The sun made all the difference. Waking up with our alarm at 5am (we always get up at this time), I took a peek outside to see a few clouds with clear sky, and this screamed, “sunrise photo op.” I happily obliged, grabbing the tripod and wandering just down the street to a small river crossing. We didn’t have any sort of clear shot, but I still loved the feel of the early morning. We even saw someone feeding the pigeons, and I caught some seagulls on the river.
After breakfast at our hotel, we hopped a train to Yokohama. I was immediately energized by the gloriously warm rays, and it put both of us in a great mood. We made our way to the Landmark Tower, passing a beautiful ship, the sidewalks lined with yard-sale-like vendors. From the Sky Garden observation deck 40 seconds (via Japan’s fastest elevator) and 69 stories up, we had a clear vantage of the entire city, including the anime-famous clock Ferris wheel. Intrigued by a “coffee float,” we chilled with the view for a bit and gave in to the cheesy custom postcard photo booth before heading down. Next time: go up during sunset or at nighttime for better photos.
I didn’t know what the day’s plan entailed, but I asked about the Ferris wheel, as it is such an iconic anime symbol. As it turns out, it wasn’t on the schedule at all, so I was quick to change that, insisting that we return after dark to get the nighttime views (though Aaron originally suggested we hit it next).
We walked around the theme park and wound up at the Cup Noodles Museum. No, much as it’s far more natural to say, there is no “of” in there. I never knew there was so much history to one instant noodles producer; they had walls of all of their various cups across dozens of countries. We sprung for the experience to make our own flavored noodles, packaged in cups we decorated. Aaron opted for dried shrimp and various flavors; I went with curry and some of the cute fishcakes. We then protected them with inflatable bags and draped them like a silly tourist around our necks with all the other visitors.
With our new edible souvenirs in-hand, we walked along the water through a nearby park to the Red Brick Warehouse. It was a simply gorgeous day, so everyone was outside, walking with their kids, resting on the lawns, or taking perfectly-timed jumping selfies. The long red building houses many restaurants and shopping, so we entered to find some food. We couldn’t find much in the way of hints of English, and the one restaurant we tried turned us away saying the tables were full. We gave up, munching on some snack bars instead.
All was not in vain, however. The bright sunshine had a very unusual effect on a section of the windows. I’m not sure if it was a tinting on the glass, but the sun cast a very distinct arcing glare. Of course I had to snap a picture.
We then ventured into town – into Chinatown. The architecture was very picturesque; there was so much to look at. Seeing a street vendor selling pork buns, we knew it was time for a bit of protein. She didn’t speak any English, but we were able to point our way through the transaction; it wasn’t as scary as we had made it out to be. Hearing the clangs of nearby music, we sought it out, discovering a dance of three Chinese dragons. Apparently, it was a thing for mothers to carry their children up to the dragons, who proceeded to try to eat them. I can’t imagine any reason why the toddlers would be terrified…
The afternoon was waning, so we wanted to make our way back to the pier to catch the sunset. We continued through Chinatown, popping out into an adjacent park and discovering a resident cat hanging out in a dry pond.
Ousanbashi Pier was somewhat crowded, but I wasn’t bothered by it. I couldn’t get over the beautiful waves of wooden planks that form the 400-meter pier. It proved the perfect vantage of the city (it would seem other photographers agreed), and that Ferris wheel didn’t disappoint. It was illuminated wonderfully, serving as a city-wide clock (ticking the seconds) and erupting into patterned light shows every ten minutes.
We were delighted to find the entire waterfront area lit up after dark. A dragon atop a moored boat attracted my attention during the daytime, and it was even more fascinating when lit up.
Additionally, there were numerous displays, including multi-colored stools, ornamented trees, and life preservers that cycled through a rainbow of hues. There was even a building featuring a (somewhat creepy) painted face projected on its tower, singing ABBA and The Sound of Music. This was all part of Yokohama’s Smart Illumination, an autumn celebration we just lucked upon.
When my photographic tickles were scratched, we made our way back over to the Ferris wheel. My back was now quite sore, as we had been walking or standing almost the entire day, so I was looking forward to sitting for a bit. We purchased our tickets from a vending machine (like many other things in Japan) and joined the line. We later found this was Japan’s Culture Day, so many students were out of class and playing in the park. We had to wait about 45 minutes (standing), but the beautiful views of the nighttime city was ultimately worth it. You can optionally wait longer for the single clear gondola, but this really only gives you an additional floor panel through which you can view the sights; it really wasn’t a necessary upgrade. We got one slow rotation of the enormous wheel before departing.
Aaron originally planned for a ramen museum for dinner (we were quite hungry by this point), but given the holiday and late hour, it was closed. We wandered into a nearby shopping area food court, found a menu with English, pointed, and ate dinner. I had a very new dish for me: Korean soup, which came with a raw egg (that you cook yourself in the still-boiling broth) and spicy kimchi.
We then limped our way back to the train to go home. I never realized how much my back would hurt after 26k steps (~13.5 miles).
- You’ll still have trouble sleeping even the second night. Jet lag holds on tight.
- Sunrise is totally worth getting up early for, even if you don’t have a clear shot.
- Sunshine completely changes the feel of a city.
- People really do literally run around everywhere. Everyone is in a huge hurry!
- Fish fillets are easier to eat if you start from the smaller end. The sections split apart without much effort, and the bones are more clearly visible.
- At calmer intersections, there are spots on street corners that will trigger a crossing signal. They are denoted with a pair of footprints inside a circle. Stand there if you can’t seem to get a signal.
- The Japanese love their heat. Perhaps it’s due to their affinity of skirts. Everywhere was warmer than I’d like (and I have a high tolerance), and our room’s cleaners kept resetting our thermostat to 24 degrees (celsius).
- Toilet paper in public restrooms (we didn’t come across any that didn’t have some) is not always perforated. You can tear it like a good brute-force American, or you can use the curved metal plate as an edge against which to tear it cleanly.
- Some restrooms do provide soap. Their dispensers work by pressing your palm up underneath them.
- If you can’t push or pull a door, perhaps it slides.
- Try to hit the high points early or late for the best lighting.
- Do the cheesy activities. They make the best memories.
- Water fountains exist!
- Japanese plumbing has pressure. Sinks, toilets, shower heads, water fountains. There is no gentle stream; it’s either off or Niagara Falls.
- If a restaurant is full, you might simply be turned away, not asked to wait.
- Never underestimate the power of pointing to order food from a menu without English.
- Follow interesting noises and sights; you never know what you might discover.
- Look up ahead of time where and when the sun will rise and set. Go out of your way to catch them (if you’re into that sort of thing).
- Advertising is cleverly placed everywhere – including on singing trucks that just wander the streets.
- Just because English is on the storefront, it doesn’t mean there is English on the menu.
- When in doubt, observe and imitate.
- 26k steps in a day will completely wreck your back if you’re used to a third of that. Make a conscious effort to engage that core.
- 26k steps and 14 hours on your feet is not a sustainable way to spend your days. Work into your schedule time to sit.
Baka gaijin moment of the day: if you make your own cup of noodles at the Cup Noodles Museum, you’re asked to write the date. There’s a spot on the cup designated for this purpose (noted with kanji). Use it.