Edited by Matthew Wears
Yokohama is a city where the East collides with the West - where traditional Japanese izakaya sit side by side futuristic towers, and tiny ramen bars compete with very high-class restaurants. Down curious side streets or in unconventional neighborhoods you will find some of the best-hidden gems in Yokohama. It is in these places that I think the real spirit of the city begins to shine through! For my top ten list of Yokohama hidden spots, I will tell you some of my favorite galleries, neighborhoods and Yokohama attractions. There will also be enough information about what to do in Yokohama at night so that you can try out the izakaya and restaurants that make the city so special. I hope I can persuade you to see Yokohama off the beaten path - there is so much more to it than meets the eye.
Don Don Down on Wednesday
Don Don Down on Wednesday is a shopping experience like no other in Japan. On the surface, it is just a second-hand clothes shop where you can find rare designers like Comme des Garçons, vintage Nike or Jordan - but there is a big difference. As you might have been able to tell from the name, every Wednesday the prices get lower, and lower, and lower until you’d hardly believe how cheap they are. The only problem is that someone might be watching the same item as you are, so you have to choose your time very, very wisely or you might lose it. Do you risk waiting until your vintage Jordans are down to one-thousand Yen? Or do you pay more now and know that you will be walking the streets of Yokohama with them? That’s the fun of it! For any visitor who wants to purchase some bargain items or wants to experience a completely new way of shopping, Don Don Down on Wednesday is one of the must-visit hidden gems in Yokohama for you.
Goru Men is a tiny little ramen shop in the undiscovered nightlife district of Noge, an area that has the most exciting nightlife in Yokohama. Every region in Japan has its special variation of classic Japanese dishes like ramen, and in Yokohama, our unique style of ramen that a must-try dish. We call it iekei ramen, which roughly translates to “home-style”, and it’s made from a unique blend of tonkotsu (pork bone) and shoyu (soy sauce-based) broth. To try it, go to Goru Men - a very traditional ramen shop, which is little more than a small room with only a bar and some stools to sit on! Enjoying a flavorsome bowl of traditional ramen is one of the most popular things to do in Yokohama for locals, but it is still very undiscovered by tourists. This ramen shop is even so popular that I sometimes see a line of people coming out of the door on very busy evenings.
Life can sometimes move very fast in Japan, so we always try to make things as efficient as possible. One example of this is the famous Japanese standing bar culture, where you can get a drink and eat a meal without even sitting down. Home Base is one of these standing bars, which we call tachinomiya, in the basement area of the Minato Mirai Station. As you’d expect with a location like this, it serves the workers and businessmen heading home good food and drinks at a very affordable price before they catch their train. There are many secret places in Yokohama, especially bars, but Home Base is one of the least known to tourists. When it is very busy, most people will probably walk past it and think nothing of it – but you must go in! Inside you can drink some fine Japanese beer and try some flavorsome finger food, all while you watch the busy workers go on their way. I think that Home Base is one of the Yokohama hidden spots that will give you a taste of real Japanese culture.
Ride on a Cyclopolitain tricycle
You need to make time to experience one of the most alternative things to do in Yokohama; a ride in a Cyclopolitain tricycle taxi. You will see these things everywhere when you walk around the futuristic Minato Mirai area – just flag one down, jump in and spend some hours taking in the sights. This area is so huge that sometimes it can be easy to get fed up with walking, so it can be cool to take a ride instead and see the sights differently! Sit back and look out over the port area, Landmark Tower and Cosmo Clock Twenty-One, all whilst someone else is doing all of the work! You can use it as a real taxi or agree a price and get your own personal driver to take you to the must-see spots around this part of the city. They are usually very affordable as well – I don’t think I’ve ever taken one that was over one thousand Yen.
Yokohama Museum of Art
The Yokohama Museum of Art normally has some kind of exhibition on with Japanese artists, but sometimes they have works from famous European artists too. I always check before I come here just to see if there is anything that interests me – the exhibitions are always changing so you should look on the website first. For some real hidden gems in Yokohama, you should visit the information and media center here, which is similar to a library in some ways. Spend a little bit of time browsing their huge collection of art books inside a room which has a very calming atmosphere. Many people here will be researching for their own work, so you will have to be very quiet.
Did you know that Yokohama was the first place in Japan to start brewing beer? Thanks to our port, we learned many things from our neighbors across the Pacific before anyone else in the country did. The first brewery to open in Japan, in 1869, was called Japan Yokohama Brewery. But, this is where you need to pay attention! Another brewery, called Yokohama Brewery opened in the city in 1995, and this is the place which to me has the real spirit of Yokohama. This brewery is unique in that it only uses water, wheat, and fruits from the Yokohama region in the brewing process. They make around ten different varieties! Although they don’t do tastings in-house, I would recommend you come here to buy some unusual brews and craft beers to take away with you. You won’t be able to find these beers anywhere else in Japan. If you do want to taste their beers before you buy them, you can go to Umaya-no-shokutaku, a restaurant where they have a tasting menu of five different beers.
From the first place to make beer, to the first place to make ice cream – I told you we had many firsts! If you’re traveling in Japan, you might have come across Bashamichi ice-cream - it’s one of our most famous brands of ice-cream and you can buy it almost everywhere. But Bashamichi Street (or “horse street” as it translates in English) is where it all began back in 1869 when Fusazo Machida made the first ice-cream here. Unfortunately, you can no longer get the ice-cream on the street anymore, but it’s still cool to see the place where it started since it’s an important Yokohama food. If you do want to try it, you can get it at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse from the Yokohama Bashamichi Ice shop – they even make a flavor that replicates the original.
For anyone who would enjoy experiencing Yokohama off the beaten path, you can’t go wrong with Chinatown. Small colorful streets with lots of character make this a very interesting area to walk around, with some of the most extraordinary food anywhere in Yokohama. Kowseiwa is a favorite place of mine to come when I want to taste the best Chinese food in the city. The dim sum from here is very famous among locals, but more specifically it is the shark fin dim sum that gets most of the attention from tourists. Take your dim sum (you don’t have to get the shark fin!) and find somewhere to sit whilst you enjoy the atmosphere of the Yokohama Chinatown. Even if you are here for a short time, you do not want to miss this.
The Koganecho area redevelopment is one of the biggest success stories in Yokohama. After World War Two, Koganecho became known for being its black market and red-light district, but the local people wanted to clean it up. Over many years it was renovated and is now an art town with galleries, exhibition spaces and stalls lining the streets. Some of the best-hidden gems in Yokohama can be found here; such as the Koganecho Area Management Center, the main facility responsible for the huge cleanup. Walk these once treacherous streets and see works from local, national and international artists on display in the studios underneath the arches - it’s cool to spend a whole day like this. When you have seen enough art, stop for a coffee in one of the very cool coffee shops such as Tinys, or even a sophisticated cocktail in Laugh Park. If you are really lucky, you could be here during the Koganecho Bazaar Art Festival held every Autumn.
BankART is another gallery, this time not in Koganecho, but in the Minato Mirai area instead. This is a very interesting place because the building itself used to be a working bank, but now it’s the best contemporary art space in Yokohama which showcases art from mostly local artists. This famous waterfront building has studios and event spaces, a café and even a library too, so it is much more than just a gallery. You could very easily spend a whole afternoon looking at the beautiful artworks and enjoying this extraordinary building. BankART is one of my favorite Yokohama hidden spots because the quality of the artwork is very good, plus you will always get a different experience each time you go.
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