With the Japanese capital just a 45-minute train ride away, Yokohama can be overlooked thanks to being in Tokyo’s shadow. But travellers who make the short trip south soon learn that Japan’s second biggest metropolis has a completely different vibe to its big sister.
When Japan opened itself up to international trade in the 19th century, this once sleepy seaport town quickly transformed into one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities. Today, old piers and waterfront warehouses sit alongside skyscrapers, serene green spaces and quirky museums to form one of Japan’s must-visit destinations. From ferris wheels and football stadiums to fantastic food and free beer, discover the 10 best things to see and do in Yokohama, Japan.
Minato Mirai – literally ‘the harbour of the future’ in Japanese – was a scrappy old shipyard until it was reinvented in the 1980s, adding an array of restaurants, hotels, offices, malls, museums, spas and parks to the converted waterfront warehouses. Yokohama’s new central business district is now home to cultural centres like the Yokohama Museum of Art and the Minato Mirai Concert Hall in Queen’s Tower, while the man-made Shinko island fuses old and new, adding Western-style boutiques and eateries to repurposed red brick warehouses staring out over Tokyo Bay.
Yokohama’s skyline might not be as crowded as Tokyo’s, but the Landmark Tower soars above its neighbours. Looming 296 metres above three Queen’s Towers next door and one mile south of Yokohama’s mind-bogglingly busy train station, this skyscraper was Japan’s tallest building until 2014 and still holds the silver medal spot. Ascend to the Sky Garden observation deck on the 69th floor for 360-degree vistas of the city, and even as far as Mount Fuji on a clear day. Nippon Maru tall ship is also docked out the front – a nod to Yokohama’s proud maritime past.
When Yokohama opened its arms to international trade in the 19th century, Chinese traders carved out a home in this corner of the city, and their legacy lives on in the new millennium. Yokohama’s Chinatown – the biggest in Japan – is located just west of Motomachi-Chūkagai station, where four huge gates surround 500 restaurants serving steamed buns, mooncakes and other treats. The centrepiece of the area is the Kanteibyo temple, built by the Chinese community in 1873 in honour of the god of prosperity in business. With hundreds of businesses thriving more than a century later, it certainly did the trick.
This traditional landscape garden would feel more at home in Kyoto or Kamakura than 30 minutes bus from the middle of Yokohama… probably because so many of its 17 buildings have been collected from other parts of Japan. The brainchild of silk trader Tomitaro Hara before it was opened to the public in 1906, Sankei-en brings together structures from every corner of the country across 175,000 square metres of immaculate paths, lawns, ponds and gardens. Don’t miss the wooden pagoda from Kyoto dating back to 1457, the three-tiered Tomyoji temple, or the on-site tea room.
Google the phrase ‘world’s weirdest museums’ and Yokohama’s Cup Noodles Museum appears in almost every listicle that pops up. A homage to the humble ramen in a styrofoam cup, this museum tells the tale of Nissin Food founder Momofuku Ando and his outrageously successful invention through hands-on exhibits and quirky workshops, covering everything from a replica of the shed where Cup Noodles were conceived to Momofuku’s magnum opus: space ramen, designed specifically for astronauts. Visitors can customise their own cup or build their own flavours, plus there’s a food court to chow down on dozens of different varieties.
North of the Cup Noodles Museum near Shin-Yokohama station lies another larger-than-life tribute to these beloved instant noodles. The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum opened in 1994 billing itself as the world’s first food-themed amusement park; don’t expect any rollercoasters, but do look forward to a series of mini-restaurants showcasing different versions from around Japan. The food court is a replica of the grungy streets of Shitamachi in 1958 – the year Momofuku Ando invented Cup Noodles – to show how these steaming bowls of noodle soup were served before they became a global phenomenon.
When the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 reduced many buildings to rubble, Yokohama reclaimed this patch of waterfront as Yamashita Park. Wander through the garden beds and bayside promenade to reach Hikawa Maru – a luxurious ocean liner that ferried precious cargo like Charlie Chaplin and the Japanese imperial family to Seattle and Vancouver between 1930 and 1960 before permanently docking here as a museum – then continue to Osanbashi Pier, the cruise ship terminal whose wooden boardwalk contorts like the waves. Hop on a night cruise to see the city lights shimmer off the water after dark – the bay is the best vantage point for views of the Yokohama skyline.
Beer was another cultural influence Yokohama imported late in the 19th century, and Kirin continues to create European-style brews today. One of Japan’s big four breweries alongside Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory, Kirin was founded in Yokohama in 1907, and is still brewing between Namamugi and Keikyu-Shinkoyasu stations north of the city centre. A tour of the brewery is free, including a beer tasting at the end. The catch? The tours are only in Japanese, but there are some English written guides available. That’s a small price to pay for brewery-fresh beer that costs the princely sum of zero yen.
Yokohama has commanded the world’s spotlight twice in the new millennium: first when it hosted the final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup between Germany and Brazil, then when it threw the decider of the 2019 Rugby World Cup featuring South Africa and England. The 72,327-seat Nissan Stadium set the scene for these global showpiece events, and sports-lovers can see it for themselves when the city’s resident J1 League outfit Yokohama F Marinos – part of Manchester City’s cashed-up City Football Group stable – run around between February and December. Yokohama’s other sporting obsession is baseball – head to the 30,000-seat Yokohama Stadium to see the Yokohama DeNA BayStars play between March and October, too.
Cosmo World’s dizzying ferris wheel is as much a highlight of the Yokohama skyline as Landmark Tower or the Yokohama Bay Bridge. This amusement park in Minato Mirai straddles the waterfront along Shinko island and the mainland next to the Queen’s Towers, with the 100-metre-tall, 480-capacity ferris wheel displaying what was once the largest clock in the world. The rollercoasters, carnival games and kids rides run all day, but Cosmo World comes into its own when the sun sets and the kaleidoscopic light show begins.