Chinatown, just about every major city around the world has one including Johannesburg, South Africa, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Liverpool, United Kingdom, Calcutta, India, Bangkok, Thailand and Toronto, just to name a few. In the United States alone there are eight including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Honolulu! However, for many the Chinatown located in Yokohama, Japan stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Yokohama has been the entry point for foreign culture ever since Japan opened its doors to the world. Consequently, a large influx of Chinese immigrants (traders) migrated to Japan after 1859, bringing their own culture with them. At the time, foreign residents were restricted to living in designated areas and therefore formed a very tight community within the area they were allowed to inhabit. Today with its over 150 year history, Chinatown has over 500 businesses and roughly 150 restaurants which draw 20 million visitors annually to the 50-acre district!
Located within the Naka Ward, Chinatown is easy to recognize by its main Eastern Chinese style gate called paifang. The gate was constructed 1955 as a gesture of goodwill following the 1937 full-scale war between China and Japan. It was also the year when Chinatown was officially recognized by the Japanese and called Yokohama Chukagai (Yokohama Chinatown). There are nine other paifangs at major points within the district.
The main attraction in Chinatown is not so much the architecture and historic sites but its cuisine. The style of cuisine ranges from Peking to Cantonese.
Peking cuisine originated in China’s political, economic and cultural center Beijing. Great cooks and superb ingredients were gathered here to influence and develop today’s Peking (Beijing) cuisine. Because of its cold climate, many dishes are hot and sizzling.
Shanghai cuisine originated in Shanghai located in the Yangtze Delta. With is status as a top world trade port, the cuisine consists of plentiful fresh water and salt water fish, a variety of grains, fresh vegetables, and choice teas.
Szechwan cuisine originated near the Yangtze River in Szechwan Province. Because it’s far from the ocean, chefs developed a variety of seasonings for their dishes and in the process became master creators of complex tastes delicately blended with herbs and spices.
Cantonese cuisine originated in China’s southern costal Canton Province. Many ingredients and cooking styles were imported from foreign countries to create complex dishes, which use generous portions of sea food, pork, poultry, vegetables and dry food.
After sampling the cuisine, stroll around Chinatown in a rickshaw. A ride through the city will cost anywhere from ¥3,000 – ¥5,000.
Stop off at the Guan Di Miao Temple, which was founded in 1862 when a Chinese immigrant brought a sculpture of Guan Gong and enshrined it in a modest temple. The small temple attracted fellow migrants to worship and soon became the central focus in the local community. By 1871, Guan Di Miao Temple had become a major landmark in Yokohama Chinatown.
The temple was destroyed in 1923 by the Great Kanto Earthquake and sustained damage during the 1945 Allied air attack. In 1981, it was struck by lighting and caught fire. In 1986, another fire engulfed the temple. Every time a disaster struck, the local community came together and rebuilt the temple. Each rebuilding project produced a more elaborate temple. The current temple was completed in April 2000.
When all is said and done, pop into one of the countless classic Chinese gift shops with its rows and rows of omiyage (souvenir) gifts. It is easy to see that the shops are typical tourist traps but nonetheless are unavoidable.
There are various events and festivals that are held in Chinatown, such as the Chinese New Year celebrations which take place around the beginning of February. If you are fortunate enough to witness one of these events while you are there, you will find that they offer a colorful and wondrous glimpse into Chinese culture.
Chinatown is the top sightseeing spot in Yokohama and definitely worth exploring. The closest stations to Yokohama Chinatown are Motomachi-Chukagai Station along the Minato Mirai Line and Ishikawacho Station along the JR Negishi Line.
Panda steamed buns
Shop offering steamed buns
Exorcism ritual performed at Yokohama Kanteibyo
The Official Chinatown website has very little information in English, but does include a map: http://www.chinatown.or.jp/e