Experience All the Best Things to Do in Yokohama in One Day! Classic Yokohama Tour!
Yokohama is just a short train ride away from Tokyo and has some truly special activities that make it worth adding as a stop on your Japan trip! If you're wondering how best to use your time in the city, we recommend taking a classic tour of Yokohama, which hits all of the best spots in one day, including Yokohama Chinatown, the CUPNOODLES Museum, and activities around Yokohama Bay. We went on a tour when visiting Yokohama, and will share our experience in this article!
Feb 10 2021
*This article was written in collaboration with the Kanto District Transport Bureau, local governments, and local railway companies.
About Yokohama - Japan's Second-Largest City
Despite being Japan's second-largest city by population (with roughly 3.7 million inhabitants as of January, 2020), Yokohama in Kanagawa Prefecture is sometimes overshadowed by its gigantic neighbor Tokyo. However, Yokohama has an interesting history as a major port city and is home to historic buildings, interesting museums, Japan's largest Chinatown, and some truly beautiful nighttime scenery, making it a popular destination among Japanese people. Located just 30 minutes away from Tokyo Station, 30 minutes from Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line, and 30 minutes from Haneda Airport via the Keikyu Line, Yokohama is easily accessible and has many unique experiences to offer that can't be had in Tokyo. From shopping to cultural experiences, it is a fun city to spend time in from morning into the night.
We were told that the tour we participated in would pack many of the most iconic sights and best things to do in Yokohama into one tour, and we were not disappointed! Having a guide to lead us on the most efficient route and give us fascinating tidbits of information about Yokohama that we wouldn't have known otherwise was well worth it, and we finished the tour feeling very satisfied. Read on to see where we went and learn a bit about some of the coolest things to do in Yokohama!
The Tour Begins! Meeting Up at Minatomirai Station
Our tour started at Minatomirai Station on the Minatomirai Line, just two stops from JR Yokohama Station. Minato Mirai is the name for the iconic waterfront area where most of the tour spots are located, and this is the most convenient station for getting there. Our guide was waiting for us right outside of the ticket gates. After a friendly greeting and a brief explanation of the tour and COVID-19 safety precautions (we would be wearing masks for the whole time), we headed right on our way to the first location on the tour: the Landmark Tower.
Take In Yokohama's Gorgeous Scenery from Atop the Yokohama Landmark Tower
The first stop on the tour was the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Yokohama and the 4th-tallest building in Japan after Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, and Osaka's Abeno Harukas. The bold shape of the 296-meter tower makes it instantly recognizable in photos of Yokyohama's skyline. The tower is home to a shopping mall on the lower floors and the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel on the upper floors. Today, however, our destination was the observation deck on the 69th floor.
The first thing to mention about the observation deck is the blistering speed of the elevator that takes you up, which felt like the fastest that any of us had ever been in. Unlike some other observation towers, there are no windows in the elevator—which is probably for the best as it probably would have been terrifying to look out a window as it reached a speed of 750 meters per minute and went all the way from the second floor to the 69th floor in just 20 seconds! (The speed while descending is the same and is actually the fastest in the world!)
The unobstructed view from the observatory was spectacular. We had seen the views from Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree before, which are both worth seeing. Yokohama Landmark Tower's view offers a few things that the others don't, though, and it just might be the best observatory in Japan because of these. First, being located right on the bay, there are gorgeous unobstructed views of the ocean from the southeastern window and bird's eye views of the historical ships harbored in the port below (one of which we visit later in the tour).
Next, looking from the southwestern window, we could see Mount Fuji peaking up above the surrounding mountains in neighboring Shizuoka Prefecture. This combination of ocean scenery, sprawling metropolis, and Japan's most famous mountain all from one lookout make the Yokohama Landmark Tower one of the coolest views in Japan.
Incidentally, the 65th floor of the building (inside the Yokohama Royal Park Hotel) is home to a tea house called "Kaikoan," which is the highest tea room in all of Japan and offers a unique Japanese tea experience!
Make Your Custom CUP NOODLES at the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM!
After getting a birds-eye view of the area around Yokohama Bay, we headed to our next destination—the CUPNOODLES Museum! The museum is currently taking several measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including enforcing mask usage and limiting the number of visitors inside, among other things.
Instant noodles are fairly ubiquitous around the world these days, but did you know that they were invented here in Japan? In 1958, the founder of Nissin Food Products, Momofuku Ando, developed the world's first instant noodles which used a new flash-frying technique that Ando invented in a shed in his backyard. The noodles, called "Chicken Ramen," became an instant hit and can still be found in stores today.
