The historical gateway to Japan, multicultural Yokohama will host several important games at the 2019 Rugby World Cup this autumn, including the final. Here’s everything you need to know about this dynamic city along with some of the top things to do in Yokohama, whether you're watching the rugby or not.
First things first - the Rugby World Cup
The International Stadium Yokohama will host four pool matches at the 2019 Rugby World Cup – New Zealand v South Africa (21 September); Ireland v Scotland (22 September); England v France (12 October) and Japan v Scotland (13 October) – as well as both semi-finals and the final. Tickets to the final have sold out already, but at the time of writing there are still some tickets available for the pool games. The stadium is a quarter of an hour’s walk from Shin-Yokohama Station, a 10-minute ride on the subway from central Yokohama Station.
Minato Mirai 21 district in Yokohama, Japan © vayata/Shutterstock
I hate rugby. What else is there to do in Yokohama?
The opening of an international port in Yokohama in 1859 kickstarted the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into Japan’s second biggest city, and most of its attractions are understandably focused around the waterfront. Disused dockyards have been regenerated as Yokohama’s thriving central business district, Minato Mirai 21, home to the towering buildings that make up the city’s iconic skyline. Head up to the 69th floor of the Landmark Tower for views that extend all the way across Tokyo to Mount Fuji before crossing over to man-made Shinko Island to ride the coasters at Cosmoworld. The giant Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris wheel is unmissable. A couple of museums here warrant a visit: the Yokohama Port Museum, which explores the city’s maritime past and includes entrance to the Nippon Maru sailing ship, and the quirky CUPNOODLES Museum, a hands-on (and surprisingly engaging) appreciation of the humble instant noodle – kids will love it.
As befits the city that ended Japan’s international isolation, Yokohama is also home to one of the largest Chinatowns in Asia, and a stroll around this atmospheric enclave will take in colourful gates, busy shophouses and a couple of ornately decorated temples. Further afield, the traditional gardens at Sankei-en, a half-hour bus ride from Yokohama Station, feature a collection of historic buildings from across Japan and will be in golden autumnal glory at the time of the Rugby World Cup.
The great bronze Buddha statue in Kamakura © Mumemories/Shutterstock
What is there to see outside the city?
Kamakura, 25 minutes on the train south of Yokohama, was the birthplace of the country’s first samurai government. It’s home to such an array of Zen temples and shrines that it’s sometimes referred to as the Kyoto of Eastern Japan, though the town’s most startling sight is the Daibutsu, a huge bronze seated Buddha that’s over 750 years old.
A 15-minute ride on the Shinkansen west of Yokohama, Odawara Station marks the jumping-off point for Hakone, one of the most famous hot spring resorts in Japan. Relaxing in a steaming onsen is a quintessentially Japanese experience, and there are few places that do it as well as the Prince Hakone Lake Ashinoko; work your way through the indoor hot and cold baths before heading outside for an open-air dip just yards from the lakeshore.
The Torii on Ashinoko Lake, one of the most iconic sights in Japan © THONGCHAI.S/Shutterstock
Where should I stay in Yokohama?
Enjoying a great location for both the waterfront and the stadium, the Royal Park Hotel occupies the upper floors of the Landmark Tower, so you know your room is going to come with dizzying views of the harbour; ask for The Top if you want to stay in the highest hotel rooms in Japan. Given that Tokyo is just 25 minutes away from Yokohama on the JR Tokaido Line, staying in the capital is also an option. Surrounded by the greenery of Shiba-Koen, luxurious Prince Park Tower Tokyo is something of a sanctuary in the busy Minato district. The hotel has some of the most spacious rooms in the city, but try and bag a corner room, for panoramic views from your bathtub, or a Premier King, which have access to a club lounge that looks directly onto the iconic Tokyo Tower, as well as a fitness centre and spa.
Tonkotsu ramen, one of the many varieties on offer at Yokohama's Ramen Museum © Bonchan/Shutterstock
What should I eat?
Just a ten-minute walk from the stadium, the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (no, not the same as the Cup Noodle Museum) is a museum-cum-elaborate food court, set up in the style of a 1950s Tokyo street, that celebrates this incredibly popular noodle dish. There are a few exhibits that chart the history of ramen (originally an import from China), but you’re really here to try one of their regional varieties, ranging from tonkotsu (pork) from Kyushu to kelp-based ramen from Hokkaido.
Chinatown is packed with great places to eat, but it’s difficult to beat Edosei, whose huge steamed buns draw long lines of hungry shoppers. Try the black bean and walnut filling, or shrimp and chilli, or stick to the classic barbecue pork, all served in a soft, slightly sweet, sticky white bun.
The JNTO is the official tourism organisation of Japan. For more information on visiting Yokohama, see the Yokohama Convention & Visitors’ Bureau website; for more details on the Rugby World Cup 2019, including how to get tickets to matches at the International Stadium Yokohama, see rugbyworldcup.com.
Top image: Kwan Tai Temple in Yokohama's Chinatown © Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Shutterstock