Uncomfortable in crowded and busy megapolis like Tokyo or Osaka but equally not comfortable with too much interior slow life of Japan? If you are looking for something in between where it is not too grand and not too desolate in Japan, the cities of Yokohama and Kobe might be what you are looking for. I have stayed for four years in Kobe and three years working in Yokohama too, the sister cities of Tokyo and Osaka respectively, both are my favorite in terms of the lifestyles they offer, the overall experience and ambience.
HISTORICAL PORT CITIES : Kobe and Yokohama share some striking similarity being port cities in Japan developed after the end of the Edo period (1858-1864) and the opening of the country to foreign merchants and residents. Yokohama Port was the center of raw silk thread distribution while Kobe became an import/export base for cotton, wool for the textile industry. Not restricted to textiles, rice was exported from Kobe in sufficient quantity to become the standard rice in London’s grain market!! Kobe generally enjoyed smoother relations between Japanese and foreigners, while relations in Yokohama were much rockier, suffering from tumultuous boycotts of transactions with foreigners over unfair business practices on a near-yearly basis. One reason for this difference may have been the advantage of experience granted by Kobe’s late start. Kobe’s port opened eight years after Yokohama’sROMANTIC DATE SPOTS AND BEACH FRONTS : Modern day Kobe and Yokohama sport some fantastic beach front spots. Kobe Harborland is the defining view of Kobe. Large shopping malls, movie theaters and amusement spots at Kobe Harborland are a popular dating spot in the area with romantic illuminations in the evening. In case of Yokohama, Osanbashi Pier closely mirrors Kobe Harborland. As the sun dips down behind the Minato Mirai skyline. the magical night time skyline with cruise ships docked in the pier and the illuminated Yokohama Marine Tower so closely resembles the waterfront at the Port Tower of Kobe.UNLIKE JAPAN, WESTERN ARCHITECTURE, IJINKAN : The Yamate area in Yokohama and Kitanocho in Kobe retains a number of sites relating to its history as the main residential district of Westerners. In both the cities, mostly former residences, the buildings are open to the public and most have been furnished in their original style. In Yokohama mostly free access, in Kobe, you are charged at some residences a nominal fee for entrance. One of the most prominent house is the Kazami-Dori-no-yakata (Weathercock House) where the weathercock on the rooftop has become a symbol of the Kitano area.
Another example of how closely the contractions in both cities resemble…. sometimes you feel lost and confused which snap is Kobe and which is Yokohama.
CHINATOWN : KOBE? YOKOHAMA? BOTH…. : Yokohama and Kobe both have their own Chinatown! Yokohama Chinatown is in the neighborhood of Yamashita in Yokohama’s Chuo ward while Kobe has its Nankin Town which is smaller in area it covers but is more densely populated than Yokohama. In the Nankin Town there are various areas, such as the Macau town, the Shukai town, the Choshin town, and the Hong Kong town. Being able to enjoy the different atmospheres of these towns is one of the special appeals of the Nakin Town. Both these Chinatown are famous for their delicious Chinese foods, the unique atmosphere of the stores, the widespread use of Chinese language, and the strong distinctive feel of vermilion red, make the Chinatowns important spots where you can feel like you’re in a different country within Japan.TOWERS : BEAUTIFUL TOWERS, THE FACE OF THE CITY : It is sometimes amusing how similar Kobe and Yokohama are. Both the cities have towers roughly of the same height! Port Tower Kobe at 108 meters (built in 1962) with the Yokohama Marine Tower at 106 meters (built in 1961). The hyperbolic design of the Port Tower of Kobe is much more artistic and it also boasts a revolving restaurant/cafe at the top of the facility! Both are primary tourism locations now and the Marine Tower was reopened recently in 2009 for general public. Both offer some spectacular views of the port areas in their respective cities.RED BRICK WAREHOUSES : Being a port city, both Yokohama and Kobe have warehouses constructed of bricks which now have been converted into shopping malls. Kobe Brick Warehouse was once used to store cargo unloaded at the Kobe port. Today, there are stationery shops, furniture shops and restaurants. Similarly, in Yokohama too, the warehouse was stopped being used in 1989, later undergoing nine years of conservation and renovation work until reopening in 2002 as a cultural and commercial facility. The night time lights at both the warehouses and events held in the vicinity make them popular locations on a clear evening.SPECTACULAR HILL TOP VIEWS OF THE CITY : Kobe has a magnificent skyline and you can get some pretty solid panoramic views from the hills which dot the city line. Yokohama does not have hills per say, but there is a area in Yokohama called Yamate, Harbor View Park (Minato-no-Mieru Oka Koen) which is on top of a winding road from where you can get a similar view. The views in Kobe are much more spectacular at night from he Herb Garden which is on the top of the hill called as the popular “Ten Million Dollar Night View”.
