About a week ago, Jaime, Holly and I hopped on a train and headed down into the city of Yokohama. Yokohama, one of Japan’s largest ports, is also one of the largest cities in the country, topping out somewhere between 3 and 4 million people. In combination with Tokyo, the area constitutes the largest metropolitan area in the world at around 35 million people. The city lies south of Tokyo on the edge of Tokyo Bay (or as Yokohama residents refer to it, Yokohama Bay). While a bustling port city, Yokohama is also well-known for its international vibe, energetic festivals and soaring architecture. We visited the city on a bit of an off day, so we didn’t see anything too crazy in regards to street performers or other types of entertainment. However, we definitely took in the sights of the various skyscrapers and soaked in the international flavors.
Our first main stop was at the Yokohama Landmark Tower. Built in 1993, this is Japan’s largest building at 970 ft high. While it’s true that the Tokyo Tower actually edges it out in height (1091 ft), the Landmark Tower has the highest observation deck in Japan on the 69th floor, otherwise known as the Sky Garden. Plus, the 70-story Landmark Tower is an actual building consisting of shops, restaurants, offices, etc. on the first 48 floors while an impressive 5-star hotel occupies floors 49-70. Our goal was to get to the observatory, and to do that, we were put on the world’s second fastest elevator, topping out at 28 mph. That may not seem very fast, but the ascent from ground level to floor 69 took all of 40 seconds. It was easy to tell we were gaining some altitude because my ears were constantly popping throughout the quick trip. Stepping out of the elevator, we were greeted with expansive views of the bay and urban landscape below. To the north, the skyscrapers of Tokyo were just visible, proving just how massive the Tokyo Metropolitan Area really is. We wandered around the observation deck for a while and settled into some nice leather chairs for a drink. The tower is regarded as a very romantic place, as evident by the multiple candelabra strategically placed around the couches and by the windows. The views were awe-inspiring. In the past two weeks, I’ve made it to the top of Tokyo Tower for sunset, flown a little prop plane over the entire prefecture, and was propelled to the top of the country’s tallest building. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen the area from an assortment of different perspectives!
After browsing around the shopping mall (and scoring a classy white suit), we walked through the area of Minato Mirai 21 (the urban development project home to the amusement park, Landmark Tower and most other attractions of downtown Yokohama) where Jaime and I took a ride on Cosmo Clock 21, the world’s largest clock and one of the world’s largest ferris wheels. From our seats, we were able to see even more of the city (as if we needed another bird’s-eye view) as the sun slowly sank behind the Yokohama skyline.
We got our Yao Ming on by strolling through Yokohama’s Chinatown, the largest in Japan and one of the world’s biggest. What was most striking about the area was the preference for the color red, which was used in everything from paint schemes for restaurants, lanterns, temples and clothing. We settled on a small restaurant (of which there are about 500 in Chinatown) and had something close to a 15 course meal. The food was good, but the waiting staff could have been a little nicer. Nonetheless, it was a great ending to a day in Yokohama. Aside from the drunk man we saw piss himself on a street corner outside the train station, nothing too crazy happened!
A couple of days ago, I went back down to Yokohama with 5 other Air Force people to watch a soccer game between the Yokohama F. Marinos and the Urawa Red Diamonds. The two-hour train into the city passed fairly quickly with the help of a few rounds of Chu-His (alcoholic beverages available for cheap at any respectable train station). The game was being played in the Yokohama International Stadium, also known as Nissan Stadium. It hosted the 2002 World Cup championship game, and its size made it easy to imagine 100,000 crazy fans packed in to watch the world’s largest sporting event.
The game we saw was nowhere near being sold out, and our tickets had us about 9 rows up from the sideline. At each end of the stadium, each team’s respective fan section waved flags, pounded drums and belted out songs for the entirety of the game’s 90 minutes. It was fun to see a game, but the teams weren’t all that impressive. My guess is that each team’s best players were off in South Africa preparing for the World Cup, so the usual excitement wasn’t there. However, I was at a sporting event with other Americans, and if there’s one thing Americans know how to do well at games, it’s drink. Couple that with the fact that I go to school at the University of Idaho, where decades of futility have sharpened the fan base’s ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol and the fact that I was with a group of military people, and, well, let’s just say that we had an excellent time. Beer vendors cruised the aisles (actually, they kind of circled around us like a group of hungry vultures, just waiting for the first glass to empty and the opportunity to sell us another round) with small kegs strapped to their backs. I have a feeling that an opportunistic company back in the states could make a killing by selling college-themed keg backpacks at tailgates…just a thought. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, which was a little disappointing. However, we made friends with a couple of old Japanese guys who were having as much fun, if not more, than we were. In Japan, they don’t check your bags when you walk into stadiums, and even if they did, I don’t think they’d care if you brought your own booze with you. I had a backpack on me, and I wish I would have known this helpful little tip in advance…would have saved a fair amount of money for everyone! These two guys had carried in a couple of thermoses full of sake, complete with tiny plastic cups they were taking shots out of. Every time one of us Americans would blurt out something stupid regarding a missed shot or a bad call, our friends would clap for us and do the same. For me, they made the game!