Things to See and Do in Yokohama: Past, Present & Future

  • History
  • Who knew a small sleepy fishing village of the Edo period would one day become the legendary “Port of Yokohama”? Yokohama is the port that opened Japan to the world about 165 years back when the fleet of US naval warships arrived at the Honshu coast of Japan forcing the end of its long isolation. “Yokohama” in Japanese literally means a horizontal beach, named due to its appearance when looked back at from the sea.

    In spite of being drastically damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake and the fire in 1923 and then the Allied Air Raids during World War 2, Yokohama still managed to rise up like a Phoenix from the ashes. Today the city of Yokohama stands tall as the second largest city in Japan by population and development, almost indistinguishable from Tokyo.

    Yokohama, Tokyo’s less crowded sister, feels world’s apart with its relaxed marina views, chic atmosphere and contemporary vibes.


    Author’s Photo

    When someone says “Yokohama” today the city immediately conjures the giant Ferris wheel image, the unapologetically neon-lit streets of Chinatown and the affluent bay-side, but we suggest you explore a bit further.

    Rapidly developed over the years the city has a powerful economic base in biotechnology, semiconductors and shipping sectors. Having some of the leading universities of the country along with many elementary and middle schools facilities Yokohama is one of the preferred cities to settle in for locals and even the foreign expats living in Japan. A major commercial and entertainment hub, Yokohama just about a 30 minutes from central Tokyo makes for that perfect day trip.

    If time is not a constraint, spend the weekend here jaunting through the charming Noge area which definitely takes you back in time, slurping through the alleys, or maybe relish in some hand-whisked matcha with some delicate but elegant sweets in the Sankeien garden over a lazy afternoon, stroll through the Yamashita Park admiring the port and the docked beauties from yesteryear’s, or watch the glorious Yokohama Sunset from the Redbrick Warehouse taking in the iconic Skyline with a drink in hand.

    Author’s Photo

    Yokohama also hosts quite a few museums, like the super popular Cup Noodles Museum, a Ramen Museum where you can taste different ramens, and the Kirin Beer Factory where they conduct beer tasting tours for visitors. If you are a lover of the performing arts and culture a historical visit to the Yokohama Noh Theater is much needed, art being one of the best ways to understand a civilization.

    From Yokohama’s Past to the Present

    Red Brick Warehouse

    Author’s Photo

    A walk by the Yamashita park towards Osanbashi pier is a great place to start any trip to Yokohama, to be at the historical pier where it all began 150 years back.
    Visit the Yokohama’s Red Brick Warehouse just at the pier which was initially a customs building in the mid 1800’s. It’s an architectural marvel which shows prominent shades of Western architecture, even though it’s built by a Japanese architect. Today it hosts bistros, microbreweries, a shopping mall, banquet venues and a galore of inviting entertainment and dinning outlets. Catch an enviable sunset skyline from the Tune Balcony, dinning and bar if you are there at the end of the day.

    Author’s Photo

    Yokohama is also known for its vibrant jazz scene, being full of jazz cafes, some of them having existed for decades. So, diving straight into some live jazz over cocktails is recommended. Motion Blue Yokohama has a reputation for getting the very best talent on the stage. The very glamorous evening at Motion Blue also comes with a delightful french fusion gastronomy detour to the heart. The very suave, chic Motion Blue Yokohama definitely makes quite an impression and is a must try in our list for a night out in the city. Apart from Motion blue Yokohama, yuo can go bar-hopping and see what else you can find.

    Red Brick Warehouse website

    Sankeien Garden

    Author’s Photo

    A stroll in the pristine Sankeien Garden is like turning pages of history understanding how a wealthy Yokohama businessman named “Sankei” built a fortune trading silk and raw silk and made a garden with that fortune. Sankeien Garden built in 1868 is a sprawling 175,000 square meters in size and is divided in two parts – the outer garden and the inner garden. The outer garden was made open for the public in 1906, but the inner garden was always used privately by Sankei.
    The classic beauty and perfect harmony of the garden is enhanced by 17 historical structures: temples and buildings of historical figures gathered from Kyoto, Kamakura and all across Japan all displayed in this garden, the oldest dating back to 1457.

    Author’s Photo

    The garden hosts the Yokohama traditional artisans exhibition since 1996 recognizing artisans with exceptional skills and aims to promote local craftsmanship.The display is exquisite with works of a Kimono makers, lacquerware makers, sheet metal craftsmen, Obi sash makers, bamboo fishing pole makers, bamboo craft makers, tatami mat makers, stonemasons, seal engravers, floral arrangement artists and many more.

