Classes are over. Finals are over. In fact, my time in Japan is effectively over. I had my first real, commitment-free day of summer this past Tuesday and I spent the majority of it at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School, the site of my internship, eating lunch with my boss, seeing some of my
students friends, and helping teach English to the most endearing elementary school children on the planet. Though summer break is in effect for Kanasoh, I suppose some students, much like me, just couldn’t stay away. After I bid them adieu and saw the elementary schoolers off, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the beautiful Yokohama bay area. My plans to pay homage to everyone’s favorite instant ramen at the Cup Noodle Museum were foiled by a “closed” sign, so I meandered around the waterfront and enjoyed the salt breeze instead. I then took a trip up Japan’s fastest elevator to the top of the Yokohama Landmark Tower and Skygarden to take in the stunning views of the bay and cityscape. Passing cargo ships carved patterns into the sparkling blue water. The glassy buildings of downtown Yokohama glimmered in a hushed blanket of photochemical smog, intensified by the humidity. Yokohama seems to sprawl out forever—flat bay land giving way to hills and valleys. It’s impossible to tell where this city ends and the next city in the Tokyo Metro Area begins in the continuous expanse of concrete and glass. The city of Yokohama itself has about 3,700,000 people, making it just a little smaller than Los Angeles.
Its Chinatown is a grand expression of all things both stereotypically and more traditionally Chinese. Hundreds of restaurants, all seemingly selling the same dishes, line the streets, inviting in the hungry tourist with colorful picture menus. Souvenir shops punctuate lantern-lit alleys and if I wanted a fan, a charm, or a lucky cat, I’d have fifteen different options to buy them from. The Bay Area boasts “Cosmo World,” an amusement park with a brilliantly lit ferris wheel that towers over the rest of the substantially less-exciting rides. Shopping co-mingles with office complexes and museums in this shimmering, modern area, and for some reason I can’t quite explain, Yokohama’s downtown reminds me a bit of Philadelphia, though there aren’t too many wild similarities.
The impressive Chinatown Gate
I was told several times, “There’s not much to do in Yokohama,” but I’m not sure I agree. No, it’s not as big as Tokyo nor as crowded and busy, but maybe that’s why I liked it. Its downtown was more singular, in place of Tokyo’s various “downtowns” such as Shibuya, Ikebukuro, and Otemachi, and the glass skyscrapers that dotted the skyline were more reminiscent of Center City than Times Square. It is by no means as exciting as Tokyo, though they share a metro area, but I suppose having ten million more people is bound to provide excitement. The strange thing is, as much as I like huge cities (which is good because Tokyo’s the largest in the world), I for some inexplicable reason found myself wishing I’d spent more time exploring Yokohama. I could almost see myself living there in a way that I sometimes struggled to in Tokyo, though I’d live there in a heartbeat as well. Besides, in Japanese commuting time, the 35-40 minute long express train to Shibuya is really a hop, skip, and a jump from Yokohama to Tokyo. The idea of the two largest cities in Japan essentially being connected is bizarrely mind-blowing to me, perhaps because the U.S.’s two largest cities are on opposite coasts. In some ways they blend together, but in others they are totally separate entities. More like siblings than twins, Yokohama is often overshadowed by its high-achieving older brother and precocious younger cousin, Kyoto. But this city has a thirst to be recognized and plenty to offer, if only you’re willing to take a few days and seek it.