8 years later in 1966, Ando visited some buyers at an American supermarket. There, he saw the managers in the office breaking the Chicken Ramen noodles into paper cups, pouring hot water over the noodles, and eating them with a fork. This observation inspired Ando to once again innovate, leading to the invention of the world's first cup noodle product, dubbed "CUP NOODLES" in 1971. CUP NOODLES took instant noodles to a new level worldwide and remains a pioneer of instant noodles today.
There are two CUPNOODLES MUSEUMS in Japan; one in Ikeda City, Osaka Prefecture, the birthplace of instant ramen; and the one here in Yokohama. What can you do at the CUPNOODLES Museum, you might ask? Well, in addition to some unique exhibits such as the Instant Noodles History Cube (with 3,000+ instant noodles packages dating back as far as 1958), a perfect recreation of the shed in Ando's backyard where instant noodles were invented, and six "Creative Thinking Boxes" that are intended to inspire visitors to think outside of the box (ironically)—the most popular attraction is the My CUPNOODLES Factory.
This experience lets you create your very own, one-of-a-kind CUP NOODLES, by adding noodles to a cup that you design yourself and choosing your desired soup flavor from a choice of four flavors and four toppings from a choice of twelve. You can then package it up and put it inside an inflatable, balloon-like satchel to take it home with you for just 400 yen! It's one of the coolest souvenirs you can imagine and is only available at the CUPNOODLES Museum!
There is also a special food attraction called the NOODLES BAZAAR -WORLD NOODLES ROAD-, which serves 8 different pasta dishes that Momofuku Ando encountered during his travels around the world in search of the origins of different types of noodles. However, we chose to continue on to have lunch at our next destination and one of Osaka's most iconic buildings.
Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
Yokohama's Red Brick Warehouse houses a very unique collection of shops selling various goods such as local crafts and Yokohama souvenirs, and also features many delicious restaurants. Also, being a historical landmark, just walking around inside and looking at the construction of the building was interesting in itself. There are even windows cut into the floor in many places, displaying original building materials and introducing the fascinating history of the building on multi-lingual plaques.
Yokohama was one of Japan's first ports opened to international trade after a long period of isolation, and the warehouses were originally built in 1911 and 1903 as customs houses storing goods being offloaded from overseas trading vessels. Over the last century, the brick buildings went through many turbulent times, including Warehouse No.1 being half-destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and being occupied and used as military headquarters for the U.S. troops during the 40s and 50s. Luckily, after the original use of the buildings as a customs house and warehouse ended in the 80s, the building was purchased by the city of Yokohama and incorporated into a construction project called the Minato Mirai 21. During a 10-year renovation, the buildings were reinforced to meet modern building codes while utilizing the original materials and preserving the history of the buildings. On the buildings' exterior, four types of bricks fired to different degrees can be seen, the darkest of which has superior moisture resistance and was used for the foundation and trim around the windows. The warehouses were finally reopened in their current form in 2002 and quickly became a must-visit destination in Yokohama.
In 2007, the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse was recognized for its important contribution to Japan's industrial modernization and gained the designation of "Heritage of Industrial Modernization" by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Finance. Then in 2010, they received the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
After browsing through the stores in the multi-level complex, we took a break and had a light lunch of local Yokohama specialties. Much like a food court, there was a shared dining space, meaning each of us could choose the food of our choice from among the countless options. After recharging, it was time to head on to our next destination, the Hikawa Maru—another of Yokohama's icons.
Hikawa Maru - Experience History Aboard a Luxury Passenger Liner
Our next stop on the tour was the Hikawa Maru, a large ship permanently anchored in Yokokohama's harbor. Finished in 1930, the Hikawa Maru used to sail on a route between Yokohama and Seattle before being converted for use in Japanese navy's fleet during World War Two. While most other passenger liners of the time were sunk during the war, the Hikawa Maru alone survived and was again put to use as a passenger liner after the war. Another notable tidbit about the Hikawa Maru is that it carried legendary American actor Charlie Chaplin on his return voyage from Japan, where he visited after the release of his movie "City Lights."
Today, the Hikawa Maru remains a pristine example of a luxury liner passenger ship that has been turned into a floating museum!
It was fascinating to walk down the long metal hallways of the ship and peer into guest rooms frozen in time. Passenger cabins ranged from first to third class, and the common areas for passengers of each class were separate as well. We noticed right away that the difference in accommodation between the classes was quite stark! The third-class cabins featured many sparse bunk beds crammed into a small space with little else. These passengers were restricted as to which areas of the ship they were allowed to visit, and had to use a public bathroom.
In contrast, the first-class cabins were replete with individual beds, a table, and a sink with running hot and cold water. At the time, these cabins went for a premium price of 500 yen for a trip from Yokohama to Seattle (equivalent to 250 U.S. dollars at the time). If you consider that you could buy a house in Japan for 1,000 yen back then, you can get an idea of just how expensive and luxurious a first-class trip on the Hikawa Maru really was.
