Almost all of the things I tend to write about inevitably revolve around Tokyo. It’s definitely true that Tokyo has what you’re probably looking for, no matter what it may be. If you’re into anime you’ve got Akiba and Nakano broadway, if you’re into cameras you’ve got Shinjuku West Exit, if you want a bit of seediness you’ve got Kabukicho, if you’re a seedy person yourself you’ve got Roppongi. I could keep going with that for a while but from these examples one could almost see that in Tokyo there’s not one specific flavor but rather a wide variety of flavors. While that is par for the course in a big city, if you try telling me New York doesn’t have a personality of its own I may need to ask you to step outside.
That’s why it’s often hard to characterize Tokyo, depending on who you are I could guess which Tokyo you think is THE Tokyo, but all of those are only found in specific areas that can sometimes be an hour away from each other and ignores that part we all like to ignore; the boring ass businessman districts with practically nothing interesting in them. It’s a collection of centers rather than a single centre flowing outward. Yokohama, however, has an actual more or less indisputable centre to it, where you can feel the kinda seedy kinda classy flavor of it all.
My first trip to Yokohama was awfully underwhelming, it was a day trip and only included the bare minimum and was all based off of third hand information. Living in Tochigi at that time, locals seemed to have the impression that Yokohama is in some way a good place for Chinese food or culture. I’m sorry but I couldn’t say that’s further than the truth. In fact a fun game you can play if you’re in a city is this; does the local chinese store near you have jerky? Is it actually spicy? Can you find Dim Sum anywhere nearby? Have you seen or heard a rumor about Sezuchan or Xian food? Can you get a baked pork bun? If you answered yes, congratulations! Your city is officially better for Chinese things than Yokohama. To put it a better way, people in Yokohama were excited that Panda Express opened up.
In reality, Chinatown is just a small blip of the centre of Yokohama, which I would argue stretches from Isezakicho to Motomachi. The entire area is based around the area near the water and almost every big event in Yokohama has taken place within this area. On the outskirts of this centre in the west you have Koganecho which ranges from artistic to residential to slightly seedy. Moving across there’s Isezakicho which is a highly seedy area cut by a very long and very normal strip mall. There’s Noge and Kannai for drinking after that. Then you end up on the water with Minato Mirai’s super touristy spots, chinatown for grilled xiao long boa (and nothing else!), and motomachi for all of you rich people who want to throw down some major flow on designer goods. Beyond that is where all the yuppies live.
For those who are into drinking, I would argue that Noge is one of the best drinking areas in Japan. Being just across the water from what I’d assume is the highest concentration of brothels in the area, you can find small standing bars each with their own widely different flavors, or move closer to the station to get the larger bars and jazz bars. Some of the craft beer bars are also in or on the border of Noge. The only real downside is that these bars are sometimes interspersed with “snacks”, bars that are somewhat based around paying more for the female bartender to act like she’s interested in you, and straight up sex clubs of varying degrees. It’s hard to imagine people that live here accidentally stumbling into such places, but tourists and black out drunks may want to bring a friend with some sense.
Kannai is a bit more well known for craft beer bars and some larger more normal izakaya type spots. Kannai’s just a quick walk from Noge so there’s really no way for you to know you’ve changed areas unless you have a map in your head or glued your face to your phone. Yokohama’s breweries also have a great deal of their own bars that you can hit up to get that straight from the source goodness. While Noge is the area to go with one or two friends and see where the night goes, Kannai is the more typical bring all of the friends you can to stave off the existential dread sort of affair.
So that’s the centre, there’s really not much need to get into the more touristy spots though I wouldn’t dismiss them either. Landmark Tower in particular has Bukatsudo which is definitely one of the things keeping me sane. Instead lets look up to the north to some of the more hipster places that have popped up. I’m going to come out and say it, the Tokyu Toyoko line is Tokyo’s L train. It’s cheap and provides a direct and quick line right into Shibuya where you can get semi-hipster or transfer onto the Keio and go to Shimokitazawa to get super-hipster. As such, some areas have popped up on this line out of their original old style to accommodate more of an international and student crowd. Probably the most worthwhile one of these places in Hakuraku.
Hakuraku is something that obviously grew out of a traditional Japanese area, and still retains a great deal of charm and interesting shops left over from that time. Old kissaten cafes, old toy stores, some camera stores that may or may not be open, and cramped claustrophobic streets. It also has a bitchin’ record store, a pretty nice cafe, and the best pho I’ve found outside of Tokyo. Though sadly not only good Pho but real Pho is few and far between anyway. There’s also a roaster in the area that I’m on the fence to write about.
There is a lot more that I could go on about, I could talk about the rooftop batting cages in Kamiooka, the unexpected beauty of Negishi Shinrin Park, the tons of other parks near Motomachi and Minato Mirai, the college town feel of Hiyoshi, or the random second hand stores you can find anytime you’re out in the sticks. The art scene isn’t hard to access, the local flavor isn’t yet erased. Don’t make the same mistake I did, if you come to Yokohama, make sure you do what’s really good here.