Tag Archives: Yokohama

Day Trip to Yokohama

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The port city of Yokohama

This past week, Temple University was closed on Friday and Monday, giving students an extended four-day weekend. My friends and I used two of our four days off to travel Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. Yokohama is only an hour and a half away from Tokyo and sits on the waterfront, a notable port city throughout Japan’s history.

My group of friends arrived in Yokohama on Sunday afternoon to explore Minato Mirai, a major business and shopping district in the city. We saw numerous ships docked in the harbor and the pale blue ocean stretching out towards the horizon. Minato Mirai wraps around a concave docking area, so we were able to see the ocean from several vantage points, as we strolled across oceanside bridges and over piers. Most notably, we climbed up Osanbashi pier, a large futuristic, metal and wooden structure with grand decks and outdoor staircases. We also visited the Red Brick Warehouses, historical buildings renovated as a high end shopping mall, theatre, and convention center.

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Evening falling on the Minato Mirai area

A huge tourist attraction in Minato Mirai is the Cupnoodles Museum, dedicated to invention and growth of the Cup Noodle instant ramen brand. We saw timelines of the company, learned of the resourcefulness of Cup Noodle’s company founder, and sampled noodles from around the world. We were even able to make our own Cup Noodle cups, complete with unique toppings and permanent marker decorations.

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Cupnoodle Museum’s instant ramen timeline

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The small theater where we were shown a film on the founding of Cupnoodle

We paid a visit to Cosmoworld, an amusement park in the center of the Minato Mirai area. During the day, the park seemed to contain only innocuous pastel-colored rides, but at night the park glowed with fluorescent electric energy. My friends and I made sure to ride the Cosmo Clock, a giant ferris wheel in the center of the park, with a giant digital clock at its center. The ferris wheel was so large, one rotation took fifteen minutes.  From the top of the Cosmo Clock, we could see the entire city, lit up. Cars looked like crawling ants and small clusters of lit up boats slowly made their way across the pitch black sea.

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The Cosmo Clock at Cosmoland

My favorite place in Yokohama was Chinatown, roughly a fifteen minute walk from Minato Mirai. As someone of Chinese descent, I felt both relief and nostalgia as I recognized the food and atmosphere present in Yokohama’s Chinatown. The tacky linoleum floors, the greasy pan-fried food, the gold-trimmed red signs in doorways promising luck and wealth all seemed familiar to me. My friends and I ate family-style–sharing the same meal from several large dishes–at a Chinese restaurant and then bought cha siu bao (steamed or baked pork buns) and jian dui (fried rice flour balls with sesame seeds on the outside and red bean paste on the inside) from streetside vendors. Red lanterns lighted our way as we shuffled our way through the hot, crowded city streets back to the metropolitan Japan that waited outside of Chinatown’s gilded entrance.

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More Must-Visits in Japan: Release Your Inner Foodie

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There are big differences between the “food culture” of the East and the West, and while there are countless similarities, there are still plenty of unique foods, places to eat, and ways of eating that are fun to discover about both areas. Studying abroad in Japan after living all my years in America, I have enjoyed experiencing excitement and surprise as I uncovered some of the similarities and differences of the two types of food cultures I am now familiar with.

A few of those who will study abroad in Japan after living in the States might be a little disappointed with the disappearances of the kinds of foods they’re used to (cheap peanut butter, for instance, is difficult to find in Japan’s grocery stores, and cereal is also not as big a part of breakfast in Japan so the choices are limited) and the introduction of new foods that take center stage at different meal times. These phenomena take some getting used to, but most of what you’ll eat are things you like because, although restaurants don’t serve typical “American food,” you can still shop for most of your favorites at the markets.

To give you a preview of what you can expect traveling to Japan (from an American’s point of view), I thought I’d introduce you to some of my most frequented food spots and most tasted treats. I have many favorite traditional Japanese places, but these are some of the good eats you may not have heard of!


マルイチベーグル -- See how glorious this giant bagel looks! <3

マルイチベーグル — See how glorious this giant bagel looks!

 

Maruichi Bagel

The first place you should know about if you miss rich, beautifully baked bagels, is Maruichi Bagel (マルイチベーグル) which is right near TUJ and the Shirokane Takanawa Station stop (near the park there). It’s an inconspicuous little shop with a white interior and friendly and sweet staff that get so excited to see customers come in to buy their amazing bagels. Another TUJ student frequents the shop so much that the staff learned his favorite order right away and tried to save a cinnamon raisin bagel for him at the end of his long day of classes! We went in together as the semester came to a close and I mustered up the courage to explain in Japanese that we were heading back to America in a few days, and that it would be our last bagel before we left. They were so sad to see us go! Definitely make a Maruichi bagel your morning breakfast before you finish your walk to TUJ!

