I love harbors and I love big ships and if there is one place to really see them up close it is at the International Port of Yokohama, the Osanbashi Pier. Last year I saw the gigantic MS Asuka II (飛鳥II) at port. It is the largest passenger vessel in Japan right now, at 241m. It has a crew of 545 and can take 960 passengers. I usually use this site to track the position of large ships but I already knew that the Asuka II is currently in port at Hakata/Fukuoka on the north coast of the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan, where it arrived about half a day ago.
The ship was launched in 1989 and is currently sailing under Japanese flag (which is unusual in this day and age of “Flag of Convenience” maritime traffic.
Summer is here and the temperatures are enough to damage my camera even. It is also difficult to take photos of objects far away as the haze of the heat and water in the air makes everything fuzzy around the ages after a few dozen meters. I noticed this especially when I was looking at these old photos from last winter, taken in Yokohama’s Yamashita Park permanent home to the gorgeous Hikawa Maru ocean liner. In these clear winter afternoons you can see for miles out! Although I love summer, every season has it peculiar ups and downs here in Japan.
If you visit Yokohama don’t miss out on a visit to this park, not only is the Hikawa Maru an interesting museum ship to visit, there is also a nearby tower, and the gorgeous piers around the harbor.
One of the things that makes Yokohama one of the most interesting cities in Japan right now is their great use of the city’s prime oceanfront location. There is a great network of sightseeing boats, cruise ships and sea taxies crisscrossing the harbor and if you feel like you need to save your legs while sight seeing or want to try something else than a train or subway ride back to Yokohama station, then the Sea Taxi might be worth checking out. It is not that much more expensive than other public transportation and certainly cheaper than a normal taxi (although not cheaper than a rental bike or bicycle taxi).
I went on the little Sea Bass, the speediest sea taxi in Yokohama bay to save me from walking all the way back to a station and then get on a train back to Yokohama station. At 580 yen (children half price) the ticket price was not too much, especially considering that the night time view of Yokohama from the ocean is pretty sweet.
The Sea Bass commutes from Yamashita Park – Pier Akarenga – Minatomirai Pukari Sanbashi – Yokohama Station East Exit. On the way you will see all these destinations and more. In the last two decades there has been massive development in this area of Yokohama and I see new buildings every time I pass through, for example several new upscale apartment houses and a brad new commercial center at the east end of Yokohama Station. Well, brand new for me at least! You also get a good view of the Japan Coast Guard ships anchored at harbor and the opportunity to spot a lot of other ships and boats coming into or out of the harbor. In winter this ride was pretty chilly but it is fantastic in summer!
The grand Iseyama Koutai Jingu Shrine in Yokohama is one of the most important shrines in Kanagawa Prefecture, but like all shrines associated with Ise, you would not know it from the looks of it. Visually it is one of the most understated shrines in the region and although it is dedicated to the Sun and Star goddess Amaterasu, it was an overcast day in early January when I visited. The Guardian shrine of Yokohama, it was established in 1870 as an offshoot of the national Guardian shrine in Ise. As Yokohama opened to foreign trade there was a need to counteract the growing popularity and influence of Christianity.
In 1928 the shrine main building was destroyed in the massive Kanto Earthquake, but it was rebuilt in the same year.
Trouble did not stop there and today the shrine is also famous for something completely different. In 2002 it became the first shrine ever in Japan to be declared bankrupt. The shrine management ran into financial problems after speculative real estate developments during the Japanese era of the Bubble Economy in the 1980s to 1991. The financial troubles are still ongoing but in the long the shrine will probably survive the yen!
Apart from Amaterasu, the Shrine is also dedicated to Nenookami, the guardian spirit of Noge, the town where the shrine is located and also the place for a rather good zoo (which has no entrance charge!). It is best reached from Sakuragicho station in downtown Yokohama. The shrine is located on the top of a hill and it is quite a walk to get up there. Their official homepage has some nice photos.
On the way down from the shrine I found a plastic velociraptor LEGO toy that some child had dropped. I think he made a fine guardian of the shrine torii (last photo)!