2 Adventures in 1 Day?! Explore the American-Infused Naval Port of Yokosuka, Then the Uninhabited Island of Sarushima!
For a spot of shopping and some good food, you can’t go wrong with a big city like Tokyo. But if you’re looking for something a bit different, then take an in-depth tour of the city of Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture! Located just a 45-60 minute train ride from Shinagawa or Yokohama Station (or a 1 hour ride from Haneda Airport), Yokosuka is one of the most unique places in Japan. For this article, we took a tour of the city, where we were accompanied by a guide who not only knew all of the secrets of Yokosuka, but could also speak a number of foreign languages fluently. Among other things, we admired the Japanese and American warships stationed in the port of Yokosuka, and then explored the uninhabited Sarushima Island. Yokosuka has so much to offer, so you’re sure to find something about it that you love. So, let’s get to know the city!
Feb 10 2021 (Feb 25 2021)
*This article was written in cooperation with the Kanto Transport Bureau, as well as local municipalities and railway companies.
Yokosuka is located in the southeast part of the Miura Peninsula in Kanagawa Prefecture, which borders Tokyo. To its east lies Tokyo Bay, and to its west you’ll find Sagami Bay. Because of its unique geography and position, it has been an important center for modernization and national defense since the late Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Since WWII, it has been transformed into a naval port shared by US and Japanese Self-Defense forces, which has allowed Yokosuka to develop an interesting mix of American and Japanese cultures. Also, because it’s only an hour away by train from Shinagawa and 45 minutes from Yokohama, the largest city in Kanagawa, Yokosuka is also a very popular bedroom town.
Meeting at JR Yokosuka Station
The tour kicked off at JR Yokosuka Station. The station only has one exit, and as soon as we got outside, we quickly found our guide enthusiastically waving at us. Once they made sure that everyone was feeling OK and checked our temperatures, the guide distributed alcohol disinfectant to all participants.
After quickly summarizing the tour, the cheerful guide started us off with a quiz, asking: “What makes Yokosuka Station different from all the other stations?”
Everyone looked at the station building and thought hard, until the answer came to us. The entire station is entirely level! We thought that it was to make it more wheelchair-accessible, but it turned out to be something entirely different. Because the station is located right next to the port, it was originally used to load and unload cargo, which is easier without any steps or stairs. Also, it’s been said that because the Emperor and the Imperial family used to visit Yokosuka, the station features no difference in elevation, to avoid people of lower status looking down at the Emperor of Japan. The tour has barely started, and we were already taken in by the guide’s energy and charm. We could not wait to learn more about the historical naval port of Yokosuka!
The Verny Commemorative Museum: Trace the History of a French Engineer
Located less than a minute’s walk from the station lies the first stop on our tour: the Verny Commemorative Museum. It’s named after and dedicated to the French engineer Léonce Verny, who drafted plans for the construction of the Yokosuka Iron Works, which is said to have greatly helped Japan on its road to modernization. The stunning structure with its slanted roof is influenced by buildings from the French region of Brittany, where he worked. Today, the museum exhibits models of industrial equipment and important historical documents, and also includes a monument of the engineer as well as a park named after him. If you want to know more about the modernization of Japan, this is the place for you!
Coaska Bayside Stores: Find Everything Your Heart Desires
After crossing the park, we arrived at Coaska Bayside Stores, a shopping complex with a high ceiling and bright lights, which includes a supermarket, a cinema, bookstores, household goods stores, a broad range of restaurants from fast food to Japanese, Chinese, and Western, many different fashion shops, and anything else you might need. We knew that after the tour was over, we’d want to come back and spend our money here, the largest shopping mall on the Miura Peninsula!
After entering Coaska, we headed to the first floor to the "Cruise of YOKOSUKA Naval Port" counter to get our tickets for the ferry. We still had some time before departure, so we accompanied our guide to the CD shop, the capsule toy vending machine store, and a few other interesting places! We got to see the latest Japanese trends and even tested our luck with the vending machines. It was a lot of fun!
The Cruise of YOKOSUKA Naval Port: Witness Majestic Warships Up Close
And so we arrived at the first highlight of the tour: the Cruise of YOKOSUKA Naval Port! You board the ferry from the ground level of Coaska Bayside Stores, by the sea. After temperature checks and hand disinfection, we got on the ferry and started the 45-minute cruise of the port. Yokosuka is the only place in Japan where you can see both American and Japanese warships!
