Ja­pan’s Yoko­hama

A blend of old and new

Paradise - - Contents - Air Ni­ug­ini flies from Port Moresby to Tokyo twice weekly. See airni­ug­ini.com.pg.

Nowhere in Ja­pan are the old and the new, the home­grown and the for­eign, the mod­ern and the tra­di­tional brought to­gether as in Yoko­hama. Other cities in Ja­pan do not seem to care that they have lost their souls to con­crete and glass blocks that tower over tem­ples, tra­di­tional gar­dens and the nar­row back streets of age-old

shi­ta­machi dis­tricts. And while Yoko­hama’s sky­line has cer­tainly changed, the city’s elders have man­aged to link progress to the city’s his­tory, mak­ing it ar­guably the most in­ter­na­tional and cul­tur­ally di­verse me­trop­o­lis in the coun­try.

Home now to more than 3.7 mil­lion peo­ple, Yoko­hama is Ja­pan’s sec­ond-largest city. But in 1849, it was a sleepy vil­lage of around 100 homes whose in­hab­i­tants made a liv­ing as fish­er­men sup­ply­ing the city that was grow­ing into Tokyo, less than 30 kilo­me­tres away.

Fate in­ter­vened in that year, when US Navy com­modore Matthew Perry landed a few kilo­me­tres to the south and re­quested that Ja­pan open up to in­ter­na­tional trade after 200 years of self-im­posed iso­la­tion.

Four years later, the Toku­gawa shogu­nate agreed to trans­fer in­ter­na­tional ac­cess to Yoko­hama, and the ham­let be­gan its evo­lu­tion.

To­day, the old­est re­minders of the roots of Yoko­hama’s for­eign com­mu­nity – when it was a gated for­eign settlement in the Kan­nai district, where the base­ball sta­dium now stands – have been pre­served in The Bluff district.

Over­look­ing the Naka­mura River and the up-mar­ket Mo­tomachi shop­ping street – where shops sell Miki­moto pearls and Ki­ta­mura hand­bags – the hill rises to the area where em­bassies and the homes of wealthy busi­ness peo­ple were con­structed, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the cooler sum­mer breezes and over­look­ing all that went on in the har­bour.

A good por­tion of The Bluff is taken up by the heav­ily wooded Yoko­hama for­eign gen­eral ceme­tery. And while a visit may sound macabre, it pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the lives of peo­ple who have made this city their

“Home now to more than 3.7 mil­lion peo­ple, Yoko­hama is Ja­pan’s sec­ond-largest city.”

home down the years. The 4200 tombs in­clude ad­ven­tur­ers, sailors, artists and or­di­nary folk – in­clud­ing many who were vic­tims of the 1923 Great Kanto earth­quake.

The quake trig­gered fires and a tsunami. With so many build­ings in the old water­front district de­stroyed, it was de­cided that the de­bris would be used to con­struct an open area on the seafront, known as Ya­mashita Park. It is a A favourite to­day among young cou­ples: the waves lap the stonework and buskers per­form amid foun­tains and a rose gar­den. Moored off the front lies the Hikawa Maru, a lux­ury pas­sen­ger liner launched in 1929 to sail be­tween Ja­pan and the US.

In its hey­day, the liner car­ried roy­alty and stars of the sil­ver screen – in­clud­ing Char­lie Chap­lin.

To­day, it is pro­tected as a time cap­sule and vis­i­tors can see its state rooms, smok­ing lounges and stand on the bridge – be­fore stop­ping by the stern prom­e­nade deck for ice-cold beers and tra­di­tional Ja­panese sum­mer snacks ac­com­pa­nied by a live jazz band.

Just in­land from the park stands the ren­o­vated Ma­rine Tower. At 106 me­tres, it is listed as the tallest light­house in the world – and a block fur­ther in­land is the buzzing Chi­na­town district.

The bound­aries of the district are marked by four main gates and six smaller but equally elab­o­rately de­signed en­trance ways. The four larger gate­ways are sited at the four points of the compass and in­voke demi-gods, such as dragons and tigers. Sim­i­lar tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­tural de­signs form part of the Kan­tei-Byo Tem­ple, con­structed in 1862.

Other parts of the city have un­der­gone sig­nif­i­cant re­de­vel­op­ment in re­cent years, such as the Bay­side Area, a re­claimed is­land that was al­ready home to the vast World Porters shop­ping mall – with ar­guably the best sushi in Yoko­hama at the Misaki-Megumi restau­rant – and the Yoko­hama Cosmo World theme park, which can be spot­ted from any­where in the city thanks to its colos­sal Fer­ris wheel.

The area around the main train sta­tion is home to some of Ja­pan’s top depart­ment stores, but ven­ture a lit­tle fur­ther away and ex­plore the streets where the uniquely Ja­panese game of

pachinko pin­ball is played in rau­cous ar­cades, and stalls sell grilled yak­i­tori skew­ers.

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