World Facts Index > Japan > Yokohama

Most travelers begin their visit at Yokohama Station, where the JR Tokaido Line joins with seven other railways running northeast to Tokyo and south and west to Ofuna, Kamakura, Nagoya and beyond. Here you will find helpful travel insights at the JR Travel Service Center and the Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) Information Office. You will also discover the largest commercial zone in the city, a shopper's delight with Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi, and Sogo department stores, plus Porta Shopping Plaza, surrounding the mammoth intersection of tracks. Numerous banks, the Yokohama Central Post Office, two busy expressways, the municipal subway, dozens of tall office buildings and an array of fine hotels make the station area the right stop for business travelers as well as tourists.

Take note, however: The JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen "bullet train" does not stop at Yokohama Station. That terminal is Shin-Yokohama Station, roughly three miles north of the city center, where Yokohama Arena and a new complex of offices and hotels are to be found.

To most Yokohamans, the real heart of the city is the waterfront district, Kannai, where the port authority, customs house, municipal and prefectural government offices are located. Adjacent to Kannai Station on the JR Keihin-Tohoku Line, is Yokohama City Hall and Yokohama Stadium. A stroll towards the bay will bring you past Yokohama Park to the Silk Museum and the Yokohama Archives of History. Then, along the water's edge you will encounter a number of grand hotels, the famous shoreline park Yamashita Koen, and such landmarks as Marine Tower (built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the port), Osanbashi Pier with its many huge ships, the blue-lit Yokohama Bay Bridge stretching 860 meters toward Tokyo, and the old Red Brick Warehouse area (often used as a historic location by filmmakers). If you head inland from Kannai, you will also have the opportunity to see a mile-long greenbelt known as Odori Park, resplendent with its many trees and flowers, as well as sculptures by such famous artists as Henry Moore.

A bit further on from Kannai, near Ishikawacho Station, is the Motomachi Shopping Center, with its fashionable shops, trendy restaurants and tea salons. Once there, you will be just a few minutes' walk from Japan's largest Chinatown district, chukagai, where the main attraction is more than 160 restaurants serving food that rivals the best of Shanghai, Canton and Beijing. When you take time to rest your taste buds, you are bound to be amazed by the variety of curio shops, herbalists, and import boutiques that teem the streets, too, between the four huge gates that mark the boundaries of Chinatown proper. Gaijin Bochi, the "foreigners cemetery," is also in the Ishikawacho/Chinatown vicinity.

Natural points of interest on any tour of Yokohama are the bluffs and lush parks which surround the city, such as Harbor View Hill Park for the perfect night view, the 170,000-square-meter Sankei-en with its 500-yearold pagoda, and Nogeyama Park, which features its own zoo, library, swimming pool and observatory.

No visit to modern Yokohama would be complete, however, without spending time at the Minato Mirai 21 Area. Located on the bay just between Yokohama Station and Kannai , it has, in just a few short years, become one of the city's most popular attractions. This is the site of the stunning Landmark Tower, noted for its avant-garde architecture as well as its colossal size (at 70 stories, it is the nation's tallest building). Serving this futuristic zone are three top-class hotels, the convention facilities of Yokohama Pavilion and the Pacifico Exhibition Complex, a national auditorium, the Yokohama Museum of Arts, and one of the country's most popular amusement parks, Yokohama Cosmo World. Come here to ride the world's largest Ferris wheel, Cosmo Clock or to tour the Nippon Maru exploration ship. You will want to allow an entire day for this "Harbor City of the Future."

With all these attractions in mind, you are beginning to understand why Yokohama residents feel little need to travel across the Kanagawa River to Tokyo. Every convenience of a world-class city--the culture, the shopping, the services, the recreation--exists right here in their own back yard.

History of Yokohama

While the city of Yokohama is a relatively recent phenomenon, the immediate area is a treasure chest of historical sites, including the Otsuka and Saikachido sites dating from the Yayoi Period (300BC - 300AD). And Kamakura, which was the capital during the Kamakura Shogunate (1192 - 1333), has a plethora of ancient temples and historical sites as well as the Kanazawa Bunko library that was founded in 1275. The history of Yokohama itself, however, really started in the middle of the 19th century.

