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Fresh Attractions Add to Yokohama's Cosmopolitan Appeal (April 6, 2004)

Minato Mirai Line
The new Minato Mirai Line (Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau)
The port city of Yokohama, located just 30 minutes southwest of Tokyo by train, has many faces. It has been the world's gateway to Japan since it opened to foreign trade about 150 years ago, and it has a forward-looking, cosmopolitan atmosphere befitting its status as the city that raised the curtain on Japan's modern history. Yokohama, which is perhaps best known outside Japan for having hosted the final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, is now in the spotlight as a sightseeing destination boasting an array of attractions not found in other cities. The city's latest effort to boost its appeal coincides with the opening on February 1 of a new subway line, the Minato Mirai Line, which enables passengers to travel from the central Tokyo district of Shibuya to the Motomachi and Chinatown area of the city in just 35 minutes.

A City of Firsts
Yokohama has been the scene of many pioneering achievements. It was the first city in Japan to be lit by gas lanterns, the first to have a photographer's studio, the first where ice cream was sold, the first where horse-drawn carriages traveled the streets, and the first where a daily newspaper was printed. It also played host to Japan's first dry cleaner's, first shooting of a movie, and first tennis club. Many of these firsts happened on Bashamichi, a road that runs from Bashamichi Station on the new line toward the harbor. This road got its name, which means "horse-drawn carriage street," shortly after the port of Yokohama opened in 1859, when it was used by carriages ferrying foreigners between their designated residential area and the harbor. It remains a major thoroughfare today. It is straddled by an arch designed like a carriage, and walking through this arch leads to a brick-paved street lined with lights in the style of the old gas lanterns. This area attracts visitors because it allows them to experience something of what Yokohama was like 150 years ago, when Japanese culture was meeting modern Western culture for the first time.

Bashamichi is just a short walk from a popular recent addition to Yokohama's attractions, the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse. Originally built between 1911 and 1913, as the Meiji era (1868-1912) ended and the Taisho era (1912-1926) began, these distinctive warehouses have long been a symbol of the city. In 2002 they were completely remodeled on the inside to create a shopping and dining complex on the theme of "creating and transmitting Yokohama culture." The red-brick exterior has been left intact.

Dinosaur Factory
The Intercontinental Grand Yokohama Hotel and the giant Ferris wheel (Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau)

One of the World's Biggest Chinatowns
Yokohama's Chinatown, which is also located near Bashamichi, adds yet another dimension to the city's appeal. This 500-meter-square area is home to about 500 shops and eateries, of which 200 are Chinese restaurants. Also boasting a multitude of stores stocking Chinese gifts, groceries, and clothing, the district ranks as one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. On weekends and public holidays, the shops and streets teem with people. The history of Yokohama's Chinatown dates back to the opening of the port. Soon after the port opened, some Chinese people who had come to Japan with Britons living in the foreigners' residential district began to establish shops nearby. The thriving Chinatown of today is said to have developed from these humble beginnings. Chinese festivals are marked in this area of Yokohama with spectacular events like lion dances and dragon dances, with the atmosphere further enlivened by the letting off of firecrackers. In November 2003 a large amusement complex called Yokohama Daisekai (nicknamed Daska) opened for business. This eight-story building designed to recreate 1920s Shanghai houses numerous eateries and allows visitors to enjoy classic Peking opera and other traditional Chinese arts.

There is a heavy hint of Western-style culture to the east of Chinatown in the Yamate area. The land currently occupied by Harbor View Park was designated as a residential area for foreigners in the final days of the Edo shogunate in 1867, and a large number of Western-style homes were subsequently built there. All but one of these were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, but the one that survived, the Yamate Museum, which was built in 1909, is a reminder of what the area must have looked like before the disaster. Another popular Yokohama sight is the foreigners' cemetery, where about 4,500 people from over 40 countries are buried.

The Yokohama "Brand"
The chic shopping district of Motomachi, which is reached by descending a hill from Yamate, encourages the impression that Yokohama is a "brand." After the port opened, many merchants started businesses in this area to trade with the people living in the foreigners' residential district. Motomachi Street runs for about 600 meters and is lined on both sides by specialist stores and boutiques purveying goods of a craftsman-like quality that befits such a long-established commercial hub. In the 1970s, reacting to the nyutora (a contraction of "new trad") style born at an elite women's university in the Kansai region, Motomachi-born hamatora ("Yokohama trad") fashion took Japan by storm, and the Motomachi brand is still going strong.

Yokohama also offers the visitor jazz houses - a fixture of many port cities - long-established restaurants, elegant tea houses, and refined bars, as well as harbor cruises. It has a friendly rivalry with Kobe, the biggest port in western Japan, and the two cities have many of the same attractions.

An Evolving Face
The current phase of Yokohama's evolution as a thriving international port has its roots in developments that took place in the late 1980s. The Minato Mirai 21 project transformed Yokohama's waterfront by redeveloping abandoned dockyards and breathing new life into disused piers through fresh land reclamation. After the Yokohama Exotic Showcase '89, roads were built to connect desolate patches of land near the harbor, and soon the Landmark Tower - Japan's tallest building, which houses offices, shops, and a hotel - rose up from the waterfront wasteland. It was joined by Pacifico Yokohama, an integrated convention complex; the Intercontinental Grand Yokohama Hotel, which was modeled to look like a ship; the Yokohama Jack Mall shopping center, and many other attractions. These are now established features of the new-look Yokohama cityscape.

Other popular spots in the Minato Mirai area include the Yokohama Museum of Art, a spacious gallery well stocked with works by world-famous artists; Yokohama Cosmoworld, an amusement park featuring the world's biggest Ferris wheel; and Rinko Park, a waterfront park offering sweeping views of Yokohama Bay Bridge and the harbor. With the Yokohama Design Center also due to open in spring 2004, the new Minato Mirai Line has arrived at a particularly exciting time in the development of this venerable city.

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Related Web Sites
2002 FIFA World Cup in Japan Fact Sheet
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse (site is Japanese only)
Yokohama's Chinatown in Nipponia
Yokohama Daisekai (site is Japanese only)
Disaster Prevention Day in Kidsweb Japan
Yokohama Landmark Tower in Japan Atlas
Yokohama Museum of Art (site is Japanese only)
Yokohama Cosmoworld (site is Japanese only)

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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