Being located in close proximity to Tokyo (東京), Yokohama (横浜) is a popular day trip destination for many domestic and international tourists. As there is such a wide array of attractions to see and experience, both traditional and modern, as well as a variety of cuisines for you to savor, you will most likely have to spend more than just a day here or swing by multiple times to experience everything the city has to offer.
Do you know that there is a royal family of towers here which are said to be able to make your wishes come true? Join me on this journey to find out more about the trio and what’s so interesting about them!
The Yokohama Santou (横浜三塔) i.e. the Yokohama Three Towers is a term locally used in reference to the three towers in the Kannai area (関内地区) of Yokohama’s Naka Ward (横浜市中区). The three towers are the King Tower (キングの塔) – the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building (神奈川県庁本庁舎), the Queen Tower (クイーンの塔) – Yokohama Customs building (横浜税関), and the Jack Tower (ジャックの塔) – Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall building (横浜市開港記念会館).
At the time when they were constructed, there were not many high-rise buildings in the vicinity, thus the trio was regarded as a point of reference for ships entering Yokohama Port at that time. The foreign sailors who entered Yokohama Port then nicknamed the three towers using the three characters of the king, queen, and jack in poker cards and saw these buildings as a symbol to pray for their safety while at sea.
As a result of Yokohama’s long-standing tradition in the usage of these names, the urban development plan of the Minato Mirai area (みなとみらい地区) later incorporated these elements to be used on significant buildings and zones. The King Axis (キング軸) extends from Yokohama Station (横浜駅) to the seafront, the Queen Axis (クイーン軸) extends from Sakuragicho Station (桜木町駅) to the seafront, while the Grand Mall Axis (グランモール軸) connects the first two axes.
March 10 of every year is designated as the Day of Yokohama Three Towers (横浜三塔の日) since the Japanese reading of the date (3/10) is the same as “santou” i.e. three towers. Since 2007, the Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau (横浜観光コンベンション・ビューロー) organizes various events on the Sunday nearest to the 10th of March. The 2016 edition was held on March 6 as it was a Sunday which included a variety of events such as a memorial lecture, a traditional music concert, a guided tour to climb the Jack tower, one-day-only Port Opening Cafe with a Taisho-era (大正時代) theme, design and production of limited edition souvenirs and memorabilia as well as an open house access to all three buildings. Most of the events are free of charge for the participants but tickets are given on a first-come, first-served basis.
The King i.e. the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building (Japanese only) was built in 1928 during the Showa era (昭和時代) after its previous building burnt down during the Great Kanto earthquake (関東大震災). Its 49-meter (approximately) tall tower is a blend of Eastern and Western influences as it was modeled after the traditional five-storied pagoda and designed in the imperial crown architectural style which was very popular in the early days of the Showa era. The King was also the first building in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県) to be designated as a tangible cultural asset. As there are a few buildings in this style which are still standing, the King is highly valued for its historical, artistic, and architectural significance. Inside the building, it is decorated with “hosoge (宝相華),” the legendary flower in paradise which was considered very rare in public buildings at that time. After sunset, the building’s facade is lit up until 10:00 pm every night.
If you wish to visit the building’s historical exhibition hall on the 6th floor and its rooftop observatory, it is open on weekdays from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm except on national holidays. The volunteer guides stationed at this building who are called “King Supporters” will show you around places such as the governor’s office (although it’s just looking from the outside), the old assembly hall, and the guest room which are usually not open to public access.
To get to the King, you can take the JR Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line (JR京浜東北線 根岸線) or the Yokohama Municipal Subway Line (横浜市営地下鉄) and get off at Kannai Station (関内駅) before walking for another 10 minutes to your destination. If you take the Minatomirai Line (みなとみらい線), alight at the Nihon-odori Station (日本大通り駅) and make an exit at the Prefectural Government Building Exit where you can see the King immediately.
The Queen i.e. Yokohama Customs building (Japanese only) was rebuilt in 1934 as the original building collapsed and burnt down in 1923 due to the Great Kanto earthquake. Initially, the tower was meant to be 47 meters high. However, the 22nd Customs Superintendent Kaneko Ryuzo (金子隆三) wanted the tower to be higher since Yokohama was supposed to be Japan’s gateway to the world and that it should tower over the rest of the buildings in the city to show its superiority. As such, the tower’s height was subsequently raised to 51 meters which make it the highest in the royal family of towers. In order to soften the serious image which the Customs Department projects, the building’s tower was designed to include a green-blue mosque-style dome while its interior decor featured Romanesque art style with beige porcelain tiles.
