A World Away in Yokohama’s Chinatown
By Kelsey Leuzinger
On November 15, 2014
With over 98% of its residents being of Japanese decent, we foreigners can feel a little outnumbered. Not only are most people in the country “Japanese,” but the specific culture is exclusively found in Japan.
This can make the experience of living here interesting, but after a while a change of scenery is nice. And for most people living in Japan, the cost and time away from work makes it difficult to get out and enjoy different Asian cultures. If you’re looking for a new and different experience in Japan, check out Yokohama Chinatown to get an in-depth Chinese experience without even leaving the country.
Even if you’ve visited multiple Chinatowns around the world, you’ve never seen anything like Yokohama’s. It dates back over 150 years, and has an incredible size and street layout with over 250 Chinese shops and restaurants. Today, there are about 4,000 Chinese people living in this area. Yokohama Chinatown, or 横浜中華街 (yokohama chukagai) is not only the largest in Japan, but in Asia; and continues to be ranked as one of the best around the world.
Chinese or Japanese, does it matter?
For those who haven’t lived in Asia, it can be hard to tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, and Korean culture because of their similar features. So, what’s so different about the “China” town in Japan?
Everything! From the people to the food, Chinatown is the perfect place to see the contrast between China and Japan. Especially when you take time to listen to the people on the street, you’ll hear how differently Cantonese and Mandarin sounds than the Japanese you’re used to hearing every day.
Chinese Food and Fun
A fun experience that makes you feel like you’re actually in a Chinese town is the shopping. With all the shops to choose from in this largest Chinatown in Asia, you can find just about any traditional Chinese item you like.
The stores include gourmet teashops, dried goods shops, and plenty of souvenir stores where you can find good luck charms and traditional Chinese clothing, among other things. In the fall, you can even get a free chestnut sample from the “chestnut roasters” trying to grab your attention on every street.
Photo by yuta watarai
And of course, you can’t leave without having some of the food. What you find in a Japanese Chinatown won’t be the exact same as visiting a city like Shanghai, but it comes a lot closer than chain restaurants like the Japanese-Chinese “Bamiyan.” There are dozens of restaurants filling every street, and most of them offer similar dishes for about the same price.
The trick is making a decision with so many options. You can expect to pay around ¥900-2000 for an average meal with prices varying depending on the restaurant, so bring a little extra yen and be ready for a Chinese style feast.
Even without the food and shopping, Chinatown is rich with many historical gates and temples. The architecture found in each of these is incredible, and it’s easy to see the vast difference between the Chinese and Japanese styles in every historical sight you come across.
The famous paifang (牌坊), or Chinese-style gates, are known as “goodwill gates” in English. The first of these in Yokohama was built in 1955, as the area was officially christened as “Yokohama Chinatown” after an intense war between the countries had ceased.Photo by d'n'c
The temples in this Chinatown are also elaborate and beautiful, regardless of your religion. The newly built Mazu Temple has become one of the most incredible to see. This temple built for the sea goddess “mazu” allows tourists to enter with incense to pray, if they so choose. It has also become one of the most famous spots for photo opportunities for tourists, as you can stand in front and show the magnitude of this tucked-away temple in your picture.
With so many restaurants, shops, and sights, Yokohama’s Chinatown offers something for everyone. If you are needing some variety in your everyday Japanese life, check out this exciting town for an interesting inside look at Chinese culture.
From Tokyo station – Motomachi Chukagai = 42 mins, ¥680
From Tokyo station – Ishikawacho = 38 mins, ¥550