Pancakes bigger than your face topped (or put on the side) with a giant mound of whipped cream.

Pancakes bigger than your face topped (or put on the side) with a giant mound of smooth whipped cream.

 

Eggs ‘n Things

One of the top restaurants on your list of places to stuff your face should be Eggs ‘n Things, an extremely popular “all day breakfast” Hawaii-based gem that has several locations in Japan (including Harajuku–convenient if you spend the rest of your day there shopping!). They do feature seafood dinner options, but they are known for their ridiculously enormous pancake and whipped cream set that is available all day and night. Get to these restaurants early though, there’s a wait for their delicious wares!

Spagiro

Missing American or Italian-style spaghetti? Check out Spajiro (すぱじろう) which has eight locations in Japan, including one open for the (very) late night owls of Roppongi (think karaoke!). They have delicious giant bowls of spaghetti in so many styles, and the sizes are all the same price (small, medium, large and for the big eater, extra large). It’s on the cheaper side of the really filling American-sized portion restaurants–even the small size is big enough for those who feel like they are ready to eat a horse! There’s a location in the Azabu-Juban area, which is a ten minute or so walk from TUJ’s Shirokane Takanawa. I’ve been here so many times after wasting time struggling to find dinner spots near TUJ. I usually always find myself trekking the walk to Azabu-Juban to bask in the warm, saucy red glow of a big bowl of Spagiro’s spaghetti.

And for dessert…

St. Marc Cafe (サンマルクカフェ), known for its signiture and original “Chococro” pastry, is an amazing spot for coffee, pastries, and ice cream dishes and there are several of them that will seem to pop out of the woodwork in the spots around Tokyo and Yokohama that you’ll frequent. There are also tons of crepe shops in shopping centers, and two rival shops in Harajuku that serve up some of the best crepes you’ll ever taste. Have fun discovering your own favorite foods in Japan while studying abroad! Just remember to watch how much you dish out on ramen, udon, pancakes, spaghetti, desserts and more! Don’t forget to buy groceries!

Ice cream from St. Marc's and a beautiful pastry behind it!

Ice cream from St. Marc’s and a beautiful pastry behind it!

My favorite dish at Spagiro's (go mushrooms!!).

My favorite dish at Spagiro’s (go mushrooms!!).

Lots to do in Yokohama

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On evenings when I have more assignments to complete, I find myself staying closer to home, as opposed to venturing farther out into Tokyo. This works quite well, fortunately, as Yokohama is just a short train ride away from Hiyoshi. Express trains depart frequently, allowing for even faster service to one of the area’s busiest cities.

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The aesthetically pleasing passageway to Minato Mirai Station

Yokohama is a major city of Japan, located under Tokyo on a map. Hiyoshi is actually in Yokohama, not Tokyo. The bustling city can be reached by taking the Toyoko Line, among others, to Yokohama Station. A number of large shopping destinations can be found in Yokohama, most notably the Vivre building, which houses a number of clothing chains as well as a Book-Off. Other popular locations include a mall inside of Yokohama Station, a street full of Pachinko Parlors, and tons of dining options.

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The Cosmo Clock ferris wheel is an iconic attraction in Yokohama

The image most frequently associated with Yokohama however is Minato Mirai (formally Minato Mirai 21), a popular tourist attraction near Tokyo Bay, just two stops away from Yokohama station. Minato Mirai station connects to multiple shopping destinations, including “Queen’s Palace,” a massive indoor mall with gigantic ceilings and a unique interior.

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The massive World Porters shopping mall

Another notable mall near Minato Mirai is World Porters, a 7+ story building with floors dedicated to clothing, souvenirs, eateries, entertainment, home furnishings, portrait photography and even a spa. My favorite level was the fifth, where “Yokohama Broadway,” a New York-themed hallway lined with makeshift storefronts, led to upscale restaurants and a movie theater.

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A row of game machines in World Porters

Claw and game machines in Tokyo come packed with a variety of unique offerings, including action figures and large stuffed toys. A line of game machines at “Yokohama Broadway,” however, offered luxury items, like expensive desserts, as prizes.

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Possibly the most iconic part of Minato Mirai, however, is Cosmo World, a small amusement park that stretches around the manmade island. Just across the street from Minato Mirai Station are several smaller rides and a series of claw machines and arcade games for children. The park extends into the bay, accessible by crossing a large highway connecting Cosmo World. Here sits the massive ferris wheel “Cosmo Clock,” which can be seen all throughout Minato Mirai and is commonly definitive of Yokohama in photographs, advertisements and guidebooks. The name denotes the large digital clock in the center of the attraction.

