details below.
The enormous International Stadium is not the only major sporting venue in Yokohama. Near the coast in the southern part of the city, you’ll also find Yokohama stadium.
It’s mainly used for baseball, the most popular sport in Japan, and is home to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. It’s an impressive structure from the outside but the best way to experience the stadium is to go to a baseball game. Have a look at whether there is anything scheduled for the days you’re visiting and try to get a ticket!
It might seem odd to come to Japan and then seek out Chinese culture, but the Chinatown in Yokohama is a vibrant district that’s worth visiting. It’s a good testament to the heritage of Yokohama as a port city.
The trade that began here in the 1850s was not just with Western countries, but was also with Japan’s Asian neighbours. Over the decades, a lot of Chinese people moved to Yokohama and brought their food and traditions with them. The Chinatown you’ll find here is the largest in Japan.
There are lots of good restaurants and shops along the few main streets that are marked by the large gates at the start. One of the specialties is the ‘manju’ or steamed buns. You’ll be able to buy them from street stalls or look for the shops with the long queues!
From the Chinatown, it’s worth wandering over to Yamashita Park, a 750 metre stretch of parkland along the water. From the park, you’ll get some nice views of the Yokohama skyline. There are also a few attractions in the park itself.
One is the ship called the Hikawa Maru which was at sea from the 1930s until the 1960s and is now a museum. You can also go up the Yokohama Marine Tower and get a view of the city from 100 metres above the ground.
There are also quite a few statues throughout the park – look out for the one commemorating the introduction of the Western haircut to Japan!
At the northern end of Yamashita Park, take the walkway that leads over to Osanbashi Pier, one of the more interesting examples of design in Yokohama.
Although Osanbashi is technically the oldest pier in Japan, having been originally built in the 1890s, the current design is from 2002. This is where a lot of cruise ships will dock, but it’s worth visiting just as a tourist anyway. The top of the pier is covered in grassy areas and the wooden decking is supposed to represent rolling waves.
It’s about 400 metres long and you get some great views of the Minato Mirai skyline.
Red Brick Warehouse
There are quite a few spots in Yokohama where you can see some of the history of the city as a trading port. One of the most significant is spot called Red Brick Warehouse. These two buildings were constructed around 1910 to be used as customs houses.
They were used for this purpose (as well as a few other things) until 1989. They were then renovated and opened in 2002 as the Red Brick Warehouse that you’ll find today.
The complex houses a collection of shops and restaurants that are popular with locals and tourists. There are also cultural spaces that can be used for exhibitions, performances, and screenings.
This is a good spot to pick up some souvenirs from Yokohama or stop for something to eat or drink.
Marine and Walk
Just a few minutes walk from Red Brick Warehouse, you’ll find Marine and Walk. This is a smaller and more modern shopping centre that has a focus on boutique outlets and trendy restaurants and cafes.
I don’t think it is worth going out of your way to visit but I mention it because it’s so close to other place you’ll probably go, you’ll be easily able to pop in. And if you enjoy shopping or are looking for somewhere nice for lunch, Marine and Walk could be perfect.
Minato Mirai 21
The Minato Mirai 21 development is a large collection of modern buildings that have been built since the 1980s in an attempt to turn a large disused shipyard into a new urban environment. It has worked, and this area is now the iconic image that you see of Yokohama’s skyline.
It’s easy to spend a couple of hours in the Minato Mirai 21 development, just exploring the urban architecture and looking at the various shopping centres and restaurant complexes that exist here. It’s perfect for photography during the day and after dark as well.
Landmark Tower Sky Garden
The most famous part of Minato Mirai 21 is the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the 296 metre high building that was the tallest in Japan until the Abeno Harukas was completed in Osaka in 2014.
Being the second-tallest building in Japan is still pretty impressive and you can go up to a viewpoint that is 273 metres high. The Sky Garden Observatory has amazing views and you can get food and drink up here. Even the super-fast elevator ride up is part of the experience!
