Yokohama smelled good, like steamed dumplings and ramen. Of course, I was standing in the middle of Yokohama’s Chinatown, the largest in both Japan and Asia, so that might have had something to do with it. Located at Motomachi Chukagai station, it is about a forty-minute ride by express train from central Tokyo.
Walking down a narrow street crammed with restaurants, I scanned the multitude of choices. The prices were expensive, probably due to the fact that the Chinese food here is more authentic than usual Chinese fare in the rest of Japan, requiring ingredients to be imported from China. The fact that the place was a haven for tourists didn’t help either. Chinese food is popular in Japan but much of it has been modified for Japanese tastes. The plastic food models in the restaurant windows looked a little different though.
Settling on a modestly-priced restaurant offering a course for 2,100 yen, I entered, greeted by the smell of stir-fried beef and green peppers. The restaurant was beautiful inside, the wood lattice work directly inspired from China. The staff was all Chinese and as I sipped on my jasmine tea and stared at a giant laughing Buddha figure in the corner, I waited in anticipation for the first course. A bowl of steaming egg drop soup was promptly delivered, followed by a plate of chili-shrimp. As I dug in, the rest of the course ensued; fried rice with large chunks of juicy ham, perfectly-folded dim sum, stir-fried beef with a sweet sauce, and a mildly-sweet tofu dessert to top it all off. As I left the restaurant, I definitely felt I had gotten my money’s worth.
Walking out of the restaurant and into the early night, I decided to take a rest under a red and green pagoda nearby and consult my guidebook for some facts about Yokohama.
Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city, after Tokyo. It was the first city to open up to foreign trade, when in 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry arrived from America with a fleet of ships. The rest is history. Yokohama became a major silk trader and through Yokohoma, many Western influences came to Japan’s shores; gas-powered street lamps and the first railway among them.
I decided to take a taxi to Yokohama’s waterfront and arrived there minutes later. The night was beautiful. Lights from Yokohama Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building, reflected in the bay waters and both Japanese and foreign couples strolled hand in hand, perhaps heading to Yamashita Park (a park built out of the rubble from the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923). From where I was standing near Yokohama station, I could see the Cosmo Clock 21, a huge, brightly-lit Ferris wheel (doubling as a clock and once the largest Ferris wheel in the world) and the Yokohama Bay Bridge. A huge shopping center advertising a variety of international clothing brands including UK high-street chain store Topshop and Next glowed in front of me. A New York diner to my right, offering “pie and coffee,” teemed with customers. A man wearing a Yokohama Bay Stars baseball shirt asked me if I was lost. No, I told him, just confused. Was I still in Japan
Of course I was still in Japan, I reassured myself, staring up at the glowing lights of the busy train station behind me. Looking down at my shinkansen ticket, I knew it was time to go but if I was lucky, there was just enough time for a piece of pie and some coffee.