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Yokohama resides in the perpetual shadow of its more prominent neighbor. Less than half an hour by train from Tokyo, the sprawling port city is the second-largest in Japan, yet registers as barely a blip among most tourists to the region. But that may soon change, at least among sports fans. This fall, Yokohama is hosting the final and semifinal matches of the Rugby World Cup. And during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the city will host spillover sporting events, including baseball, softball and soccer. Beyond the stadiums, visitors will find much to praise around town, from traditional gardens and temples to only-in-Japan night life and Chinatown cuisine worth a weekend detour from the capital.
1) 4 p.m. Waterside walk
Begin a visit to this bayside city with a walk along the waterfront, where hulking cruise ships, fishing vessels and industrial tankers glide in from Tokyo Bay. Start in the waterside Rinko Park, with lawns backed by towering high-rises, and try to spot fish jumping in the water offshore. Continue south past skyscrapers and a 369-foot-tall Ferris wheel, to the Red Brick Warehouse, a pair of former customs buildings constructed in the late 19th century that have been transformed into a popular shopping complex. Keep strolling south through Yamashita Park, home to blooming flowers and curious statues, and then loop back toward Osanbashi Pier, an international cruise terminal where the futuristic design — all undulating wood with plots of grass — is as impressive as the view of Yokohama’s Bay Bridge and glittering skyline.
2) 6 p.m. Sake and skewers
Join the local after-work crowd at Hanamichi, a boisterous standing bar on the B2 level of the Pio City building. Expect cheap sake — 200 yen a glass (about $1.85) from the decades-old self-serve dispensers on the counter — and snacks like tuna sashimi or piping-hot ebi (shrimp) tempura. Then continue into the neighboring Noge district, a traditional night-life area that has skirted recent waves of urban redevelopment. The lively streets are packed with dining options, but for dinner, duck inside Suehiro, a delightfully dated yakitori joint slinging grilled skewers of kawa (chicken skin), ginnan (ginkgo nuts), shishito peppers and chicken wings. Dinner for two, about 4,000 yen.
3) 8 p.m. Brilliant corner
Step back in time at Chigusa, an enduring jazz cafe that first opened in Noge in 1933. After surviving war, earthquakes, a fire and the death of its founder, this beloved institution was forced to close in 2007, but reopened on a nearby corner a few years later, thanks to support from an official Chigusa fan association. Live jazz shows are regularly staged inside the cozy space, but most nights, customers take turns choosing from the extensive collection of rare vinyl. While waiting your turn, sip a gin and tonic and respect the reverent atmosphere — this is a place for listening, not socializing.
4) 9:30 a.m. Canal course
The calm waters of Yokohama’s canals offer ideal conditions for stand-up paddle-boarding. For a rare perspective of this built-up city, glide past soaring office buildings and along tree-lined canals during a beginner’s course run by Mizube-so, an organization founded to promote aquatic activities in the city. Courses run year-round in good weather, but most popular are the fleeting days of cherry blossom season, when the banks of the Ooka River explode in fluffy pink petals. A morning 90-minute course costs 4,000 yen. In winter, wet suits are available to rent for an additional 1,000 yen.
5) Noon. Lunch lines
Expect a line outside Maruwa, a no-frills restaurant specializing in tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), where regulars eagerly queue before opening time. Inside, this traditional spot has only 25 seats split between a bar, a few small tables and a corner tatami mat. There’s no English menu, but asking for tonkatsu will get you a set meal with hot tea, miso soup, Japanese pickles, rice, raw shredded cabbage and a tender pork cutlet coated in flaky panko and deep fried à la minute until the crust is perfectly golden brown. Absolutely famished? Order the rosukatsu, a larger, fattier cut of pork served with the same accompaniments. And don’t forget a generous drizzle of the house tonkatsu sauce, a thick Worcestershire-style condiment (tonkatsu, 1,200 yen; rosukatsu, 1,900 yen).
6) 1:30 p.m. Garden gems
After lunch, hop on bus 8 or 148 (200 yen) to reach Sankei-en, a peaceful Japanese garden south of the city center. Spanning over 43 acres, this sprawling garden was once the private residence of a wealthy silk merchant, but it has been open to the public since the early 1900s. Amid the forested hillsides sit 17 structures of historical significance that have been transported from other parts of Japan, including an asymmetric teahouse beside a tinkling stream, and a 15th-century, three-story pagoda from Kyoto that occupies a scenic hilltop. But the real draw is the seasonal nature: springtime cherry blossoms, summer’s blooming lotuses, fiery autumnal foliage and late-winter plum blossoms. Stroll along the peaceful paths, over bridges crossing small streams, past bamboo groves and ponds filled with waterlilies and lotus flowers, then rest with a matcha soft serve at a cafe beside the central pond. Admission, 700 yen. Free tours in English are often offered by volunteer guides at 2 p.m.