The kinds of ships you’ll see differ depending on when you take the tour, so the boat guide needs to have the most up-to-date information about who is stationed in the port. All of us laughed at the boat guide’s stories. Our guide also translated in real-time, which we were all very impressed by. We really enjoyed witnessing the majesty of American and Japanese warships. This tour is definitely not just for military fans; anyone would be excited to witness these giants up close. Personally, we let out a few yells of astonishment!
For example, the American supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan’s length is roughly that of Tokyo Tower (333 meters). Besides military equipment, it apparently also has all the amenities of a small town like a post office, a convenience store, and a restaurant.
We also got to see a submarine being cleaned after returning from its voyage. Seeing it above the water, it was impossible to imagine that it stretched below the surface for another 7 meters.
It depends on the warships’ departure schedule, but you can expect to see 10 to 20 ships during a tour of the port. Our guide (not the boat guide, but the one accompanying us for the whole day) told us a lot of details about every ship we did see. The Cruise of YOKOSUKA Naval Port feels really nice in the summer with the sea breeze blowing in your face, but it can get very cold during the winter. If that’s when you’re visiting Yokosuka, make sure to dress warmly!
Dobuita Street: A Hotspot for American Naval Culture
After getting off the ferry, we walked to Dobuita, Yokosuka’s can’t-miss main street. Measuring 300 m, its name goes back to before WWII. In the past, the Dobu River ran through its center, but with the construction of the neighboring naval yard, the river was covered with a massive iron plate ("ita" in Japanese) so as to not impede traffic. Today, the plate has been replaced by a red brick road, but the name Dobuita continues to remind everyone of the street’s fascinating past.
Dobuita Street is full of English billboards sporting vivid colors and lettering, which seem to energize the area. Passing by the popular burger joints, bars, and military fashion shops, the American cultural vibe of this place was palpable.
If there’s one signature Yokosuka item, it must be the sukajan souvenir jacket. They apparently became popular in the days after the American occupation, when local craftsmen started offering Western-style jackets to American servicemen with oriental motifs like dragons or tigers embroidered on them. They’re still popular with Japanese youth as well as foreign tourists, but looking around Yokosuka, you’ll find that they now come in many different designs. This includes cute ones inspired by manga or ones featuring Amabie, the scaly, supernatural half-human, half-fish creature with three legs that is said to protect against diseases.
HONEY BEE Burger Restaurant: Generous Portions Await!
Other than sukajan, Yokosuka’s specialties are Navy Curry and the Yokosuka Navy Burger! As part of our wonderful tour of the city, our guide took us to a local favorite, the HONEY BEE burger restaurant, to recharge our batteries with a hearty lunch.
HONEY BEE has a neon sign, a long burger counter, and a cool retro design featuring many items related to American culture. Entering the restaurant felt like stepping into an American movie. One wall was full of autographs left by the celebrities who’ve dined here before. You couldn’t ask for a better review than that!
Among all the burgers available at the restaurant, we’d like to recommend you the one that you won’t find anywhere else: the HONEY BEE BURGER. Unchanged since the restaurant opened, it features a delicious bun and a juicy 100% beef patty. Add some honey and mustard to create a dish you will never forget! If you have any food allergies or restrictions, the guide will help you pick something compatible from the menu so that anyone can enjoy a meal at HONEY BEE.
The popularity of American burgers in Yokosuka is obviously due to the presence of American military personnel, but how did Navy Curry become synonymous with the city? It actually goes back to the early Meiji Period (1868 – 1912), when Japanese sailors used to spend long stretches of time at sea and had to deal with the problem of malnutrition. To help combat this, nutritious ingredients like meat and vegetables were all mixed with hunger-suppressing curry spices, and thus the iconic Navy Curry was born.
The restaurant’s Yokosuka Navy Curry comes with salad, potato chips, and milk. While definitely Americanized, this unique combination still feels very Japanese and we highly recommend it!
Exploring the Mystical, Uninhabited Island of Sarushima with Its Unspoiled Nature and Historical Ruins!
