Yokohama, the birthplace of Japan’s modern culture, is Japan’s original doorway to the west. The once sleepy fishing village of Yokohama was Japan’s first port opened to foreign trade. These days, Yokohama is second only to Tokyo in size, and is Japan’s busiest port city. In Yokohama, however, you will find more green spaces and more opportunity to rent a house, than you will in nearby Tokyo.
Its legacy as Japan’s most international harbour town lives on today. Historically, foreigners occupied a district of the city called Kannai. Today, you’ll find them congregating in neighbourhoods of the Naka-ku district, such as Honmoku, Motomachi and Yaguchidai, which are served by international schools, foreign food shops and country clubs. For its part, Kannai nowadays is more famous for its beautiful Yamashita Park, European-style architecture, up-market hotels and restaurants and world-class shopping.
Like Tokyo, the city of Yokohama lost much of its heritage during US fire-bombing at the end of WWII. Rehabilitation was severely delayed owing to the requisition of 90% of port facilities and 27% of the city by the Allied Forces. Consequently, the city was only restored in recent decades. Concerted efforts by local governments in recent years have given the city a remarkable facelift. The result is an aesthetically balanced urbanscape that offers a plethora of outdoor activities, from windsurfing in the Marine Park to a family day out at the Minato Mirai or retail therapy at the fantastic Mitsui Bayside Outlet Park.
What is special or unique about your city?
Yokohama, Japan’s largest port city, is just south of Tokyo’s financial and political leadership of Japan.
Yokohama was one of the 5 earliest ports opened to the West in 1859, and retains an historical port city atmosphere with summer jazz and circus street performance festivals, new shopping malls and a large China town. While the central port area is compact, the municipal area is large, extending north and west.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Newcomers remark on how green and spacious Yokohama is, but they also comment on the convenience in the central area, including the public transportation. Politeness and friendliness of the people is also noted. Language issues (especially in written communication) can be a challenge for an expat in Yokohama.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Yokohama takes pride in a cosmopolitan atmosphere, and works to attract tourists from inside Japan and also from neighbouring Asian nations. Yokohama hosted the 2010 APEC conference, and the Nissan Stadium was the site of the World Cup Soccer Final in 2002. Outside of the central area, impressions can vary widely from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Initial observations of politeness can sometimes be challenged on busy trains or crowded shopping areas, but the overall friendliness and safety factors are still appreciated.
What is the local language?
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
Fairly easily in central Yokohama. Recently, many more signs have appeared in English and other foreign languages.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Remain calm and never lose your temper. Use common sense and be a good neighbour. Follow garbage disposal rules. Take your shoes off when entering someone's home.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Yokohama has all four seasons. Spring and autumn are very nice. Summers tend to be very hot and humid. Winters are rather dry and chilly, but slightly milder than in Tokyo, due to the bay. Those with allergies should be aware that there is a lot of pollen in the air during springtime.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Yokohama’s cost of living differs only slightly from Tokyo’s, and compares to New York City or London, with differences in some categories, higher or lower than expected. Housing that meets foreign standards is expensive. On the bright side, the people are quiet and helpful, and the city has something for everyone.