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A map showing the layout of Cosmo World

Situated on this half of the park are other several rides, including a log flume and a roller coaster that spirals into an underwater tunnel. A multi-floor arcade, carnival games, food options and tables with chairs atop a wooden deck overlooking the water top off this small but entertaining park. While a ride on the log flume cost over 500 yen, entry to Cosmo World is free, making it a fun place for spectators to visit.

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A beautiful view across Tokyo Bay

Also worth mentioning is the very end of the line, Motomachi-Chukagai Station, where a large localized Chinatown offers unique restaurants and shopping.

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One Friday evening I saw a performance by “Eyes’,” a singer who appears on television. She sang on a restaurant rooftop overlooking Tokyo Bay.

One warm Friday I hit Yokohama, Minato Mirai and Motomachi-Chukagai all in one evening. With a multitude of popular destinations in or around Tokyo to choose from, my time in Japan has been anything but boring.

Chinese New Year in Yokohama Chinatown

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To bring in the Year of the Horse, we headed down to Asia’s largest Chinatown (outside of China, of course): Yokohama, Japan.

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Yokohama is riddled with dark side streets lined with great restaurants, constantly surprising us at every turn.

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While we missed the majority of the traditional dragon dances, we caught a glimpse at the end. The dance is performed outside of stores and restaurants in hopes of bringing luck for the community.

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Chinatown was hypnotizing with endless color and decoration everywhere we looked. It was beautiful and bright, especially after sundown.

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After strolling for a while and smelling the amazing aromas wafting out of the countless restaurants, we began to get hungry.

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There was an overwhelming amount of choices, most notably was this display of shark-fin soup!

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We settled for dumplings instead of mysterious sharkmeat. There was a massive steamer outside of this restaurant that we just couldn’t pass up.

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After stuffing ourselves with dumplings, we had to satisfy the sweet tooth. Street food is plentiful, especially for jin deui:  a fried Chinese pastry made of rice flour, usually filled with sweet bean paste.

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The pastry is covered in sesame seeds for a pleasant crunchiness. It’s delicious when it’s fresh and warm!

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Out of all of our experiences during the Chinese New Year, just the slow exploration of the area was the most exciting. Fortune telling was a popular venue in the neighborhood.

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And just when we thought we had gotten used to Yokohama, we suddenly were audience to an impressive car show!  A happy new year indeed.

Seen a Hina-Matsuri?

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Seen a Hina-Matsuri?

It was March 3rd this past Saturday, and like many famous Japanese holidays, this holiday fell on an odd-number day.

Think about it: 1/1 is the day after New Year’s (お正月), 3/3 is Girls’ Day (雛祭り), 5/5 is Children’s Day (子供の日), and 7/7 is The Lovers/Star festival (七夕). This past weekend meant Girls’ Day was in session.

Why couldn’t Haru have planned to stay in Japan till after May 5th?! Children’s Day is also thought of as a Boys’ Day… It would have been so much more fun then.

But since it was Girl’s Day, Haru went out and bought stuff – girly stuff to be specific. Take a look at this! It’s called Hina-Arare (ひなあられ), or “snow pellets.” There was nothing cold about them. Just popped rice with a sugary coating, and voila! – snow pellets. There were even pink-white-green Hishi Mochi (菱餅) being sold, but she decided her snow pellets contained enough sugar to keep her awake for a week.

I suppose Haru was a little irritated with my sourness. She said to “stuff it.”

Next was dinner, which was o-sekihan (お赤飯), which was rice mixed with sweet azuki beans to give it its red color and sweet taste. It’s one of Haru’s host sisters’ favorite dishes. Talk about a sweet tooth!

So as I was pouting, the girls looked at me mischievously. Identical eerie grins split their faces, making me concerned. Very, very concerned.

Wondering if there was something funny going on, I looked everywhere. That’s when I noticed these two hiding under my elbow. Sure they startled me, but it was more because this was the first time I’ve seen dolls that were smaller than me.

That’s when I noticed one of their heads was wobbling… AND NO ONE WAS TOUCHING IT.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

… I wasn’t scared! I just felt like raising my arms, okay?! It’s called exercise. There was too much sugar consumed that one day, so someone had to do it!

After having her fair share of sweetened red rice, it was time to take photos of less disturbing dolls.

Did you know that for every daughter in a Japanese family, it’s tradition for them have to have a set of Hina dolls (雛人形)? This elegant pair belongs to Tomomi, the older daughter in our host family.

This set belongs to Minori, the younger daughter. She wanted Haru to take a picture of them kissing…gross, gross, GROSS!

