Yokohama night view,flickr,imhotep123

Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama has a long tradition of looking

outward. Located just 20 miles south of sprawling Tokyo, it was the

first treaty port to conduct foreign trade after Commodore Matthew

Perry opened Japan to the West in 1854. Yokohama went on to establish

Japan’s first English-language newspaper and intercity train line, but

the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the firebombing of World War II

ended Yokohama’s preeminence. Nevertheless, the city has remained a

major seaport, and its international outlook is its distinguishing mark.

That international bent is bolstered by the presence of an American

naval base in nearby Yokosuka, as well as some 70,000 foreign

residents. For its part, Yokohama boasts 193 foreign-affiliated

companies, more than any other Japanese city outside of Tokyo. Yokohama

maintains overseas offices in Los Angeles, Shanghai and Frankfurt,

where it actively recruits investment and new enterprise. Yokohama’s

main export today is the automobile, one reason that Nissan has

announced it will move its domestic and global headquarters to the city

in 2010.

Despite a heavy emphasis on trade and industry, Yokohama is not all

work and no play. In recent years it has become a popular getaway for

Tokyo residents. Yokohama has plenty of charms to dispel the urban

blues. About 200 buildings survive from the days when Americans and

Europeans took up residence in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The

Yamate Bluff district retains much of that colonial legacy, as outlined

in the Yamate Museum. The Bluff is the site of the Foreign Cemetery,

which holds the graves of some of Commodore Perry’s unfortunate

sailors. Most impressive among the surviving structures on the Bluff is

the Diplomat’s House at 16 Yamate-cho, a 1910 mansion that is part of a

charming colonial neighborhood known as the Italian Garden.

Yokohama’s Bashamichi shopping and administrative district is also

marked by treaty days. The Silk Museum in Yamashita Park documents the

commodity that made Yokohama a world port in the 19th century, and the

nearby Yokohama Archives of History traces the opening of the port to

the Western world. The most notable specimen of colonial architecture

here is the ornately decorated former Yokohama Bank, now the Kanagawa

Prefectural Museum of Cultural History.

The real pulse of Yokohama, however, is strikingly modern, even

futuristic. Minato Mirai 21 (MM21) is a forward-looking redevelopment

of the old docks that includes Yokohama’s top hotels, most stylish

restaurants and most expensive shopping centers. MM21 is anchored to

the waterfront by the tallest building in Japan, Landmark Tower. On a

clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji from the observation post on top.

Across from Landmark Tower is another modern colossus, the Cosmo World

amusement park. Its calling card is Cosmo Clock 21, designated as “the

world’s biggest clock.” At the time it first started ticking in 1999,

Cosmo Clock 21 was also the world’s largest Ferris wheel. It has kept

on ticking and turning ever since.

While MM21 is Yokohama’s answer to glitzy Tokyo, its waterfront

location has links to the seaport’s storied past. The Yokohama Maritime

Museum, constructed on a water-filled dock, boasts an entire sailing

vessel, the Swan of the Pacific,

which you can inspect stem to stern. MM21 is also the location of the

Yokohama Museum of Art, designed by Tange Kenzo to showcase modern

creations from East and West. In fact, it is MM21’s dedication to the

arts that has transformed Yokohama into a vibrant contemporary place

worth the daytrip from Tokyo. The old dry docks are now home to some of

Japan’s top bistros, galleries and boutiques.

While the long crescent of Tokyo Bay commands much of Yokohama’s

business and pleasure from MM21 to the Bluff, one should not bypass

Chinatown (known locally as Chuka Gai). This is the secondlargest

Chinatown in the world. There are scores of excellent Chinese

restaurants here as well as tiny curio sh

ops and tumbling alleyways filled with food and antique vendors.

And, finally, there’s a touch of pure Japan here, too. If you head into

the hills south of the harbor, you’ll fall under the spell of Sankei

Garden, a silk merchant’s estate where classic inner and outer gardens

frame a Tokugawa lord’s 17th-century lakeside mansion, tea ceremony

house, Jizo temple and three-story pagoda — reminders that while

Yokohama is always looking forward and ever outward, it is also gazing

back and deep within.