for "by the shore") is the second largest
city in Japan
, with a population of some 3,5 million people.
comes in third with some 2,6 million.)
However, while Yokohama-shi
is administratively an independent
city, in real life Yokohama forms the southwestern tip of the
and these days mostly plays the part of a mildly upscale suburb
less than half an hour by commuter train (and 15 minutes by
) from central Tokyo
Yokohama was a tiny, unimportant fishing village of approximately
100 households until the
arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet of four black ships at
Uraga in 1853, just south of Yokohama. After much negotiation,
the parties signed the 1858 US-Japan Treaty of
Amity and Commerce , which designated Kanagawa as one of Japan's
international trading ports. However, as Kanagawa was strategically
important as a way station on the Tokaido and too close for comfort to the
capital Edo (now called Tokyo), the shogunate designated
Yokohama as the site instead.
Today, the Kanagawa river forms the boundary line between the cities of
Tokyo and Yokohama.
The settlement and port opened for business one year later on
July 1, 1859. A moat was constructed around the area, the area
inside reserved for foreigners being called Kannai (関内), "inside the
barrier". Initial relations between Japanese isolationists
and the hairy barbarians were tense; James Clavell's Gai-Jin
provides a fictional account of Yokohama's early days,
based on the real-life 1862 murder of British trader
Charles Richardson, who was hacked to death by Satsuma samurai.
Unfortunately, the tale is not a very good one, both
in terms of accuracy and literary skill; Sir Ernest Satow's A Diplomat in Japan, based on his own
experiences, does a better job.
Just the same, trade of silk and other commodities started to
and the Meiji Reformation in 1868 and the consequent abolition
of the shogunate and the caste system only sped up things. In 1872, a
railway to Shinbashi in Tokyo was completed and in 1889 Yokohama
was officially registered as a city, at the time with a population of
a little over 100,000. The big Japanese trading houses (zaibatsu)
like Mitsubishi and Mitsui grew and prospered. Rich merchants
constructed magnificent mansions and the city
acquired an international flair, which remains a major attraction
for the Japanese to this day although most globe-trotters are unlikely
to be impressed.
Like Tokyo, Yokohama was flattened in the
Great Kanto Earthquake (over 86% of all
houses destroyed) and again by the firebombings World War II,
which burned 100,000 houses and killed over 40% of the inhabitants.
It roses from the ashes and reopened in 1952, but never quite regained
its prior status as much of the heavy shipping moved to the port
of Kawasaki, closer to Tokyo.
Today, Yokohama is a bustling city of steel skyskrapers and concrete
blocks, largely indistinguishable from any other large Japanese
city. Unlike Tokyo, however, Yokohama retains a distinct maritime
air: the city centers around Yamashita Park by the port, and
the proximity of the sea give it a pleasantly airy feel. Surprisingly
enough, the center is also small enough to cover on foot if you're
in an energetic mood.
Yokohama's pride and joy is the new Minato Mirai 21
("Port of the Future 21") quarter, built on reclaimed land near
Sakuragicho station and featuring the self-effacingly named
Landmark Tower, the current holder of the heavily-contested
title of "tallest building in Japan", with 70 stories stretching
296 meters into the air. The area, which remains under construction,
already boasts massive shopping malls, hotels, a conference center,
an amusement park, a number of company headquarters, etc.
A new private subway line is under construction solely to ferry
people around the area.
In the older city, still called Kannai although the moat is long
gone, the top two sights are undoubtedly Japan's largest
Chinatown (中華街, Chukagai), chock full of Chinese
restaurants and packed to the brim with ravenous Japanese tourists
on the weekends, and
Sankei-en Park, an expansive traditional Japanese garden to
the south of the center.
The third sight gets a bit less coverage in most guidebooks,
but the Yokohama Ramen Museum near Shin-Yokohama train station --
featuring not only displays of cup noodle packagings, but a
reconstruction of a 1950's-era Tokyo city block complete with 8 gourmet
ramen joints -- is the Mecca of Japanese ramen
lovers throughout the country.
Yokohama's Minato Matsuri ("Port Festival"), usually held during
Golden Week, is by most accounts Japan's most popular yearly event
with over 4 million visitors -- which isn't actually all that much,
considering the fact that the greater Tokyo metro area has well over
20 million inhabitants.
As you might imagine, "by the shore" is not that uncommon a name and there
are quite a few other Yokohamas scattered around Japan.
The biggest of the bunch is probably the Yokohama of Aomori
prefecture at the base of the Shimokita Peninsula, often called
"Mutsu-Yokohama" after the biggest nearby city Mutsu.
It's not a terribly
interesting place though (and I speak from personal experience),
as about the only sight thereabouts is the nearby controversial
Rokkashomura nuclear waste reprocessing facility.
Yokohama is also a relatively common Japanese surname.
http://www.city.yokohama.jp/ (the one near Tokyo)
http://hello.net.pref.aomori.jp/yokohama/ (the one in the boonies)
I can't believe this was a nodeshell!