FLOWER STREET EVENTS : Kobe and Yokohama both celebrate some floral events (flower art) where the streets are decked with flowers in mid spring (month of May). Yokohama Redbrick Warehouse “Flower Garden” event in May while Kobe celebrates the Infiorata Kobe festival around the first week of May. Infiorata means decorating with flowers in Italian language and works of art fills streets and squares in Kobe. This art festival started to remember the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake in 1997. The Yokohama version is to celebrate the anniversary of Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and is a big draw over the weekends in May.FIREWORKS : Every Japanese city has multitude of firework events and this is no similarity to be very honest. It is not he fireworks, but the waterfront location which is used in both the cities for the major fireworks event. The Minato Kobe Fireworks, held mid summer is rated as one the top fireworks festival in the Kansai region. Fireworks launched from the sea such as starmines and rocket fireworks are a must- see. Yokohama Sparkling Twilight, which has become a summer tradition in the port city of Yokohama, is held over two days at Yamashita Park and offshore of the Park! DESIGN SENSE : Inspired by western architecture, both cities have a distinct western design sense with Kobe more artistic and “retro” in its feel at some places, while Yokohama has a slice “modern” feel to it with the Minato Mirai area which was developed in the past two decades. Kobe has Jazz streets and great food, Yokohama has amazing bars and American restaurants all around. Both have their unique taste, my personal choice is as per the image below “ALL YOU NEED IS KOBE”.
FERRIS WHEELS AT THE WATERFRONTS : Cosmo Clock 21 is a giant Ferris wheel at the Cosmo World amusement park in the Minato Mirai 21 district of Yokohama and MOSAIQUE Ferris wheel at the shopping mall Mosaic in Kobe offer an awesome 360 degrees view of both the cities. I have personally sat in both of these and although the Kobe view is good, the Yokohama wheel is massive 106 meters in height and has some stunning albeit nauseating views in case you are claustrophobic. A digital clock on the wheel in Yokohama is quite a convenient “watch” to have when at the entertainment park to not lose the sense of time….
CUTE AND STYLISH CITY LOOP BUSES : If you are a busy tourist passing through these cities with less time to spend, you may want to hop on to the city loop services in Yokohama and Kobe. Tourist-friendly bus service, the Kobe City Loop, is a retro-style bus that passes many of Kobe’s main attractions starting from Kobe Port Tower to Harborland, Chinatown, Kobe City Museum, Sannomiya, Kitano Ijinkan, Shin-Kobe Station, Sannomiya Bus Terminal, City Hall and back to Kobe Port Tower. One ride: 260 yen for adults. Day pass: 660 yen for adults.
Yokohama has the Akai Kutsu (Red Shoes) bus, which connects the Sakuragicho, bayside area and Minatono-mieru Oka Koen (Harbour View Park). One ride: 500 yen for adults. Day pass: 600 yen for adults. SO VERY SIMILAR!!!! Someone in both the cities is bent upon copying each others business models… 🙂