Cup Noodles Museum
It may seem like a bit of a strange idea for a museum but I think you’re missing out if you go to Yokohama and skip the Cup Noodles Museum. This large and modern building is a tribute to the sensation of instant noodles that were invented in Japan in 1958 (and have helped millions of students get through university since then).
It is spread out over a number of floors with exhibitions that tell the history of cup noodles, art installations, and a food court.
One of the best parts of the museum is the area where you can make your own cup of instant noodles – including drawing the design on the packaging and choosing the ingredients that will go inside.
Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum
It’s not just cup noodles that are celebrated in Yokohama, but the original ramen noodles as well.
The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is actually more of a food court than a museum, to be honest, but it has been designed to look like an atmospheric snapshot of Tokyo in the 1950s. It has outlets of famous ramen restaurants from around Japan, selling different varieties of the noodles.
The real reason to go to the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is to get a bowl or two of ramen (and that’s a good enough reason for me!). But, if you don’t have the time, you can just go to the most famous ramen restaurant in Yokohama. It’s called Yoshimuraya and you can see it on a map here. (Be warned: there’s usually a long queue.)
Kirin Beer Factory
While I’m on the topic of food and drink, another fun thing to do in Yokohama is go for a tour of the Kirin Beer Factory. The iconic Japanese brand was founded here in Yokohama and helped introduce beer to the country from the Western World.
The brewery tours are free and take just over an hour. You’ll go through the different stages of the production line and then get quite a generous tasting at the end.
You’ll need to reserve a spot on a tour in advance, which you can do on the brewery’s website or by phone. The tours are normally in Japanese but if you tell them in advance you’re a foreigner, they’ll try to arrange and English-speaking guide.
After a long day of sightseeing (or after watching a rugby game), you may want to have a few drinks. Although there are plenty of restaurants and bars in the central part of Yokohama around the train station, I would recommend you head to the Noge district.
Noge is a grid of narrow streets full of small restaurants and bars (called izakayas, in Japanese). They have a range of themes and cuisines, with dishes from across the whole country represented. Some of the bars are small and fit just a few people, while others are a bit bigger.
On the weekends and after sports matches, it’s one of the liveliest parts of Yokohama and has such a fun atmosphere. Not everyone will speak English but go into it with a positive attitude and you’ll have a great time!
All of the things I have recommended so far are places that I have visited myself, so that I know they’re worth seeing. But there are two more places I ran out of time to visit, but are apparently worth seeing:
The Sankeien Garden: This large garden is in the south of Yokohama and you’ll need to get a bus there. As well as having beautiful landscaping of trees, flowers and ponds, there is also a wonderful collection of historic buildings that have been brought here from across Japan.
Yokohama Museum of Art: The Museum of Art is easy to spot in the Minato Mirai 21 district and has an excellent collection of modern art. There are works by famous international artists like Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. But, of course, there are also a lot of important paintings and other pieces from Japanese artists.
TRAVELLING WITH KIDS?
I don’t normally write much about things to do with kids but I want to mention a few places this time because Yokohama has some great options – and because I know a lot of people coming for the Rugby World Cup will visit as a family.
A lot of the places I have already mentioned will be popular with children but these extra ideas are especially aimed at family travel.
Cosmo World: This theme park in the Minato Mirai 21 district has a range of rides from simple attractions for younger children all the way up to a speedy rollercoaster.
Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum: This museum is full of interesting scientific exhibitions, including space travel and deep sea exploration. The robots are a particular highlight. Although it’s aimed at children, adults will enjoy it too.
Hakkeijima Sea Paradise: This large amusement park has a shopping mall, rides, restaurants and even an aquarium. It covers an entire island and is one of Japan’s biggest theme parks.
Zoorasia: This large zoo is just outside central Yokohama and you can get there by bus. It is known for the large enclosures that try to recreate the natural habitats of the animals. There are seven ecological areas and some of the most important animals here are elephants, polar bears, and proboscis monkeys.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Kanagawa Tourism but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.