Yokohama is known for being the city of foreigners, and for good reason: It became a base for foreign trade when Japan opened its ports after centuries of relative isolation. It seems fitting, then, that nestled in the heart of Yokohama lies Asia’s largest Chinatown, which dates back to 1859.
Encompassing just 300 square meters, the area is crammed with restaurants and shops, with many of them hidden along narrow side streets. Your hungry eyes can carry your feet forward for hours before you realize that you’ve barely covered any ground.
As you wander, it’s nearly impossible to resist buying street food like mangu (steamed buns), but be sure to save your appetite for some Peking duck or chow mein at one of the more than 200 restaurants in the area. Expect to pay around ¥1,000 to ¥3,000 at most restaurants.
Then, pick up some loose-leaf Chinese tea at TenRen’s Tea and get your fortune told or palm read. The souvenir shops offer everything from the cute to the authentic. You’ll generally find lower prices on the outskirts of the district.
Chinatown boasts two large temples. The Kanteibyo Temple, situated near the center of Chinatown, was built in honor of Guan Yu, a Chinese military general who was instrumental in ending the Eastern Han dynasty and establishing the Shu Han state.
The larger and newer Mazu Miao temple honors the goddess Ma Zhu, who, according to legend, had the power to heal and rescued fishermen and sailors from storms. Originally, people prayed to her for protection from the sea, but now, she is also considered a guardian from daily hardship.
After Commodore Matthew Perry opened Yokohama Port in 1859, districts were created for foreigners to reside within, and Chinese immigrants flooded the city. Their movement was restricted until 1899, when new laws slackened the rules and gave immigrants more freedom. The result: an authentic district built by a real community of Chinese immigrants.
After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, many of the immigrants returned home rather than rebuild their community. Then, in 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, stagnating the growth of Yokohama’s Chinatown and causing many Chinese people, unable to find work in Japan, to return home. Once the war ended, growth continued as political relations between China and Japan improved. Now, it’s back to being a bustling place, though it is no longer strictly inhabited by Chinese people.
A trip to Yokohama’s Chinatown feels almost like stepping into another country. At less than an hour by train from Tokyo, it’s an easy escape for a day or evening.
From Shibuya Station to Motomachi Chukagai – 48 minutes via the Tokyu-Toyoko Line
From Tokyo Station to Ishikawacho Station – 53 minutes via the JR Keihin Tohoku Line