Article written by Cherise Fong
As the summer heat rises in Tokyo, sometimes it’s easy to forget how much more there is to explore down south by the bays, just a stone’s throw away (or 30 minutes by train) from the metropolis.
As Japan’s second-largest city, Yokohama is best known for bridging past, present and future with its commemorative gardens and forward-looking harborfront, open to the world since 1859. So one morning, I took a train from Shinjuku that whisked me off to Yokohama’s playful, multicultural waterfront area of Minato Mirai.
From Sakuragi-cho station, I stepped into the brand-new YOKOHAMA AIR CABIN, an urban ropeway that connects the station with Unga Park across the canal. Like silent bubbles stretched across the water, each transparent, naturally air-conditioned cabin offers you a friendly overview of the promenade and plenty of fresh ocean air. The tantalizing ride lasts about 10 minutes and is the perfect introduction to Yokohama’s scenic harborfront.
Not too far away, I caught a glimpse of YOKOHAMA STADIUM, which is world-famous for hosting international baseball and softball competitions. While I couldn’t watch a live game, I was excited to see the flags of this year’s competing nations flying above the stands.
Instead, I ducked out of the hot sun and into Craft Beer Dining &9 (pronounced yakyu, like baseball in Japanese) for taco rice and a cool ale brew. Note to yakyu fans: the beer taps are topped with vintage baseballs and broken bats used by the local Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars team.
After crossing through Yamashita Park, I spied a huge colorful contraption on Yamashita pier. It was a life-sized “Moving Gundam”, the giant robot of anime fame standing 18 meters tall! There was also the “ACADEMY” where you can enjoy and learn about the moving mechanism of the “Moving Gundam” and the “Pilot view experience” where you can experience riding in the cockpit. In addition to entertaining Gundam fans, GUNDAM FACTORY YOKOHAMA offers dreams by expanding research and technology that makes the world of fantasy a reality.
Although I’m not exactly a geek, I was fascinated by the eight-minute spectacle of Gundam coming out of its dock and taking a step forward to kneel, before pointing upward in the final shooting pose. GUNDAM FACTORY YOKOHAMA is a limited-time facility until March 31, 2022.
After witnessing that inspiring experiment of larger-than-life retro-futuristic entertainment, I decided to spend the rest of my afternoon at Sankeien, a historical garden nestled away in a more residential neighborhood by Negishi Bay.
Sankeien is named after its creator, curator and protector, Hara Sankei, a philanthropic entrepreneur and tea ceremony lover who was born in 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, and who died just before the Second World War. During the last 30 years of his life, Sankei transformed a sprawling piece of land into a private collection of restored historical buildings (Inner Garden) and a beautiful Outer Garden that has been open to the public since 1906.
Among the relocated architectural buildings, the Yanohara Family Residence is especially intriguing with its smoking irori (sunken hearth) and gassho-style thatched roof typical of the Shirakawa-go village in Hida (a UNESCO World Heritage site), where it was originally located. Before leaving, I climbed up to Sankeien’s iconic Three-Story Pagoda, built in Kyoto prefecture in 1457, to reflect on the rich history of this lovingly maintained cultural site.
Back in Minato Mirai, I checked in at THE KAHALA HOTEL & RESORT YOKOHAMA for a touch of Hawaii in Japan. My evening began with a gourmet Japanese dinner accompanied by three different styles of fine green tea at Hama restaurant and ended with a long soak in the bubbling jacuzzi on the outdoor roof deck with a view of the stars.
The legendary island of Enoshima is best known for the spiritual pilgrimage along its towering cliffs, all the way down to the Iwaya caves where its original shrines were built in 552.
Fujisawa is the gateway to this mystical island, and not coincidentally the 6th station on the ancient Tokaido pilgrimage route from Edo to Kyoto. So I was delighted to prelude my seaside journey with a visit to the Fujisawa Ukiyo-e Museum, which exhibits many woodcut prints by renowned woodblock artist Hiroshige and others depicting the region during the flourishing late Edo period. Prints range from dramatic ensemble views of Enoshima life with Mt. Fuji on the horizon to parodic portrayals of mermaid-like female abalone divers.
