Tokyobling's Blog

Walking Through Yokohama Chinatown

Posted in Places, Shops by tokyobling on January 17, 2014

The first thing anyone usually notices when entering Yokohama’s famous Chinatown is always the food. There are restaurants, food stores, street stalls and signs advertising food just about everywhere. After a good deal of food thinking, the second thing most people notice is the fact that they are completely lost. Chinatown is not big, you can walk across it in a few minutes but still people invariably find themselves lost and have no idea how to return to where they came from or how to find their bearings once they exit the Chinatown area. It happens to me every single time I visit and it gives a sort of strange pleasurable “spatial slip” where it really feels like I have just entered a different reality. Exiting the area dumps me back into the normal world, with the addition that I am always completely lost. It is fun but slightly disturbing.

Looking at the map of Chinatown easily explains the phenomena though. While all streets in Yokohama are roughly parallel to the shoreline, the streets in Chinatown are all at a very confusing 45 degree angle to the rest of the city. Some people attribute this to Feng Shui being applied in the original town planning by the Chinese who lived here but this is just an urban myth as the town streets were laid out before there were any Chinese people nor any Feng Shui anywhere near Yokohama. In reality the reason is a little more complicated, but mostly due to the fact that this part of Yokohama is built on reclaimed land. The area between Chinatown and the shoreline was once a long narrow lick of land made up of river deposits. This area was picked as a good place to house foreigners and to minimize their contact with the rest of the Yokohama more towards the mainland. But on one speck of land between the mainland, the bay and the Horikawa river there was the small village of Yokohama-Nitta which had plots of land and rice fields already laid out parallel to the meandering Horikawa river (which is still around but now locked in place). When the Shogun government wanted this piece of land for foreign use exclusively he ordered the residents to leave and paid them according to the amount of land they gave up. Hence the old footpaths and plots were kept intact (to make payment of compensation easier) and by the time the Chinese had settled there it was too late to change the street pattern. In time the inland bay was reclaimed and the straight street pattern that makes Yokohama so different from Tokyo had developed around Chinatown. You can see it on the map at the end of the post. I love that when I walk on the streets of Chinatown I am still following the footpaths laid out by the original rice farmers of Yokohama-Nitta village, many hundreds of years ago.

Although most of the original Chinese who settled here were from the Guangzhou (Canton) area, these days there are all sorts Chinese and Taiwanese people, as you can see in the flags and menus of these photos. While walking around I stopped to get one the most famous Chinese dishes of the area, the “nikuman” which is a soft steamed bun with meat filling. You can get them in any convenience store in Japan but the ones here are supposed to be better! And of course, the must have of any China Town, the peking duck show window! If you are into Chinese food you will love the Chukagai (中華街, Chinatown).

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10 Responses

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  1. TonyJ2 said, on January 17, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Thanks for that. Looks like dinner is sorted for our night in Yokohama in April!

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on January 29, 2014 at 4:59 am

      Haha… I hope you find a nice place! My Japanese friend swears by the fact that the best restaurants in Chinatown are the dirtiest looking ones. I am not sure… (^-^)

      Like

  2. pk1154 said, on January 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Oh, that is so wonderfully cool, that the original village has been sort of ‘fossilized’ into the modern streets!

    I LOVE steamed buns–favorite fillings, barbequed pork (char sui) and sweet bean paste.

    Crispy duck skin with green onions and hoisin sauce wrapped in a pancake = heaven on earth. I love duck but rarely cook or order it.

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on January 29, 2014 at 5:03 am

      I agree! I love these little details about our modern Japanese cities… I think you would love the food over here! (^0^)

      Like

  3. acsellaa said, on January 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm

    I am interested in cultural photographY! I will follow your blog to see more. Congrats!
    http://alexadaydreamer.wordpress.com/

    Like

  4. FujikoToyohashi said, on January 19, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Interesting post and great pictures! I loved walking through China Town (and Yokohama in general) but never knew why the street pattern was different. Hope to read a lot more from you.

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on January 29, 2014 at 5:13 am

      Thank you for the kind comment Fujiko! I am glad you like my post. Please come back and visit again soon! (^-^)/

      Like

  5. melsenpai said, on January 31, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Oh how I love Chinatown!!! I can recognize a few of the places in your photos like the big shrine (my mom once took a pic in front of it). My dad grew up just outside of the Chinatown area, near Motomachi. My uncle (dad’s younger brother) used to run a Chinese restaurant near the Rose Hotel, & my cousin (wig her husband) used to run a small ramen shop in Chinatown as well. They have all been retired for a few years already, but they still live in the area. Great photos as always!!

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on February 2, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      Thanks! Wow, your family is quite centered on Chinatown! That must be fun to be part of such an important place in the city! I envy you. (^-^)

      Like


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