DM's USA and Japan 2016 Diary

Day 15 - Yokohama Chinatown, Hikawa Maru, Yokohama to Sydney

Saturday, 27 February, 2016

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I am sitting in the hotel lobby awaiting my airport transfer bus to Haneda. I've had a busy day!

I woke again at about 06:30, and got up to prepare for heading out to buy something for breakfast. I decided to just get some fresh fruit: an apple, a banana, and maybe something else, since I haven't had any fruit since the apple in San Francisco. So I headed out to the supermarket on the ground floor of the mall with Margaret's sushi place, but they weren't open. I tried the second supermarket I knew of, under Landmark Tower, but that too was closed! So once again I had to go to 7-11 and get some rice snacks and yoghurt, since they didn't stock any fruit.

Back in my room, I ate the breakfast and had a bit of a chat with M. on FaceTime, before hopping into the shower for the last time. I got dressed and packed my bags for the trip home, then went down to check out a bit after 08:30. I left my bags to collect later in the afternoon just before heading to the airport.

My plan for the day was to head over to Yokohama's Chinatown, which Matsuhashi-san had said during Tuesday's reception is one of the top five Chinatowns in the world. Google Maps said it was about half an hour's walk, so I headed out onto the cold morning air to get some exercise. The shortest walking route went past the Red Brick Warehouses, but I wanted to pop into the. on the way back, so chose a less direct route which would take me right past Yokohama Stadium, a big professional baseball stadium. This turned out to be a good idea for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, my path took me down an interesting street, past some heavy stone buildings that looked like and in fact were old bank offices. I also walked past a cultural heritage museum, but as it was barely past 09:00 it was closed and I didn't want to hang around. Then the street turned into a long pedestrian mall, lined with shops and restaurants, which were much more an older Japanese style than the ultra modern buildings around the hotel. I hadn't planned to walk along that street beyond that point, but with plenty of time to kill I decided to go down it and followed the mall all the way to the far end. Shops were starting to open and there was a bit of activity to make things interesting.

At the far end of the mall, I had to make my way back, but checking my map I found a long, narrow park running parallel a couple of blocks to one side, so headed over there and walked back along the park, which was pleasant. In one place there were cherry blossom trees and the sakura flowers were just starting to bud and a few were open. They'll probably look amazing in a few weeks. Near the end of the park I saw a bronze statue of a woman, in a pose with her back arched and an arm held over her head. Reading the legend, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was by Rodin.

The park took me close to Yokohama Stadium, and I crossed over a couple more blocks to see it. When I got there, I was surprised to see hundreds, if not thousands of boys milling around outside, all dressed in various baseball team uniforms. There was obviously some sort of event happening, but I couldn't think what. As I walked around, circling the stadium in a clockwise direction, I came to a small gap in the throng of boys, right in front of an open passageway into the stadium. Some people were wandering in and out, so I tried my luck and sauntered towards the entrance. There were no security guards or other people warning people to stay out, so I kept going and found myself inside the stadium, on the baseball playing field! I was in the outfield area. The teams of boys were entering one team at a team and marching around the field, like an Olympic opening ceremony, then sitting on the ground in the middle, while small groups of men, probably their coaches, were supervising from roughly where I was standing. Nobody made any move to shoo me out, so I stood there and took several photos before heading back outside again.

I continued walking around the outside of the stadium, passing more teams of boys, until I climbed some steps to a higher level and had walked halfway around. There another gate was open and a few people were walking in and out. Again seeing no security of any sort, I wandered in and entered the stadium at the seating level, where scattered people were sitting and watching the spectacle - presumably parents of some of the boys out on the field. I wandered through the seating area freely, taking photos. I had only expected to see this giant stadium from the outside, but fortune had given me not only the chance to see the inside, but to actually walk on the playing field as well!

20:12 Haneda Airport

I left the stadium and continued on to Chinatown. This turned out to be very different from San Francisco's Chinatown. In San Francisco, Grant Avenue is mostly trinket shops with some restaurants mixed in, and a street or two over are lots of Chinese markets with meats and vegetables. In Yokohama's Chinatown, the streets are lined with restaurants and street food stalls, with every second door front selling hot food ready to eat on the street. There is no way you could go hungry here!

It was still only about 10:30, so I began slowly, first buying a single fried sesame ball with a sweet red bean paste filling. One thing about Japanese society is that eating in the street is generally frowned upon, so I was wondering how they dealt with this abundance of street food here in Chinatown. Some observation revealed that when they buy something to eat, they stand right next to the vendor and eat it, not walking anywhere until they are finished. So around each stall there was a cluster of people eating what that stall was selling, and also often a queue of people waiting to buy the same things. Some places had bins for the rubbish, while at other stalls, when finished eating, the people would hand their rubbish back to the person who had sold them the food.

