For longer than I’ve done anything else in my life I delivered Chinese food. Seriously, it’s true, I’m a master of Moo Shu, the king of Kung Pao, and a Dim Sum diplomat. While fast food jockey isn’t something most people brag about I can’t help but wonder if all of the time I spent in that greasy little dive isn’t somehow responsible for my love of Yokohama’s Chinatown.
Once a month I make the trek to the largest Chinatown in Asia which boasts 250+ shops, and a place that reminds me so much of my past. As cooks bicycle past with the day’s ingredients I can’t help but think of all of the people back home at the place that taught me a lot about hard work and growing up. I can remember fishing with my boss at 2 AM and having him tell me stories of what it was like to immigrate to America. About how he lived in Atlanta, San Francisco, and finally the Pacific Northwest. He had an affinity for calling everyone “mother fuckers” and teaching me only bad words in Chinese so I could be his equal I suppose, but I digress.
If you’ve ever visited Japan you may have noticed that there is this sort of homogeny in the landscape. Office building after office building in a handful of shades of gray. Houses too, all lined up in perfect order and painted in browns and grays. Aside from the size, and perhaps the architecture, it’s not the most diverse landscape.
Yokohama Chinatown is however a different story. It’s not a visual diary of the unique, but it is a departure from so much of what makes up urban Japan. Reds and gold are used liberally throughout block after block of unique stores, restaurants, and vendors.
The color red in Chinese culture is said to ward off evil spirits and to also bring good luck and you’ll see your fair share of red paper lanterns strung between red painted buildings that give the area a feel that is different than the rest of Japan. Though Japan has visually interesting areas of it’s own, such as Asakusa, there’s something elusive about Yokohama Chinatown that can’t quite be matched. I can’t quite say what that something is, but there’s no denying it’s a special place.
It’s not only a vibrant place in terms of color palette, but it draws a unique crowd of people as well. There are of course many domestic tourists, but people from all over the world come and visit Chinatown as one of Yokohama’s top attractions. Many people come for the food or atmosphere and I come for the people watching so it’s a win-win. If you’re hungry, Chinatown is particularly known for it’s steamed buns which are available at just about every corner, but you’ll also find other things such as roasted chestnut vendors and traditional sit-down affairs.
Chinatown is fortunate enough to be away from downtown Yokohama and the taller buildings which aids in letting light come through. Most people think Tokyo is great for photography, but if you’re after light you can be somewhat limited in where you shoot and when. In Chinatown, however, most of the streets you’ll be on have good light at least a couple of time per day.
One of my favorite routines is to take the train from Yokohama to Motomachi-Chukagai and then to walk back to Yokohama station or Minato Mirai. It’s about two miles, which may sound crazy, from Motomachi Chukagai station to Minato Mirai station, but there are plenty of things to see.
Along the way from Chinatown to Minato Mirai you can walk through Yamashita Park. The great thing about Yamashita Park is that it’s always filled with people who are doing something. You’ll find artists drawing, couples on benches, and children at play. If you’re a photographer there is almost always someone or something to photograph.
From Yamashita Park it’s a leisurely stroll along the water front to Osanbashi Pier, which is just minutes away. Osanbashi Pier is another really great place to photograph in Yokohama, and probably my second favorite spot after Chinatown. You can always find interesting people relaxing in the sun up on the sun deck or cooling off with a drink inside.
After spending some time at Osanbashi be sure to take a stroll through the Red Brick Warehouses. Although the buildings, which were completed in 1905, now house shopping they once served as a customs house for the port of Yokohama. Their role as such ceased in 1989 and today it’s a great place to grab a beer and people watch for a bit.
If you’ve made it to the Red Brick Warehouses you’re practically done with your tour of my favorite spots to shoot in Yokohama at this point. The giant ferris wheel, otherwise known as the world’s largest clock serves as a good point to end your day of photography in Yokohama. By this point you’re probably sunburnt, full of Chinatown’s pork buns, and thinking that I must be nuts for enjoying a two mile walk in the land of public transportation. But, it’s true, this is my favorite routine for shooting in Yokohama and one that gives me a chance to reminisce about the things that got me to where I am today.
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