    Author’s Photo

    The garden from every angle provides for a distinct outstanding scenery which changes season to season.
    A traditional Japanese matcha tea is best enjoyed in the Japanese garden served with “Rakugan” a classical Japanese sweet delight (basically rice-flour base filled with bean paste). There is an embossed picture of Sankeien Garden and the pagoda on the sweets on each Rakugan, made in Kyoto, and they can also be bought separately at the souvenir shop for munching pleasures or as a gift.


    Yokohama Noh Theater

    Author’s Photo

    Delve into Japan’s intangible cultural heritage of performing arts at the the Yokohama Noh Theater. Also known as Japanese Opera, Noh is the oldest surviving theatrical art in Japan going back six hundred years. It has evolved over time and had reached its present form in the mid Edo period between 1603 to 1867.

    Noh was perfected by the feudal warrior class the Daimyo and the Samurai as art it is an embodiment of the spirit, aesthetic and the outlook of the warrior. Noh has elements of both dance and music, the musical context is known as “hayashi” , the chanting or singing as “Utai” and the dance element as “Mai”. The dance form in Noh is quite controlled and restrained and the basic motion is a pattern based on a kind of a sliding step in which the foot is not lifted from the stage floor. Another unique feature of the Japanese performing arts is that all the artists are only men and frequently masked. Noh often confused with Kabuki but the demarcation is vivid, Kabuki is a constantly evolving theatrical form and in that sense describes itself as always “Imperfect” while Noh is a completed performing art from which all the extraneous elements have been stripped away leaving it in the most classic, unchanging way, describes itself as a “Perfected” form.

    Author’s Photo

    Yokohama Noh Theater is an ideal platform to experience 140 years of history live on stage.This theater is known for its expertise in planning and producing traditional Japanese theater and new works through international collaboration programs. The Yokohama Noh theater has been honored with many awards over the years the Saika Award (2004), JAFRA (Ministry of International affairs award 2006), Excellence Award for the Agency of Cultural Affairs Arts Festival (2009), Grand Prize for the Agency of Cultural Affairs Arts Festival (2015) and Award for distinguished service of barrier-free and universal design promotion “State Minister for Special Missions prize of excellence” in 2015 for its contribution to the Industry.


    Yokohama and Future Developments

    Photo by Nagatoshi Shimamura on Unsplash
    Photo by Nagatoshi Shimamura on Unsplash

    Yokohama doesn’t only rely on its glorious past, but actively tries to embody the future embracing new developments.

    In Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture, stands the Nissan Olympics 2020 multi-purpose sports stadium which boasts a seating capacity of 72,327 spectators – the largest seating capacity of any stadium in Japan.
    The hospitality industry in Yokohama is expected to have a boost during the period and rapid developments around Minato Mirai21 and other areas before The Olympics in 2020.

    Furthermore, Yokohama featured new technologies at 2019 Tokyo Motor Show as it participated in the 46th Tokyo Motor Show held at Tokyo Big Sight this October. Yokohama introduces excellent technology development capabilities and features a future technologies corner that will provide a glimpse into the many changes that are expected to shape the future of automobiles. The CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared & Services) technology is expected to see rapid application as well as environmental technologies that will help realize a sustainable society.

    Photo by Arthur Mazi on Unsplash
    Photo by Arthur Mazi on Unsplash

    Yokohama has become the closest city to Africa in Japan through the experience of hosting the Tokyo International Conference on African Development twice in the past in 2008 and 2013. As the host city, Yokohama has actively shared its advanced infrastructure technology and know-how in urban development with African countries while working to enhance mutual understanding. Especially working in 3 areas with this years opportunity to host a conference again in Technical cooperation, business and women’s empowerment and next generation people to people exchange.

    Yokohama is also working on being a low-carbon emission urban society and plans actions against climate change.Yokohama aims to cut 16% of greenhouse gas emission by 2020, 24% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 compared to 2005. Yokohama’s city energy action plan has been established to promote climate change countermeasures. The Yokohama smart city program has been running successfully with the support of many leading companies since 2010. Going forward Yokohama city works with stakeholders, various collaborations and the government for a better tomorrow and Yokohama.

    More to do in Yokohama

    Read more from Yokohama Archives of History:

    Yokohama city website

    – written by Nupur