I walked along the main street slowly, absorbing the colours and atmosphere, and trying to figure out what delicious looking thing to eat next. There was a short queue at one place, the first queuing I saw, with people ordering boiled dumplings which came in white and green types. Figuring a queue meant it must be good, I joined. You could order either four or six of these green and white dumplings, or there were also a few other things on the menu like small steamed buns, also in green and white. But I went for four of the boiled ones, and added some vinegar which was sitting in a bottle by the pickup window. The dumplings turned out to be filled with soup, with a ball of meat inside them, and the pastry had a chewy texture, crisp on the bottom where it had been in contact with the steel pan they were boiled in, so possibly they were fried a bit first. The filling was extremely hot, and it took a while to eat them, but they were good.

Having now had savoury, I decided to try a sweets shop, which had many types of moon cakes with various fillings, plus varieties of similar baked things filled with red beans or sesame paste or whatever. I got a small cake which was black on the outside, and filled with a dark, sweet paste. By now it was close to midday and I walked around some more to build up more appetite before buying any more food.

I branched outwards and explored the side streets off the main drag, which were also thick with restaurants and street food stalls, though they thinned out slowly as you walked further, prompting me to turn around and either retrace my steps, or cross over a block to a parallel street to return to the main street. A bit further on a tried a large pork bun. I was looking for barbecue pork buns, but most of the pork buns seemed to be more like a minced pork flavoured with onion or something. I figured I may as well try one of those, since they seemed to be the most popular, and it too was good.

I ran across a couple of Chinese temples nestled amidst all of this. These had pagoda-like central structures, on a platform reached by steps. Around them were sand boxes full of burning incense sticks, which people could pay money to buy and light and then add to the smoking collection. Inside the pagoda was an elaborate shrine display, but you had to pay a small fee to go in. Since I could see it well enough from outside, I didn't bother.

There were other sorts of things mixed in amongst all this. There were several palm readers and tarot readers, with spruikers attempting to lure customers inside the curtained doorways. There were some massage places, and some with "fish massage", where you sit with your bare feet in a pool of water and little fish nibble off dead layers of skin. There were also a few trinket shops, but these didn't dominate like in San Francisco. I wandered up and down most of the streets a couple of times and they grew more and more crowded as time passed and more people arrived seeking lunch. Queues formed outside most of the restaurants and at all the food stalls. I eventually found barbecue pork buns down one of the side streets and bought one of them, though to be honest it wasn't as good as the earlier minced pork bun.

22:30 in flight

Now I was quite full, having collected enough street food to make a substantial lunch. I decided to start heading back to the hotel, though by a different route, walking directly towards the bay and the park which ran along the waterfront there. This park was full of people, including many families having picnics on the bare winter grass. The day was sunny and the warmest of the week so far, so it wasn't too bad for outdoor activities. On the waterfront was a passenger boat terminal, which had a small attached gift shop, which I looked in for a minute. It had several items related to "the girl with the red shoes", which I'd seen on a map which labelled a statue of that name in the adjacent park, further up towards my hotel, so I was keen to see this apparently famous statue.

Before I got there, however, there was a large ship berthed at another wharf, with the name Hikawa Maru on the stern. Signs on the wharf indicated you could go on board for a tour of the ship, for the fairly cheap cost of just 300 yen. Since I had plenty of time, I went up the gangway into the ship, where a woman at a desk took my money and gave me a guide map in English. The first thing explained on the tour was that the Hikawa Maru was built around 1930 as a hybrid luxury passenger and cargo vessel. It had three classes of passengers, and also carried cargo such as silk. It was built to run on the route from Yokohama to Seattle, connecting to a transcontinental train there which carried passengers on to New York. The ship had three passenger decks and three engineering decks below, plus two forecastle decks with the wheelhouse at the top.

The tour was self-guided and led in a long traversal of several of the decks, through the first class lounges and cabins, then up to the wheelhouse and captain's cabin, then back down to the third class cabins, before descending for a tour of the engine decks. There was a lot to see, from the art deco luxury of the first class areas, which included a magnificent dining room with a stepped ceiling up to an illuminated glass panel with decorative designs, to the encrusted pipes and greasy piston shafts of the huge engines. There was also one luxury cabin in the first class area, which had a separate bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom complete with bathtub and toilet. A prince and princess of Japan had stayed in this cabin on a return trip from the US to Japan.

There were also displays lining some of the long hallways, explaining some of the history of the ship. After serving as a passenger liner, it was commandeered by the Japanese Navy during World War II and repainted as a hospital ship, carrying out this task throughout the war. It the. returned to passenger service for a while after the war, before being retired and berthed permanently here in Yokohama as a museum ship. Everything about the ship was fascinating and this was definitely 300 yen well spent.

Leaving the ship, I quickly found the statue of the girl with the red shoes, though the statue was bronze so her shoes weren't really red. I must look up the story of this statue when I get home. I feared there might be dozens of people crowding around the statue and taking photos, but it was pleasingly alone, so I got to take a few clean photos of it.

From here, I found an elevated pedestrian promenade, which took me exactly where I wanted to go, along the waterfront and across a bridge to the Red Brick Warehouses. At about the midpoint, there was a small side area with grass on it, with a good view of the warehouses. Three people were there with dogs, taking photos of the dogs, who looked very professional and sat there posing for the camera as though modelling.

