Japan 2014 — Day 16: Yokohama — Sakuragicho, Shin-Yokohama

Yokohama marks the last leg of our 2014 Japan trip. We didn’t intend to stay in Yokohama ini­tially but plans changed along with our exten­ded stay in Tokyo. It’s a quick day trip to Tokyo (45 min by express trains, but not shinkassen, and only about Y550 one way).

Sakuragicho

The weath­er clears up around Tokyo the day we arrive in Yokohama. More pre­cisely, the rain was replaced by a freez­ing cold front — the kind that brings wind that chills you to your bones. But that’s all right! We can put up with the cold — we love the cold! The beau­ti­ful weath­er without a cloud in the sky gave a flaw­less back­drop of blue skies to our Yokohama pho­tos. Above you have the view of Minato Mirani with the icon­ic fer­ris wheel.

We walk across the bridge to reach the Minato Mirai area where the Cup Noodle Museum is. We’re based 2 minutes away from Sakuragicho Station.

Yokohama is a totally dif­fer­ent creature to any of the major cit­ies we’ve been to in Japan — Osaka, Nagoya, or Tokyo. Ehat struck me most was the com­plete lack of people on the streets, and by that I mean where­as you can’t go any­where in those cit­ies without see­ing someone else on the street with­in about 10 to 20 m of you, in Yokohama you could walk with your eyes closed (and I did for a bit because the wind chill was hurt­ing my eyes!) and know you won’t bump into any­one. Why? Because there’s no one around! But it’s more than that, but I’ll get into that later.

Half way through our walk we real­ise we’ve run out of cash because we for­got to vis­it the Seven Eleven near our Tokyo hotel before leav­ing. So we detour to Queens Square to hunt down an ATM, which google tells us is at Minato Mirai Station.

Google only knows that the ATM is in Minato Mirai sta­tion, which isn’t all that help­ful when the sta­tion itself is huge (it’s at the far end of the sta­tion that’s rather deser­ted and above an escal­at­or) . The sta­tion is loc­ated at the base­ment of Queens Square, and you can see the train tracks from with­in the ship­ping mall. While at Queens Square we come across what appeared to be a hairdress­ing com­pet­i­tion where people style a wing of hair. There’s also a giant Snoopy sus­pen­ded from the ceil­ing of the atrium.

After mak­ing our way above ground, we head past a hos­pit­al with a sign keen to tell people it’s a hos­pit­al in mul­tiple lan­guages (ah, Krankenhaus in German!). Minato Mirai was built as a mas­ter planned devel­op­ment in the 1980s and you def­in­itely feel it in its under futur­ist­ic vibe. It looks and feels like no oth­er place we’ve been to in Japan.

Heading back towards the Cup Noodle Museum, we find out that in the midst of shuff­ling our itin­er­ary around we’d for­got that it wasn’t open on Wednesdays. So anoth­er quick change of plans was in order.

We head back to World Porters across the street from the Cup Noodle Museum to grab some quick break­fast from a bakery. D sticks to his trust curry pan while the globs of cheese and basil leaves of this tomato sauced bread draws me in — it was quite deli­cious too!

Shin Yokohama

We post­poned our explor­a­tion of Sakuragicho and Minato Mirai for the fol­low­ing day, and instead head to Shin Yokohama to explore that area before end­ing up at the Ramen museum for dinner.

While our first impres­sion of Shin Yokohama wasn’t too prom­ising after get­ting off a 1 plat­form sta­tion, things star­ted look­ing up as we headed towards the shinkassen plat­forms with its accom­pa­ny­ing abund­ance of shops both on the con­course and above the sta­tion. Shin Yokohama feels more like the Japan that we’re used to.

Our first food stop is Manneken, a Belgian waffle store on the con­course. We choose a chocol­ate waffle dipped in dark chocol­ate and drizzled with white chocol­ate. It tastes all right — waffles taste bet­ter hot.

We head towards an hall­way that’s lined with food stores right up our alley. 

We stop by Cafe Pronto for a place to eat our waffle and for some much needed hydra­tion. As usu­al I order an iced lem­on tea while D sticks to his iced cafe au lait.

Our next stop is Chibo. We’d inten­ded to have oko­nom­iyaki in Osaka but nev­er got around to it or when we did the queues were too long for our hungry stom­achs. Chibo is one of those oko­nom­iyaki places in Osaka with a con­stant queue. Lucky for us, they have a branch in Shin Yokohama! Yokohama is gen­er­ally less crowded than we’re used to any­way (prob­ably on par with Sydney, which is to say it’s not crowded at all) and it was past lunch hour so the res­taur­ant was empty.

