Sunday, February 12, 2006

Yokohama and Kamakura

Well here I am, safe and sound back home after a whirlwind tour of Yokohama and Kamakura. Busy time, travelled through 4 prefectures in 2 days, and I'm about to add a 5th by going skiing in Fukushima tomorrow! We had a marvelous 2 days, though the weather was better Saturday than it was today... the sun did eventually come out and warm us a bit.

So Saturday morning, we departed on the 8:37AM train on the JR Shonan-Shinjuku line which would take us directly to Yokohama. Since we embarked at the train's first stop, we both got seats and watched the scenery of Tochigi, Saitama, Tokyo and finally Kanagawa roll by, with the Yokohama skyline finally coming in to view. Yokohama (the city depicted in the horrible CGI artwork of the old port in The Last Samurai) is to this day an important port, and one of the nicer major cities in Japan. I was quite impressed with the buildings and just the general vibe of the city, quite different than Tokyo a mere 20 minute train ride away. After dropping off our bags at our hotel, we walked to Chinatown to check that out.

Chinatown is a large area of central Yokohama which in essence houses restaurants and omiyage (souvenir) shops. The restaurants are in fact run (mostly) by Chinese people with a few Thai and others mixed in for spice.

The streets were quite crowded with people buying stuff all over the place. I inadvertently captured this young lady enjoying a butaman (Chinese steamed bun) while trying to get the chef in the background doing his thing... amusing picture.

Like most of the tourists milling about the area, we had our guidebook out to choose a restaurant for lunch. Of course, since it was in the guidebook, there was a lineup and let it be known that this is the first time I wait in line outside of a restaurant for Chinese food.... of all things! The line was moving quickly, so it was no big deal and we were quickly seated. While we waited for our dishes to be served, the automatic door behind us kept opening and closing with no one coming in or out. I finally turned around and glared out the window and there stood this lady, waiting in line with the rest of the crowd.

Every time she moved, the door would slide open, letting in a rush of cold air and making everyone in the restaurant turn around and glare at her. Of course, with the Japanese sense of politeness, no one said anything so this went on for a good 5 minutes or more with me giggling quietly at my table until she was finally let in.

The food was quite umai. We ordered Ebi-chili (shrimp in hot and sour sauce), Cha-han (fried rice) and the restaurant's signature yaki-soba (fried noodle) and everything went down very well, though for the record, while my chopstick skills are excellent, I still hate eating rice with the damn things.

After lunch, we continued on our way, heading through Chinatown to Motomachi, a major shopping district where all the main labels are. Of course, the streets were packed with it being a Saturday and the weather being so nice.

After checking out the shopping district filled with rich people taking their dogs for walks, we headed to the harbour to check things out. Caught sight of this interesting ritual, with one person hand feeding sea gulls while others try and capture a picture of one in mid-flight. Quite entertaining to see. You'll also notice some darker birds in the background.... crows you say? NO! Amazingly enough, there were dozens of sea hawks fishing and scavenging in the area... made me miss my Nikon SLR... may pick it up when I go home in May...

This is the lovely Yokohama skyline, major attractions being the Landmark Tower to the left, the Ferris wheel in the centre and the Intercontinental Hotel to the right. Lovely view.

Further along the shore, we encountered a full fledged skating rink, complete with Zamboni!

This area also has a few of these 100 year old warehouses built to store goods 40 years after Japan finally opened up to the world at the end of the isolationist Edo Period.

Another shot of Minato Mirai.

This is the Landmark Tower, Japan's highest skyscraper at 296 meters and 70 stories. This record will soon be eclipsed with the completion in 2010 of the Nishi-Shinjuku project which will tower 77 floors over Tokyo. The tower also houses Japan's highest viewing deck, at 69 floors high, a full 4 floors higher than the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building which I visited in August.

In the shadow of the Landmark Tower, you can pretty much always find these lads doing their thing. were quite amusing to watch and listen to, although they were speaking in rapid Japanese. The guy on the left is actually a former NOVA teacher, nice to know that some of them survive to move on to better things...

After checking out their show for a while, we headed into the Landmark for the short ride up the 69 floors in the world's second fastest elevator at 750 meters/minute... and you can't even feel the acceleration! The elevator itself is shaped like an egg to minimize drag... interesting. From the top, we could see the baseball stadium next to our hotel.

You could of course pay 100Yen to look into high powered lenses, but I ask the age old question... why would people pay to come all the way up here and then pay again to look at things on the ground? Here you can see the warehouses on the shore, left of center....

Here's the Intercontinental and the Ferris wheel in the amusement park across from it.