At the warehouses, I went in to see the possibility of getting a table at Granny Smith's, the pie shop I'd seen earlier. But there was a long queue of people waiting, so I went to the take out counter and just got a slice to go. There were a few options and I chose the rum and raisin apple pie. It came packed in a neat cardboard box and then in a paper bag. I took it outside and ate it at one of the benches provided for eating food from the various stalls which were set up in the outdoor area between the two warehouse buildings. It was decent, but nothing special, and the rum and raisin were both pretty restrained.

I decided I needed something to drink and went into the main warehouse building and up to the third floor, where a place called Beer Next was. This was a restaurant and bar, and a took a seat at the bar next to a row of plastic beers lined up to show you what they had and what they looked like. I ordered a small Yebisu Premium Black, which is one I'd tried last year in Sapporo and liked. It was good to sit and relax for a bit, as I'd been walking all day up to now.

It was starting to get towards the time I wanted to head back to the hotel, so I walked over to World Porters where I wanted to get a Yokohama Starbucks mug for Hailey,s collection. Walking through the ground floor food court area, I took a close look at a place where the other night Scott had noticed a poster proclaiming the ice cream product there to be so good it made Americans scream in delight. The place was called Melon-Pan, and its gimmick was baking sweet buns on the premises, then taking them hot out of the oven and filling them with ice cream to order. Another poster described the brilliance of the combination of "burning hot" bun and cold ice cream, and said that when you visit Tokyo you must try it. Well, not one to argue with overhyped Japanese superlatives and exhortations, I dug out some coins and ordered a bun with chocolate ice cream. I thought they could make it right away, as they'd just finished serving some other people using buns which were on a baking tray, and there were some still left, but the woman told me I'd have to wait five minutes. I indicated this was okay and she took my money. I realised a few minutes later that they were baking a fresh batch of buns and they were waiting for ones just removed from the oven, rather than use the cooler ones left over on the old baking tray. They also sold just the buns, and chunks of the buns in bags, so I presume the ones that get baked by don't get sold fast enough to still be hot are gotten rid of in that way.

Anyway, my bun was the first one out of the new batch fresh from the oven. Another woman sliced it and stuffed in two scoops of chocolate ice cream, then out it in a paper cone for me. The bun was so hot it was difficult to bite into initially, but I was soon eating mouthfuls of hot bun and cold ice cream and the combination was indeed delicious. There was signs near the eating bench area with humorous warning diagrams on them, indicating to be careful when eating and not to remove the paper cone, lest the melting ice cream drip on your clothes. I was chuckling inside, but then with my second last bite my hands slipped and I dropped the paper cone and barely managed to hold onto the bun, and melted ice cream dripped on to my trousers. And I had to wear the same clothes on my flight home! I grabbed a couple of the moist towelettes from Melon-Pan and dabbed the ice cream away, feeling a bit silly for having done the exact thing the sign warned against.

Finished, and now very full, I went to the Starbucks there to buy a Yokohama mug. When I paid for it, another guy behind the counter prepared a tiny piece of cake and a shot glass sized taster of coffee and offered them to me, but not being a coffee drinker I declined them. Carrying the wrapped and boxed mug, I walked back to the hotel, where I collected my bags and then found a sofa to sit on for a while and type up some diary before catching the airport shuttle bus.

The bus arrived very close to on time, just a minute or two past 6pm. I somehow managed to have the exact 720 yen needed for the fare in coins, and dropped them in an automatic coin bin by the driver as I got on. The bus stopped at a couple of other hotels for pickups, but there were only six passengers in total by the time it took to the freeway and headed across the long bridges which span Yokohama's harbour to head to Haneda.

I was hoping to do a self check in, as I didn't have any luggage to check in, but the computer counters didn't have an option for Qantas. So instead I joined what was already a long queue for the check in counters. It took half an hour or more to progress to the counter, during which I used the airport WiFi to have a message conversation with M. Eventually I got my boarding pass and went through the security and immigration checks. These were amazingly almost completely queue free. I just walked up and started putting my stuff on the security conveyor, and then on the other side went up to the one man checking passports and had only one other passenger in front of me. So I was through to the airside very quickly.

I had just over 1000 yen left, so pondered what to buy with it. I was not hungry yet after the excessive feeding of the day, so figured I'd buy some Tokyo Banana sweets to take home. But the packets were quite large and I wasn't sure if I could successfully carry them on board the plane. Eventually I decided to get a small box of mochi sweets, for 600 yen, and stuff them in my laptop bag.

By now it was close to boarding time, so I went to the gate and people were just starting to queue up. I got in the queue for economy class behind just one woman, but had to wait for a suspiciously large number of people to go through the business and premium economy channel before they'd let the economy queue board. Then it was settling into my seat for the overnight flight home. And now I am actually very hungry, so looking forward to the meal service, which is just starting.

Written at home

I tried to doze for most of the flight, but it was too uncomfortable to truly sleep. The plane landed about 09:30 on Sunday morning, and I sped through immigration and customs, only to be held up by a long queue for a taxi. I was home by 11:00, ending another busy business trip!

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