We’re pretty full from the earli­er snack­ing so we ordered a sea­food oko­nom­iyaki to share between us (~1200). The hot plate where they cook the oko­nom­iyaki faces the cus­tom­ers so if you ask for a bar seat you get to see your food as it’s pre­pared. We’re seated in a booth but the empti­ness of the res­taur­ant meant we still got a food view.

Once the okonomyaki is ready, it’s brought over to the hot plate at the centre of your table to be kept warm. You sea­son it to your hearts con­tent after they’ve done their magic with the okonomyaki sauce and may­on­naise. We love the bonito flakes and sea­weed powder so loud up!

Really, okonomyaki tastes like a dens­er and flat­ter ver­sion of okonomyaki. We were really quite impressed with the okonomyaki — it was very gen­er­ous with its prawns and octopus. 

In a shop­ping mall near Shin Yokohama sta­tion, I find a pretty navy blue tote, and we finally try a basil seed drink (the drink that looks like tad­poles!). Basil seed has a slightly slimy tex­ture that isn’t unpleas­ant. It’s rather taste­less though.

On the way to the Ramen Museum we spot a life size panda plush toy out­side a well­ness Burger cafe.

The nar­row­ness of the streets in Japan and the dark­ness of the even­ing makes the Ramen Museum rather non­des­cript. But when you’re on the right street you’ll notice ramen bowls serving as lamp shades out­side the building.

Admission to museum is Y350, which includes access to the souvenir/​museum shop and the area with the ramen shops. Payment is required if you wish to order from any of the shops, although they do serve half por­tions so you can try more than one kind without get­ting full on one bowl. 

On the ground floor (or as the Japanese like to call the first floor) is the souven­ir shop. They show and sell vari­ous equip­ment used in ramen mak­ing, selling, and eat­ing like ladels, bowls and the okamo­chi. I found the okamo­chi par­tic­u­larly fas­cin­at­ing as they fea­ture in anime. It’s how you get ramen delivered. I nev­er quite under­stood why they had to deliv­er the noodles in the soup con­sid­er­ing that makes it prone to spill­ing. It seems to make more sense to assemble them after deliv­ery. But I guess that would slow the deliv­ery per­son down.

The cent­ral area of the museum (and the reas­on why people vis­it) is built to resemble Japan in the 1950s, the dec­ade dur­ing which instant ramen was inven­ted (and in this way links nicely with the Cup Noodle Museum in Minato Mirai). The main attrac­tions are 9 ramen stores set amongst make­shift shop fronts of bars, bath­houses, hous­ing, and cloth­ing stores. The ramen stores each sell a dif­fer­ent kind of ramen — the accom­pa­ny­ing guide tells you the thick­ness of the noodles and the broth sold at each store so that you can make an informed decision about which place you want to eat at.

Our first pick was Narumi Ippudo, which opened only in the last few months. It serves the ramen that’s sold at Ippudo stores in France, so there’s a dis­tinctly French twist to it.

The noodles are served in a beau­ti­ful con­sume that was very more­ish — the kind of broth that makes you want to drink it all instead of leav­ing it after eat­ing the noodles. We ordered only half por­tions of this dish, which was unfor­tu­nate because it was the bet­ter of the two we tried. It’s not authen­t­ic ramen but eas­ily the tastiest! 

In between ramen samplings, a street per­former sets up out­side. He’s dressed up in ninja gear and enter­tains the audi­ence with tricks done by catch­ing the ball on the wooden ham­mer. Anyone who’s ever tried to do this will appre­ci­ate that it’s actu­ally quite dif­fi­cult to do once let alone when your body is in con­tor­ted positions!

The staff are dressed as guards, but wear overly dra­mat­ic blush to liven the atmosphere.

Our second serving is from Toride. The entrance to this store smelled a lot like pork bones, which was a little off put­ting, but we fea­tures in any­way. We ordered full servings of this store’s dish as we wanted to fill up on dinner.

While Narumi Ippudo serves the clearest of soups, Toride is sev­er­al degrees thick­er. The ramen at Toride is def­in­itely more Japanese and comes com­plete with the deli­cious soft boiled egg, sea­weed (dried and fresh), bean sprouts, and of course a slice of pork. D quite liked the soup here too and drank some of it, but came down with an MSG head­ache of sorts afterwards.

There’s a green loop line in Yokohama that we kept mis­tak­ing for the Yamanote line in Tokyo. But that’s all right, most reas­ons stop at Sakuragicho, the old­est train sta­tion in Yokohama.

This is the amaz­ing view of Tokyo Bay view from our hotel room with the icon­ic fer­ris wheel you see as a back­drop to many anime scenes set in Yokohama.