7) 5 p.m. Vertical diversion
Occupying the grounds of a former shipyard, the central business district of Minato Mirai 21 is today a glitzy neighborhood of modern high-rises, sprawling shopping complexes and several museums, including the Yokohama Museum of Art, the Mitsubishi Minato Mirai Industrial Museum, and the Yokohama Port Museum. Looming above it all is the angular, 972-foot-tall Landmark Tower, the city’s tallest building, where you’ll find an unparalleled vantage of the city and beyond from the Sky Garden, an observation deck on the 69th floor. Arrive before sunset for a view that extends to Mount Fuji on clear days, or go after dark to admire the twinkling urban sprawl. Admission: 1,000 yen.
8) 6:30 p.m. Chinatown color
Colorful, grandiose gates mark the entrances to Yokohama’s Chinatown, the largest in Japan. Wander the narrow alleys strung with red-paper lanterns, past bubble tea cafes and hawkers luring passers-by with multilingual dim sum menus. Hidden within the disarray is Kanteibyo, a gilded Chinese temple with an ornate, crimson-and-gold facade. After admiring the showy site, head to dinner at the Chinese restaurant Dalian. Dumplings are the specialty at this bi-level spot, so once seated — ask for a table upstairs — order some plump gyoza and piping-hot xiao long bao soup dumplings. Add to that an off-the-menu order of mapo tofu, which arrives sizzling and jiggling in a cast-iron skillet, though the spice level is adjusted to accommodate nonnative palates. Dinner for two, about 4,000 yen.
9) 9 p.m. Stand-up sips
Anyone who loves the pint-size bars of Tokyo’s Golden Gai will feel right at home exploring Miyakobashi Shotengai, a two-story riverside strip of bars and snack shops, each no larger than a suburban walk-in closet. Climb the pink staircase to reach the second level, where you’ll find Hoppy Sennin, one of the few bars still serving draft Hoppy, a low-alcohol brew that is mixed with shochu (a distilled spirit) to create a facsimile of a pilsner (original Hoppy) or stout (black Hoppy). Later, get the real thing downstairs at Una casa de G.b. G.b. El Nubichnom, an eccentric street-level tachinomi (standing bar) specializing in Japanese microbrews.
10) 10 a.m. Meditative morning
The Soto school of Zen Buddhism has two head temples, one of which is Sojiji, on the northern edge of the city, a short walk from Tsurumi train station. This temple has history dating to the eighth century, but it was relocated to Yokohama after a devastating fire in the late 1800s. Today the sprawling compound spans over 120 acres of manicured lawns, stately temple buildings, and educational facilities open to visitors interested in the practice of zazen, seated meditation. Stroll the meandering paths on your own, or arrange a guided tour in English with one of the resident monks (400 yen).
11) 1 p.m. Brew crew
The promise of free beer attracts many to the Kirin Beer Factory, an industrial brewery where popular, hourlong guided tours run several times a day (reserve online in advance; in Japanese with English audio guides). The well-organized tour covers the brewery’s history, the mythical creature that gave the brand its name, and its modern brewing techniques. It’s also informatively hands-on: you’ll smell fresh hops and sip first-press wort before being served three glasses of beer and a small snack in a spacious cafeteria. Those who prefer more adventurous, flavorful brews should head next door to Kirin’s foray into craft brewing, Spring Valley Brewery, where taps recently featured a yuzu white ale and an orange-infused I.P.A., worthy of an enthusiastic “Kanpai!”
The Hotel Edit Yokohama is a relatively new Western-style boutique property with spacious public areas, a street-level restaurant and 129 compact rooms in a central location beside the Ooka river, just a five-minute walk from a major train station (6-78-1 Sumiyoshicho, Naka-ku; hotel-edit.com/en; from around 5,000 yen).
Opened in late 2018, the Hare-Tabi Traveler’s Inn is a cozy Chinatown property with 20 wood-paneled capsule rooms fitted with mattresses, ample lighting and décor inspired by compartments on luxury sleeper trains (216 Yamashitacho, Naka-ku; hare-tabi.jp; from 2,100 yen).
The largest range of apartment rentals are in the Chinatown area, where you’ll find both Western-style bedrooms and Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats and futons. Rates for a one-bedroom apartment are often less than $100 on Airbnb.