First-class passengers also had access to the first-class reading lounge and first-class dining room, which served notoriously delicious food the likes of which you would expect from a 5-star restaurant. There was almost too much to see on the ship, but our guide was great at pointing out the most interesting things and giving us extra information that we wouldn't have learned otherwise. Also, this time, we got special access to a typically off-limits area at the back of the ship which was perfect for taking unobstructed photos!
Rather than just taking photos of the Hikawa Maru from down below on the shore, it really was worth it to go inside and see the beautifully-preserved piece of history up close. Walking around the ship made us start to feel a little hungry, which was perfect as our next stop was all about food!
Yokohama Chinatown - A Must-Visit Yokohama Destination for Delicious Food!
The last—but certainly not least—stop on the tour was a short walk from where the Hikawa Maru is anchored. As we got closer to the destination, there was a visible shift in the appearance of many of the surrounding buildings, which featured Chinese-style facades with bright red and gold colors and elaborate carvings.
As we left the busy street and entered the pedestrian-only area of Chinatown, the atmosphere suddenly transformed into a totally different feeling, with red paper lanterns hanging above the street and the mouthwatering smells of various street foods wafting through the air. This is Yokohama's Chinatown, which happens to be the largest in Japan. Why come all the way to Japan to visit Chinatown, you might ask? Well, just like the Chinatowns in other countries, Yokohama's Chinatown is more of a blend of Japanese and Chinese cultures, rather than being just Chinese. The foods have Chinese names, but the flavors are geared towards the taste buds of Japanese people, making them unique to Yokohama Chinatown!
We passed countless shops with so many delicious-looking foods on offer, and some shopkeepers would call out to us as we passed, trying to get us to eat there. It would have been a bit overwhelming if we were on our own. Thankfully, our guide was very familiar with all the foods on offer and gave us some wonderful suggestions of things to try while keeping in mind our food preferences and allergies.
Our first stop was a shop that was apparently somewhat famous, as a TV screen on the ceiling was showing reruns of a Japanese TV show that visited the shop. There were so many different steamed buns for sale, but our guide recommended that we try the "shaopin," which were fried buns filled with two kinds of gooey filling (that I later realized was shark fin).
The first was plain, with a savory yet sweet taste and a wonderfully crispy outside. The second had cheese in it, and I can only compare it to fondue. Both were quite tasty and made us hungry to try more food!
Our next delicacy was something we had seen offered at many different shops, but our guide led us to the shop that he thought served the best version. It was pan fried "xiaolongbao," a soup-filled dumpling that is normally just steamed. These were golden and crispy on one side, and soft on the other, providing an interesting textural contrast. As you bite into it, incredibly flavorful soup instantly flows out, so I recommend eating it in one big bite!
We were starting to get full at this point, but a large piece of fried chicken the size of my face on display at one of the shops we passed was too tempting to pass up. It was on sale as "Taiwan karaage," (karaage is the Japanese word for fried bite-sized meats, usually chicken.
This was far from bite-sized, but the most surprising part was actually the taste! Japanese karaage is usually salty and savory, but this was seasoned with Taiwanese seasonings such as anise, giving it a slightly sweet, enchanting flavor that was absolutely amazing. This ended up being my favorite food that we tried, all though there were so many other things that I would like to try next time when my stomach isn't so full.
Time to Say Goodbye
With full, happy stomachs, we made our way back to the main gate into Chinatown and parted ways with our friendly guide. Although we packed a lot into the tour, it ended up being a very good length of about five and a half hours, and we still had the rest of the afternoon and evening to do as we pleased in Yokohama.
So, what did you think? This has been an introduction of some of the amazing things to do in the port city of Yokohama. If you travel to Japan in the future, definitely consider taking this tour to see the beautiful sights, experience the history, and taste the scrumptious food for yourself!
After Finishing the Tour
The nearby area is a great place to enjoy some nighttime activities. After taking a tour during the daytime, why not take a stroll to see the illuminated city lights at the following locations before calling it a night at one of the nearby hotels?
Harbor View Park (Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen)
If you're wondering where the best place to get a view of Yokohama at nighttime is, this is it! Harbor View Park features a lookout sport that offers stunning views of the Yokohama port and Yokohama Bay Bridge.
Yokohama Minatomirai Manyo Club
Yokohama Minatomirai Manyo Club is an onsen (hot spring) facility where you can relax in the waters and even stay overnight. We recommend enjoying the outdoor footbath with beautiful views of Yokohama's skyline.
If you're curious for more information about the amazing things to do in Yokohama, the YOKOHAMA OFFICIAL VISITORS' GUIDE is an excellent resource. Find the perfect activities for you and enjoy your trip to Yokohama!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.