Yokohama with kids

By on October 1, 2009

On September 27th, Yokohama wound down its events to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the port’s opening, which is a pity for those who’ve missed the opportunity to see the giant mechanical spider and displays of the city’s past and future, but the good news is that Yokohama has now stopped charging for access to the best bits of the waterfront and the crowds should by now have abated.

What many Tokyoites, both Japanese and foreign, forget is how close Japan’s most populous city is to the capital (yes, since Tokyo was split up into 23 “city wards,” Yokohama inherited the crown of Japan’s biggest city). Public transportation will have you at Yokohama station in less than 30 minutes from Tokyo, Shinjuku or Shibuya, and the lead footed can equal that time by car when the shuto is free of traffic.

Those coming on many wheels rather than four should exit the station on the east side and walk through the Porta underground mall to Sogo. A bit of scouting around will turn up signs to the Sea Bass (sounds like “sea bus” in Japanese, geddit?); a small ferry that shuttles between the crowded station area and the wide open spaces of Minato Mirai and Yamashita. It’s cheaper than a cruise ship and you won’t have to suffer the inane babble of an amplified tour guide. There is no better way to begin a day out in Yokohama. 

Disembark at Minato Mirai 21’s floating pier to access the waterfront Rinkai Park, which is dog friendly and has plenty of space for Frisbee, a kick about or a picnic. No need to worry about supplies as the vast shopping malls of Queens Square and Landmark Tower are just over the road. From the latter, you can ride the world’s second fastest elevator (darn Taipei 101!) to the 69th floor of Japan’s tallest building which is particularly worth doing if a typhoon has just blown the smog off the Kanto plain, revealing fantastic views of Mt Fuji and the Japanese Alps.

Cross the old dockyard housing the Nippon Maru tall ship to the kiddy centric Cosmo World theme park. Rides are suitable for toddlers to teenagers and boat buffs can check out the adjacent maritime museum. From here follow the century old (disused) rail tracks to the Red Brick Warehouses where you can hop on the Sea Bass again or, if the wee ones’ legs are up to it, continue walking along the sea front, past Osanbashi Pier, to Yamashita Park.

The beer garden aboard the old steamer Hikawa Maru will probably be closed by the time you read this, but at the north end of the park lies one of Yokohama’s hidden secrets: A convenience store (that happens to sell beer) replete with indoor children’s play area and picnic tables outside. Now that’s convenience for you.

On the other side of the bay, those coming by car should exit Shuto at Daikoku Futo and follow signs to the Sky Walk: A passageway suspended below Bay Bridge that leads to an observation deck which affords views rivaling Landmark Tower, with the bonus that boys (who love this kind of thing) can watch ginormous cranes loading containers on to freighters and teams of precision drivers driving tens of thousands of new and used cars, trucks and excavators off and on (but mostly on) to car-carrying ships. From Daikoku, it is now possible to drive across to Honmoku and Yamashita on the Bay Bridge’s second deck without paying a toll – follow signs for Route 357 – where you can placate the girls with a trip to the Yokohama Doll Museum.

Finally, a trip to central Yokohama wouldn’t be complete without visiting China Town, but forget the overpriced restaurants and tourist traps: Your kids will appreciate the Yoshimoto Aquarium of Fun far more.

About Justin Gardiner