We timed our visit to the tower perfectly, with our time split evenly between day and night views of Yokohama. Everything turned a lovely shade of blue as darkness descended.

This is looking off into the area of Yokohama Station.

While we had seen pictures of Mount Fuji around the building, it wasn't until it was bracketed by the sunset that we were finally able to catch of a glimpse of the 3776 meter behemoth, Japan's highest peak. Here is my first look at the famous mountain.

Finally, darkness fell and we could enjoy an entirely different view. The wheel again...

And Yokohama Station.

We spent a good hour at the top, for a short time enjoying the music coming from a rather pretentious wedding party in the observatory. Finally, we headed on back down to try and find a place to have dinner. Again, the Ferris wheel putting on a show.

We ended up at a so so Italian restaurant where the high point of the dinner was dessert with a nice banana cream pie. The pasta and pizza was ok-ish. Walking to the subway station, took one last shot of the "famous" Yokohama skyline.

So we hopped on a train, headed to the hotel and checked in. Being a typical business hotel, it was nothing to write home about... 2 twin beds, and a small compartment bathroom... but the price was right, especially for the location, and we got a good night's rest. This morning, we got up around 7, and headed out to Kamakura, a short 20 minute train ride away, to check out the sights there along the ocean. Our first stop was a little temple with an elevated graveyard which gave us a nice view over the ocean.

We also stumbled upon a nori farm, where people were at work hanging sea weed to dry.

We then hopped back on the train and headed to the main attraction for the day, the Daibutsu.

This bronze statue was built in 1252 and was originally housed in a large temple. A massive tsunami swept through the area in the 15th century and swept the temple away, leaving only these stones on which it was built. The power of water never ceases to amaze me... the fact that we are over a kilometer inland and up a slight incline the whole way.... wouldn't have wanted to be in the way of that one. The Daibutsu has been exposed to the air and elements since and has undergone a few restoration projects, the latest of which was in the early 60s.

Following our peek at the Daibutsu, we headed on down to the train again and headed back to Kamakura station, from where we walked to Hachimangu Shrine. On the ground of the shrine, we saw this neat black building... nice and clean, I'm assuming it's a vault for a sacred object or something.

We then had a lovely ten-don lunch before hitting the train again to check out Enoshima, an island off the coast of Kamakura. For a cheap 300 Yen, we hopped a ride on this old beater to the island...

This is Enoshima, with the tower standing in the middle.

Just as happened when I visited Matsushima in August, a dreary day cleared up when we hit the ocean... the sun started coming out a bit, giving us some much needed warmth.

This one's for Scott, he can use it as inspiration for a drawing... title it: "Power lines and Ugly Towers: today's answer to a quaint island".

Think I did pretty good with my little compact camera here, considering... these hawks were all over the place here as well. Very cool to see them swooping around.

After walking around the island, we headed on back to Kamakura station, picked up our luggage from the locker and prepared to bid adieu to Kamakura. Thankfully, I was with a Japanese speaker, otherwise I might still be standing on the platform. We got to our platform and couldn't find our train on the board when an announcement rang out overhead. Apparently, our train had been cancelled due to high winds in Utsunomiya? We're in Kamakura, how does the wind conditions in Utsunomiya affect our departure? So we checked with the conductor dude and were told there was a train that was leaving from Ofuna, just two stops down the line.... odd. So we hopped on a local and transferred there, took our seats and nodded off for the 3 hour trip back home.

So our first official trip went very well. With her language skills and my sense of direction, we are ready to take on any Japanese\English\French speaking country and bring it to it's knees. Once back in town, we picked up some veggies and I quickly made up some Pad Thai before escorting my lady to her chariot and bidding her aurevoir. A most excellent weekend so far, one more day to go! Tomorrow marks my return to the slopes after my shoulder crushing impact with that boarder last month. Should be a lovely day, not too crowded with it being a Monday and Takatsue's 1600+ meters should provide us with plenty of that white stuff we love so much. Now it's off to bed for my 6 hours of sleep... gnight!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey you went to my (anonymous internet dweller) neighbourhood. Seems like you enjoyed it and if you are ever interested in going to Yokohama, Kamakura, and Enoshima again, and want any suggestions on where to stay, where to eat, or where to visit Id be happy to answer. Why? Cus I like your blog, and I like where I live.

1:33 AM  
Blogger Michel Lafleur said...

Thanks! We'll definately head back there some time, I really liked it!

I just read over the post, my exhaustion was definately showing in my typing... I'll go back over it and correct it now that I feel a bit fresher...

7:51 AM  

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