Once we replenished our strength, we headed down to the Mikasa Terminal, where we boarded the ferry going to Tokyo Bay’s most unique island: Sarushima. The trip takes about 10 minutes. In the past, Sarushima served as a fort for the Imperial Japanese Army. It never saw any actual combat, and today you can enjoy the evidence of the army’s presence there, like the ruins of the fort, the red brick tunnels, or the remains of gun batteries.
As soon as we got off the boat, we immediately felt the mystical energy of the island with its unspoiled nature alongside the remains of old military facilities. It’s easy to see why Sarushima has become popular with travelers in recent years. The island also opens its beaches to the public in the summer and allows barbecues and fishing all year round.
After walking through the moss-covered red brick tunnels, the ammunition depot, and the remains of the gun batteries, our guide talked to us more about the places we’ve seen and the grim reality of war.
It takes less than an hour to walk around all of Sarushima, but the island offers so much more than historical ruins. You’ll find many squares throughout the island, with one, the Oimonohana Square, featuring steps leading down to a rocky area where you can take pictures of yourself with the blue sky and sea in the background. The square itself allows you to survey the Yokosuka cityscape from an elevated position, and because it’s surrounded by trees, it feels like you’re in the middle of a great vast green sea, which allows you to briefly forget about the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The Majestic Mikasa: One of the World's Three Greatest Memorial Ships
Saying our goodbyes to Sarushima, we return to Mikasa Park, where the Japanese battleship Mikasa, which fought during the Russo-Japanese War, is preserved as a memorial ship. It received heavy damage during the Battle of Tsushima, but under the orders of Commander-in-Chief Togo, the Mikasa continued to fight and despite all odds ended up eliminating Russia’s Baltic Fleet. In 1926, as thanks to this pride of the Japanese nation, the battleship was preserved in Yokosuka and became known as one of three greatest memorial ships in the world, together with the British HMS Victoria and the American USS Constitution.
We saw a lot of magnificent warships in Yokosuka Port before noon, but with the Mikasa, we actually got to go on board the ship and see how it works on the inside. There’s even a naval battle simulator and a VR interactive movie that we got to watch. We really felt like we were there, reliving the history of the Mikasa. We’ll always treasure this experience!
The Tour Comes to an End
After seeing the Mikasa, we returned with the guide to Yokosuka Station, ending our jam-packed 7-hour tour of the city!
Up until now, when thinking of a port city in Kanto, our thoughts tended to turn to Yokohama, an important commercial hub with an adventurous spirit and history. But thanks to this tour, we’ve now also learned about Yokosuka, where American and Japanese cultures mix to create a unique place. And best of all, we got to see all of its highlights while adhering to the strictest coronavirus prevention measures, so those interested in this tour have nothing to worry about. If you’re ever in Kanto and looking for something interesting to do, we highly recommend the "Two Adventures in Yokosuka Tour" of the port and Sarushima island. It’s the best way to get to know this one-of-a-kind city!
What to Do After the Tour
YOKOSUKA GENIC STREET
Along the footpath between Mikasa Park and Umikaze Park, we found a 50-meter-long wall full of photogenic art, exploring the theme of “A message of LOVE from YOKOSUKA to the WORLD!” The project was started in November 2020.
The vermilion torii at Hakuseki-Inari Shrine blend in perfectly with the flowers of the inner temple grounds and the surrounding mountain scenery. In 1966, the main deity of Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine was divided and re-enshrined at Hakuseki-Inari. The tunnel created by over 50 gates all lined up together is a magnificent sight that you won’t find anywhere else on the Miura Peninsula!
The "Yokosuka Brassiere" is a cocktail made by mixing brandy with ginger ale that was invented at the Wakamatsu Market, a retro bar area where the environment of the Showa Era (1926 – 1989) is alive and well. It’s a great place to have a relaxing drink at night.
The WHARF Exhibition Hall
At the WHARF interactive exhibition hall, you can learn about the research conducted by docomo R&D, including the future of mobile communication and all manners of “smart life” technology. Reservations required.
There are many places around the Miura Peninsula where you can admire beautiful sunrises and sunsets. For the latter, we recommend the west coast. It’s a little way away from Yokosuka on the east coast, but the views of the setting sun and Mount Fuji that it offers are more than worth it.
1) Tateishi Park
2) Arasaki Park
If you're looking for somewhere to stay, you can find accommodations here:
Visit the Yokosuka Travel Guide for more recommended travel destinations. We hope you’ll find someplace you will want to visit!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.