On July 8, 1853, a fleet of four American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry arrived at Uraga, just south of Yokohama. Perry was carrying a letter from the President of the United States to the Emperor of Japan demanding that Japan open itself to international trade. After handing over the letter, Perry left Japan saying that he would be back one year later for an answer. Little did anyone realize that Perry's visit would lead to the elevation of an obscure fishing village on the southwestern coast of Tokyo Bay into the second largest city in Japan. But that is exactly the effect it had.

At the time of Perry's visit, Japan was under the control of the Tokugawa Shogunate, which had been established by Ieyasu Tokugawa after his victory in the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600. Ieyasu established his capital at Edo (present day Tokyo) and Yokohama came under direct shogunal jurisdiction.

In 1636, the Shogunate introduced an edict forcing total isolation on the country. No one was allowed in (with the exception of a small group of Chinese and Dutch traders, who were confined to Dejima, an artificial island just off the coast from Nagasaki), and no one was allowed out. This policy was strictly enforced until Perry arrived. Although the Japanese were loathe to open up their country to foreigners and dangerous foreign influence, the sight of Perry's steam-driven warships, which the Japanese called Kurofune, or "Black Ships," startled them. They realized that they were technologically inferior to the Americans and that if it came to hostilities, they would be hard pushed to defend Edo against the powerful cannons on the American warships.

When Perry returned in 1854, the Japanese signed the Kanagawa Treaty opening two ports, Shimoda and Hakodate, to American ships. In 1858, the US-Japan Treaty of Amity was signed, opening up six ports to foreign trade, including Kanagawa. One year later, the trading rights for foreigners were transferred to Yokohama, a sleepy little fishing village at the time. Thus began the transformation that was to turn Yokohama into one of the most famous port cities in the world.

Yokohama was selected as the base for foreigners as it was far enough away from Edo to prevent unnecessary contact with the foreigners, whom the Japanese called ketojin, or "hairy barbarians." The settlement was surrounded by a moat and divided into two sections: Kangai (outside the barrier) and Kannai (inside the barrier), and the foreigners were located in Kannai, which has since become the very heart of the city.

Relations between fanatic Japanese isolationists and the foreign traders were tense. In the first year, five foreigners were murdered. Things came to a head in September 1862 when Charles Richardson, a British merchant, was hacked to death by the bodyguard of the Daimyo, or "Lord," of Satsuma (now Kagoshima). Great Britain declared war on Satsuma and extracted retribution.

As the foreign traders flocked to Yokohama, the village was transformed into a hub of commercial activity and subsequent development. It grew in significance as a port when, in 1872, the first railroad in Japan connected Yokohama with Shimbashi in Tokyo and in 1889 it was constituted as a city with an area of 5.5 square kilometers and a population of 116,193.

Yokohama has continued to grow ever since, despite two major disasters; one natural and one induced by man. On September 1, 1923, the Kanto Plain was hit by a major earthquake, measuring 7.9 in magnitude on the Japanese scale. Yokohama was practically obliterated by the seismic shocks, the devastating fires that swept through the city, and the tsunami tidal wave that followed. Reconstruction efforts quickly restored the port and its function as a gateway to the nation. But in May 1945, as the Pacific Front of World War II moved to Japanese soil, most of the business areas and more than half of the port facilities were destroyed by Allied air raids. By 1952, the port was again reopened, this time with more modern shipping and railway facilities to establish Yokohama as one of the world's great commercial centers.

In 1985, when the population of Yokohama passed the 3 million mark, the city was already planning for the future. One of the most important projects in the city's history was announced. This was the development of Minato Mirai 21. The idea behind this project was to create "an information city of the 21st century incorporating an international culture center that was active around the clock." And it was to provide a "human environment surrounded by water, greenery, and history". A visit to this fascinating waterfront area will confirm the accuracy of that vision and just how far Yokohama has come since Perry's Black Ships first entered Uraga Bay.


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