Yokohama Internationale: A Short Visit at Japan's Second City and International Gateway
We had a chance to visit Yokohama 横浜 when we went to Tokyo last November. Japan’s 2nd largest city by population, it is one of the major financial and industrial centers of Kanto Region and the country. Its story of its rise to prominence reminded me somehow of Iloilo City—as the opening to international trade in the 19th century has made it one of the most important port cities.
Though around 40km away from Tokyo, the expanse of its urban area overlaps that of Tokyo and Kawasaki, making Kanto Regions conurbation one of the world’s largest. It is also the capital of Kanagawa Prefecture.
From what was once a sleepy fishing town during the Edo Period, the end of national seclusion or sakoku made it as a vibrant cosmopolitan city. In a Japan Times article (Arita, 2010), the forced opening of Japan to foreign trade by the Americans through Commodore Matthew Perry made the Tokugawa Shogunate hastily construct and open up the port to international trade on 2 June 1859.
The context of opening up to international trade differed from that of Iloilo, which opened up to trade four years earlier. The Japanese experience was forced upon by Western Powers. The Philippine experience was because of series of reforms, the ceasing of Galleon Trade, and the need to keep up with 19th century international trade by the Spanish Empire (read: After the Galleons by Benito J. Legarda).
Being close to the new capital Tokyo, Yokohama became a base of the gaikokujin (foreigners) in the 19th Century to the early 20th century, with trading offices and residences constructed in Yamate District (called ”The Bluff” in English) overlooking the sea. Western influence was (and still is) strong because of its cosmopolitan nature of being the port of call. Japan’s first rail line was opened from Sakugragichō near Mirato Mirai in Yokohama to Shimbashi (Shiodome) in Tokyo in 1872 with the assistance from the British. The Chinese also settled here, creating the country’s first Chinatown. The influence of this interaction between China and Japan is said to have influenced the birth of Japan’s cherished noodle soup—ramen.
And being an international port, Jose Rizal entered Japan through Yokohama on 28 February 1888 (and left for San Francisco on 13 April 1888). Prof. Ambeth R. Ocampo’s recent post on Artemio Ricarte’s business in the city is an evidence of the city’s cosmopolitan nature. Mariano Ponce also based himself here.
Despite the fire, the Great Kanto Earthquake, and the World War II Air Bombing Raids, there are a few of heritage buildings that have survived up to this day, such as the Customs House, the Red Brick Warehouse (Akarenga Sōko), and the Kanagawa Prefectural Office.
Contrasting the old structures are new buildings—especially Minato Mirai where the Landmark Tower dominates Yokohama’s skyline. Be wary though that the Red Brickhouse to Sakuragicho is almost 2 kilometers distant. Hence, you can take the Yokohama Air Cabin (cable car) if your feet hurts like I did.
Yokohama is best accessed through train. I took the expensive yet faster option of Tokaido Shinkansen (all services have a short stop here) through Shin-Yokohama Station (take note, Yokohama and Shin-Yokohama are different stations. You need to take the Blue Line from old Yokohama or Sakuragichō to Shin-Yokohama), though one can take the commuter lines like Negishi Line from Tokyo. It is 45 minutes away.
As for the vibe, Yokohama’s a bit laid back than its big sibling Tokyo. It feels like Alabang but has a waterfront and heritage buildings.
Arita, Eriko. (24 May 2009). "Happy Birthday Yokohama!" in Japan Times. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2009/05/24/general/happy-birthday-yokohama/. Accessed: 10 December 2022.