(From February, 2019)
We took the train and then the Subway to Yokohama and the commute was a little under an hour from Yokosuka. It wasn’t a hard commute, leaving Yokosuka-chuo station, going to a station… somewhere… and then hopping on the Subway which then took us to Yokohama. It was super convenient because after we got off the Subway, we just had to go upstairs and around the corner to get to Chinatown.
I was really excited to finally get to Chinatown, since we made plans to go the last two weekends but didn’t due to illness. Rob was tired, working a 12 hour shift the night before, but he’s sweet and knew I really wanted to go (plus I think he needed some fun… he’s been working six 10-12 hour shifts the last couple weeks so I don’t think he’s having much fun in Japan) so he powered through.
Chinatown in Yokohama is the biggest Chinatown in Asia, and one of the biggest in the world, so that had us pretty stoked. Before going, I did some research, just to see what was around, and I already know we saw a lot but I’m sure we missed lot, too! There were specific things we had hoped to see but didn’t and we’re still not even sure where they were! Every time we went down a street, there were side streets off that street. The majority of the what we saw was food, with endless restaurants and food carts. Before we got there, I told Rob I was about to eat so much Chinese food. There were also a lot of cool souvenir shops but unfortunately, most of them have signs saying photography is prohibited. This is probably because people would do exactly what I wanted to do, which is to take pictures of the cool expensive things but not buy them, so I get it.
On the way home, we discussed what we took away from the day and Rob said he took away “pandas and chocolate.” Pandas play a significant role in the Chinese culture so they’re everywhere, from stuffed animals to coin purses to candy to panda shaped pork buns (I wish we’d taken a pic) to chop sticks and everything else you can possibly imagine. There are stores devoted entirely to pandas, who sympolize strength, friendship & peace because of their gentle nature. As for chocolate, they just have a lot of candy stores. Rob bought something he thought would be the equivalent to fancy kit kats but when we got home and tried them, neither of us liked them and Rob took them into work for his coworkers. We can’t pinpoint what the flavor was but we weren’t impressed. However, we tried a sample of the strawberry version of that same candy and that one was very good! We should have purchased that one!
As for what I took away from the day, one thing of many would be – shark is quite the popular food item in the Chinese cuisine.
I’ve recently watched some wildlife documentaries, some of which revolved around sharks. The one with the best footage was Tales of Light, which features photographers on adventures while discussing and taking pictures of animals, topics and causes they’re passionate about. Two episodes featured photographers discussing their love of sharks and what people are doing to them. As Shawn Heinrichs & Sylvia Earle shared…
I think the thing that surprises me about shark fin dishes being served in these restaurants is the cruelty that goes into it. Many sharks have been pulled from the water to have their fins cut right off of their bodies before being thrown back into the water to drown. I’ve read that there has been an attempt to end this cruelty, decreasing the number of animals who endure this suffering, but I’ve also read it continues for some. We tried to make a point to have dinner at a restaurant that didn’t serve any shark products but it was everywhere. That, combined with the fact that we couldn’t read some of the menu’s outside the doors, resulted in us eating in a restaurant that we THOUGHT wouldn’t serve shark. We were wrong. I know some would probably say this is part of ther culture but that just isn’t enough for me.
While we sat in this restaurant eating our noodles and fried chicken, a couple came in and sat at the table right next to us and ordered their shark fin soup. I’ve read that shark fins have a mild flavor and don’t contribute much to the taste of a dish, but it is expensive and a way for people to show off their status.
The good news is that there’s been a great deal of work put into educating people on how these sharks are hunted and the impact this is having on shark populations, and gradually, more and more people are choosing not to eat them anymore. So there’s hope!
In spite of that focus on shark fins, I took away more good than bad from Chinatown! At some point, I would love to go back, especially if we could go during the Chinese New Year’s celebration. We just missed it this year but one of Rob’s co-workers went and said it was awesome. Maybe someday we’ll make it back!
Chinatown is so pretty. They have those red lanterns lining the streets and if you wait until it’s dark, it’s seriously so cool, and all the lights lining the streets, the decor on stores and restaurants, all the cultural items seen through windows, the stone dragons, the buildings… amazing. Rob said one of his favorite parts of the day was the architexture because you don’t see anything like this where we come from. Dim sum, pork buns and bubble tea seem to be the popular food items around there. Chinatown wasn’t bad during the day but once dinnertime hit, that place was busy! I’m not surprised though because the dinner options are endless and the cuisine is authentic. We came across a “SEGA” sign, which was the same logo as the video game company, but it was all arcade games when you go inside and not really video game themed at all. Still cool though! It just wasn’t what we expected.
I love street food (who doesn’t?). Restaurants are all well and good but I would prefer to bypass the restaurant in a situation like this, and instead, try little portions of a variety of foods. We were able to try several new things and it was awesome, & I have to give Rob a little credit! I admit I was like, “Seriously??” when he ordered fried chicken for dinner but he had tried quite a few new things throughout the day. For a guy who’s all about meat and potatoes, and pretty unadventurous in the ways of food, he did well. I think he tried three new foods today along with two new candies.
Real Chinese food isn’t anything like what we see in most American “Chinese” restaurants. There’s no orange chicken or General Tso’s or Egg Foo Young (although I did something SIMILAR to Egg Foo Young at one restaurant) and the menu’s are a little intimidating. When we go back, we’ll be a little more prepared for what we’re in for. It’s interesting how different the authentic foods are from the Americanized versions.
As we walked through Chinatown, we saw gold pigs EVERYWHERE. Pandas and gold pigs… Apparently, that’s what’s up! We both commented on this and I think we both guessed at the same time that it must be the year of the Pig. I googled it and it is, starting on the 5th of this month. People born in the year of the pig are supposed to experience great fortune. Chinatown was full of neat shops selling all kinds of crystals, stones, Hindu gods (they love Ganesh), souvenirs, panda items, candy and more.
Palm reading and tarot cards are popular and there is just shop after shop for them. Some of them have curtains or beads hanging to give the customer privacy but some of them are just out in the open. Fortune telling is so popular that it even had it’s own link to check out on the Chinatown website.
Technically we can check this off the list but since we just barely missed their Chinese New Year’s Celebration but heard it was awesome, I would love to make it back to Chinatown for that! I’m not sure how much Rob cares about it, and for me, it would be cool but there are other Chinatown’s in the world and I don’t know how many more opportunities in our lives we’ll be back in Yokohama. We’ll see where life takes us!