These dolls were made to represent the Emperor and Empress of the Heian Imperial Court, the era from which the tradition of making Hina dolls originated. And it’s not just the Emperor and Empress dolls – it was the entire Imperial court! That would mean a seven-tiered set. HUGE, not to mention EXPENSIVE. Some sets can cost thousands in US dollars! I have a piggy bank back home that Haru gave me, and I’ve got a few dollars saved up, but it took me forever. I can’t imagine how long it would take to save up for a set – not that I, as a boy, ever would!

So for the sake of space and money, both Tomomi and Minori each only have a pair of official Emperor-Empress dolls.  The rest, they made on their own!

And as beloved as their dolls are, their mother put them away by the end of the night. There’s a superstition that says if the dolls are left out until the next morning after March 3rd, the daughters will have bad luck and get married late. If you ask me though, I think most people these days like getting married later rather than sooner. Haru said I’m going to become a cynic at this rate, but also admitted that she was one too.

Minori also showed us a little drawer with candy offerings to the dolls. Real cute…  and real girly! Yuck!

Ever the practical joker, Minori decided that playing with her Hina dolls was not enough, so she tried dragging me into her games.

GIRLS – I don’t get them at all! They must be aliens or something! What a nightmare!

But according to this worn out Kuma-chan here, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Till next time!

Rowan

Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

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Mango Snowballs and Dragon Parades

Spring is here! And that means – go to Yokohama’s Chinatown and see how spring flings are really flung.

Did you know Yokohama’s known for its diversity here in Japan? I know I didn’t, but there are huge cultural communities here, including Hispanics, Indians,  Filipinos, Koreans, and more. One of the biggest hotspots though is Yokohama’s Chinatown, Yokohama Chukagai (横浜中華街). There are other Chinatowns riddled throughout Japan, like Kobe Chinatown and Nagasaki Chinatown, but Yokohama’s is arguably the most well-known.

On top of being one of the biggest Chinatowns around, it also throws some of the biggest parties. While Haru and her host family didn’t get to go to Chinatown for Chinese New Years (it would have been impossible to navigate around anyway), they got to go see this particular event: The Spring Festival (春節).

Parents even had little kids sitting on their heads just get a glimpse of the show.

Of course, it’s to see one of these – and to get one to “bite” your head to make you smart (頭がいい). Luckily, I was inside Haru’s bag when all this was going on. I’ll be honest and tell you I don’t like seas made of people and scary dragons flying around the place.

Nearby to  the event grounds is a really famous temple, Kanteibyō (関帝廟). It’s another must see here in Chukagai!

After that, it was time to tour the rest of town. Including, food, food, and more food. Here’s a “mango snowball” which is shaved ice with mangoes on top. But there is something unique about the shaved ice because it melts in your mouth in such a way, that it feels more like snow than shaved ice.

Haru also bought ice cream (again) in the middle of a cold spell. It may look like vanilla ice cream, but this is actually almond flavored. If you’ve never tried almond ice cream, you really should. It’ll turn anyone into a sweet tooth addict.

Now, some foods are made of ice. But others come in plastic or billboard.

Later when it was finally time to visit Yamashita Park (山下公園), I wanted to get some fresh air. I was really groggy at first. But soon came to realize this place had been very different than anywhere else I had been to in Japan so far.

But even with Haru and Kristina, I still felt… lonely.

Haru loves the sea though, and made sure she and Kristina spent plenty of time looking around the boardwalk and taking pictures. Beyond where I’m pointing is Sakuragicho (桜木町). It’s got a ferris wheel there, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to go on it.

I garnered a lot of attention from other visitors, including a sweet, old lady, who was the only one unafraid of coming up to Haru and telling her I was adorable. She really brightened up my day! It’s always nicer to hear people say that, than hear people say how creepy I look. Really now! I’m right there, and I understand everything perfectly too. I just can’t say anything or look angry – the downsides of being born with a resin face.

Behind her was the Hikawa Maru (氷川丸), an old Japanese Ocean Liner. This old ship survived World War 2, and has a very long history. Now, it’s a floating museum, which Haru was too much of a lazy-bum to go see. But seeing it from afar was already pretty cool. SHIP AHOY, MATEYS!

At the end of the day, I couldn’t help but have a look at the nice sunset. Yamashita Park is known as a popular site for couples and friends to meet. Haru tells me Valentine’s Day is next week, so it will be very crowded then. I might as well get a good look at the place while the quiet lasts.

Omake (おまけ) – extra things – including possessed, singing pandas, Hello Kitty pandas, and panda doorways. In other words, a whole lot of pandas.

Rowan