Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest in Japan – and Asia for that matter. It’s a place to sample cuisine, buy unique items, and be dazzled by the sights.
Shortly after the opening of trade relations between Japan and the West in 1853, Yokohama built its own port by 1859, and Chinese traders flocked to the area. Although the neighborhood’s Chinese population has dwindled over the years, Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest in Japan, and Asia for that matter. Along with the hundreds of shops selling tasty food are eyefuls of colorful and decorative Chinese architecture. Ten ornate gates stand over Chukagai’s main street, including the Goodwill Gate, which was built in 1955 as a symbol of the desire for peace between China and Japan after World War II, and the East Gate. The area is also home to the Kwan Tai Temple, a religious building dedicated to the legendary Chinese general who lived during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and the Mazu Miao Temple, which was built to honor the goddess who watches over sailors and fishermen.
You’re probably already familiar with gyoza and shumai, but there are plenty of pleasant tastes beyond that to be found in Chinatown. The shoronpo, and its pan-fried cousin the yaki shoronpo, are tasty but require a bit of caution: before digging in, you should poke a hole in the top and use that to pour off the (often scalding) juice. Once it’s cooled off you’re good to go. Some sweet treats to keep an eye out for are dou jiang (sesame balls, stuffed with a variety of fillings) and dan ta (egg tart). Qing man yong!
Get the Neo-Asia Look at Rourou
Having grown up in a family of craftsmen who make silk-screen patterns for the popular Yokohama scarf – which is famed for using unique printing techniques – Maki Hayazono was seemingly fated to work in fashion. Fulfilling this destiny, she built a name (and a huge fan following) for herself as a model before founding the clothing brand Rourou in 2000. The concept is “Neo-Asia style from Japan” and the label is created around an imaginary utopian country in Asia called Rourou: “advanced, unknown, and full of culture and fine arts.” Setting up shop in Yokohama’s Chinatown, she weaves in both Chinese and European influences into her Japanese sensibility.
As for the clothes, they’re bright, feminine, and pay close attention to traditional techniques employed by craftsmen in Japan and the rest of Asia. One particular item to look out for is the Yokohama Multi-Way Scarf, which as the name implies, can be worn in a variety of ways. In fact, there are more than 20 different ways to tie this scarf, transforming it into different types of clothing including a blouse, a bolero jacket, or even a dress. The trick is in its rectangular shape and strategically placed buttons. It’s also wrinkle resistant, making it ideal as vacation wear. Also be sure to pick up one of the store’s signature purses, featuring traditional prints and available as either a wallet or money purse.
As an extension to her clothing brand – and perhaps a physical representation of the Rourou utopia – Hayazono opened Rourou Café in 2014. It’s tucked away behind the clothing store, boasting two floors connected by a flight of stairs adorned with pink walls and floral-print stairs. The magical space feels at once calm and quirky. Thin wooden beams criss-cross the ceiling, framing colorful bird cages and bright chandeliers. As with the clothing label, the café combines Asian and European influences, so you can look forward to modern Western décor and menu goodies such as Chinese geppei (a round cake that resembles a full moon), Chinese pies stuffed with red bean or coconut, and an incredibly cute “Panda Latte.” From 6pm on Fridays and Saturdays, the café also offers a bar service.
Rourou: 130-12 Yamashitacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Hours: 11am-6pm (shop), 12pm-11pm (café)
Phone: 045 650 5466
Trick or Treat at Yokohama Daisekai
Standing opposite Chinatown’s Tenchomon Gate, Yokohama Daisekai offers eight stories of fun, food, shopping, and more. On the first floor you’ll find Yokohama Daisekai Market, the largest souvenir shop in Chinatown. It’s packed with Chinese teas, sweets, and ingredients, along with a selection of quality sake and, unsurprisingly, a panda-themed section – in fact, even the entrance is shaped like a huge panda face. According to the staff, the best-selling item at the market are the Panda Manju (traditional Japanese sweets filled with azuki beans). Had enough of pandas? On the same floor, you can buy delicious dim sum takeout from the Fuki Paozurou stall. Renowned for serving a variety of dumplings, this spot is one of the best places to sample gyoza as well as delicious steamed buns filled with sweet pork. Order a selection on your way out and snack while you complete your Chinatown stroll.
Taking up floors three to eight of this large “entertainment theme park,” the Artrick Museum is undoubtedly the star of the show. With 150 works intended to amaze, confuse, and surprise you, this is one of those attractions that can turn an ordinary afternoon into something a little more, well, illusory. They encourage photo-taking, so the images you find online when you Google “Yokohama Trick Art Museum” will give you an excellent – and amusing – idea of poses to prepare before you go. We love the “Reverse Room”, which lets you rotate wall paintings to make it look like you’re standing on the ceiling. Feeling dizzy? Head down to the third floor’s Artrick Museum Café. Amongst other treats, they serve Cremia ice cream, which is made with premium quality Hokkaido milk and 25 percent full cream.
While Yokohama Daisekai models itself on the exotic world of 20s and 30s Shanghai, you can model yourself on the city’s glamorous residents by dressing up in rental Chinese costumes. Should the cosplay mood take you, head to the center’s second floor and look for the Egao Henshin Shashinkan shop. Here, you can choose your costume and then strike a pose while a professional photographer captures the moment. For those who really love a bit of cosplay, you are welcome to bring along your own costumes.
Yokohama Daisekai: 97 Yamashitacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama. Open 9:30am-9:30pm.
Phone: 045 681 5588
Artrick Museum: Adults ¥1,300, students ¥1,000, children ¥600, three years and under free. Open 10am-8pm.
Work Your Way Upwards at Yokohama Hakurankan
Although smaller than Yokohama Daisekai, this shopping center offers similar entertainment in the way of shopping and dim sum tasting. The first floor features Yokohama Hakurankan Market, which is brimming with curated souvenir-style goods made in Yokohama. Browse the shelves and work your way around to Kaikarou, the dim sum stall offering delicious handmade steamed meat buns, and shumai (pork dumplings).
Next, head to Baby-Star Land on the second floor for an experience that you’ll probably only ever have in Japan: watching how the country’s beloved Baby-Star Ramen gets made. The official English name for this product is Baby-Star Crispy Noodle Snack, which gives you a better idea of what it is – essentially, fried ramen noodles turned into a potato crisp-style snack. At Baby-Star Land, however, you get to slurp them while still hot and fresh.
One floor up and you’ve reached the rooftop Garden Terrace Café, the perfect place to wind down while sipping on some quality homemade Black Pearl Milk Tea. Be sure to spend a few minutes soaking your feet in the Ashi-yu (footbath), and let that zen feeling wash over you.
Yokohama Hakurankan: 145 Yamashitacho, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Phone: 045 640 0081