The information exhibition hall on the first floor of the building which is named Queen no Hiroba (クイーンのひろば) or The Queen’s Square (Japanese only) is open to the public for free every day except during national holidays. Opening hours are between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm from October to April, while the closing time is extended by one hour to 5:00 pm from May to September.
There are a number of ways to get to the Queen as outlined below:
- Take bus no. 26 from Yokohama Station’s East Exit’s bus interchange and alight at the bus stop Yokohama Zeikan Mae (横浜税関前) before walking for a minute to the building.
- Take the Minatomirai Line and get off at Nihon-odori Station before walking for another 3 minutes.
- Take the Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line or the Municipal Subway and get off at Kannai Station before walking for another 15 minutes.
- Take the Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line or the Municipal Subway and get off at Sakuragicho Station before walking for another 20 minutes.
— Japan-Hotel-Reserve (@japan_hotel) 2015年12月22日
The Jack i.e. Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall was conceptualized in 1909 as a commemorative project to mark the 50th anniversary of Yokohama’s port opening but was only completed in 1917 thanks to the donations from the city’s residents. Unfortunately, the building was burnt down during the Great Kanto earthquake so it was restored in 1927 with reinforcements in its structure while maintaining most of its original design. Since 1959, the memorial hall has been used as a municipal hall and in 2017, the Jack will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. This red brick building designed in the Tatsuno free classic style (辰野式フリークラシック), which is also used in other buildings such as the Tokyo Station, comprises of a 36-meter high clock tower on its southeastern side and an octagon-shaped dome on both the southwestern and northwestern sides of the building’s compound.
During the usual opening days, you will be able to walk around in the building’s corridors, admire its interior decor and stained glass, as well as visit the information hall on the second floor between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm every day. However, they are closed every 4th Monday of the month (the next day if that Monday is a public holiday) and on New Year holidays between 29 December and 3 January.
To visit the Jack, you can take the following routes to the building:
- Take the JR Keihin Tohoku Negishi Line to Kannai Station and leave via the South Exit and walk for 10 minutes.
- Take the Minatomirai Line, alight at Nihon-odori Station, and leave via the no. 1 exit and walk for 1 minute.
At present, there are three viewing spots in Yokohama where you can see the three towers at the same time – in front of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building on Nihon Odori Street, at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse (横浜赤レンガ倉庫), and at the Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal (大さん橋国際客船ターミナル). It is said that if you visit these three places within a day, your wish will come true. For lovers who tour these viewing points and the three towers, legend has it that the couple will have a long-lasting relationship and a happy ending because these buildings withstood the test of time through natural disasters and war in the past. As these three vantage points are located within a radius of 100 meters and since there are clear signs in the area, it is quite easy to find and visit them.
The vantage point in front of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building is marked by a metal plate in the shape of a compass which also allows you to see the entire building and the rows of ginkgo trees along the Nihon Odori Street.
The viewing point on Osanbashi(大さん橋)’s rooftop deck which is nicknamed “Kujira no Senaka (くじらのせなか)” has a round-shaped sign at the middle of the deck which also contains a picture of the three towers. If you look down from the deck, there is a bigger drawing of the three towers on the event square as shown in the photo above. Although this viewing point is elevated and should offer a better view than the other vantage points, the potential pitfall here is that the view may get blocked when there are cruise ships docked at the terminal.
Last but not least, the viewing point at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse is red in color. From this position, you will be able to get a very clear view of the three towers especially the Queen.
According to the Yokohama Visitor’s Guide website (Japanese only), the recommended order to visit the towers and viewing points is as follows:
- Get to the Nihon-odori Station on the Minatomirai Line and leave by Exit 1.
- Walk for 1 minute to visit the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall i.e. the Jack.
- Walk to visit the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building i.e. the King.
- Visit the vantage point in front of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building.
- Visit the Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal vantage point.
- Walk along the Rinko-sen Promenade (臨港線プロムナード) towards the Yokohama Customs building i.e. the Queen.
- Finally, visit the vantage point at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse.
In case you are unaware, there is another tower in Yokohama which is usually not mentioned together with the three towers. The Dome of Ace (エースのドーム) i.e. the old building of Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History (神奈川県立歴史博物館) was built in 1904 as the headquarters of the old Yokohama Specie Bank (旧横浜正金銀行本店本館) which makes it the oldest among the towers and was nicknamed as such due to its Neo-Baroque style dome structure.
Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History Website *Japanese only
Having read so much about Yokohama’s royal family of towers, how about including these in your itinerary next time? Make your wishes come true while having fun touring these landmarks in the city.