Arriving on the Odakyu railway line, my first pleasure was alighting at the colorfully decorated Katase-Enoshima station, modeled after the undersea Dragon Palace of Japanese folklore. From there, my pilgrimage began with a walk down Subana-dori, a street lined with Hawaii-themed cafés, snacks, souvenirs and sports shops.
Before crossing Bentenbashi bridge, I paused at the dock for Bentenmaru, a sightseeing boat that offers a scenic six-minute ride directly to Chigogafuchi on the far side of the island. It wasn’t running that day, as departure times are irregular and dependent on the season and weather conditions.
But I was quite happy to arrive at Enoshima through the “front door” by walking across the footbridge, which felt like walking right into a modern-day ukiyo-e with the Sea Candle lighthouse rising above the trees. I passed under the island’s historic bronze torii, then up Benzaiten Nakamise street toward the spiritual center of the island, Enoshima Shrine.
On my way up through Monzenmachi (temple town), I spotted the red octopus of Asahi Honten on the left. This flagship shop is famous for its takoyaki senbei, large flat rice crackers that include at least one whole octopus, if not shrimp or local shirasu whitebait, freshly pressed on the spot. Irresistibly attracted to the eye candy, I bit into the shop’s own novelty blue senbei accentuated with multicolor-dyed shirasu for a crispy treat.
After passing through the stately white Zuishinmon gatehouse at the top of the street, the first and largest of the three main shrines I encountered was Hetsumiya, dedicated to the goddess Tagitsuhime. On the roof and the lanterns of the main building, I saw the Enoshima Shrine crest depicting three triangular scales surrounded by oncoming waves.
Walking up the steps leading to the next temple, I was rewarded with a clear view of Enoshima’s landmark Yacht Harbor. It was built especially to host international sailing competitions in 1964, as it is hosting them again in 2021. On some weekends, local yacht races are held here too.
I continued on to the vermilion-colored Nakatsumiya, which enshrines the goddess Ichikishimahime. Originally built in 853, this more flashy shrine was remodeled and repainted bright red in 1996. The stone lanterns were donated by kabuki actor guilds, as artistically inclined Enoshima was once a popular pilgrimage site for kabuki performers.
On the other side of the island, I approached Okutsumiya, the cliffside shrine dedicated to Takirihime, who watches over a peaceful sea in an area that is prone to typhoons. I was particularly drawn to the lair-like Wadatsuminomiya, which enshrines the Dragon God with its literally over-the-top stone dragon figure sprawled above the entrance.
By then it was high time for lunch, so I sought out Uomitei, one of several cliffside restaurants facing west with a view of Mt. Fuji. Serving hungry travelers for some 140 years, they offer both the local specialty of shirasu-don and their own classic Enoshima don (turban shell mixed with egg) rice bowls. I chose to savor their exquisitely prepared sashimi (raw fish), fresh from Sagami Bay.
Stairs led directly from the restaurants down to Chigogafuchi, a rocky shoreline named after a young Buddhist page who once dove to his death in the “abyss” of the deep waters. Still, I found this sea-eroded plateau bubbling with marine life to be the most naturally photogenic location on the island—and an ideal spot to watch the sunset over Mt. Fuji at sea level.
I followed the cemented walkway into the caves that shelter the spiritual origin of Enoshima: Iwaya. Inside, the cavernous tunnels were smoothly paved and dimly lit, lined with informative panels about Enoshima’s history and culture. These eventually gave way to walls of donated statues, as the path continued past dripping stalactites toward the deep sacred site.
Back on the mainland near the top of Subana-dori, I paid a visit to Ryuko-ji, a quieter temple that offers a spacious sanctuary away from the area’s main attractions. The grounds include shaded steps and secluded footpaths around a shrouded zelkova-wood five-story pagoda, which emerges at the top of the hill. There, I finally sat down to rest in front of the temple’s peaceful white stupa.
To learn more about these destinations, please visit Kanagawa Prefectural Government at https://trip.pref.kanagawa.jp and Yokohama Convention & Visitors Bureau at https://www.yokohamajapan.com.
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