Yokohama 2018 travel diary: day 1

Monday, 26 February, 2018

This was a business trip for another meeting of ISO Technical Committee 42 Photography – Working Group 18 Electronic Still Picture Imaging. This time, M. came on the trip with me, to visit Japan for the first time since many years ago when she spent a quick day in Tokyo.

Our trip began yesterday evening, with a taxi ride to the airport. The afternoon in Sydney had been very rainy, building up to quite heavy falls. We called for a taxi about 17:40, but ended up on hold with first one company before trying another and also ending up holding for at least five minutes before eventually getting through to book one. When it arrived we waved it into the garage so we could load our luggage without getting soaked by the rain.

For some reason the driver kept a window open and splashes of rain entered. He began going towards the harbour tunnel, but the traffic was banked up badly and he suggested taking the bus lane on the Cahill Expressway, which I quickly agreed to so we could make the turnoff before it was too late. This proved to be a good move as it got us across the Bridge fairly quickly before merging back into the Eastern Distributor, where the traffic was flowing okay after the tunnel backlog. However when we reached the exit for the airport via Qantas Drive, we were stuck unmoving for four or five traffic light cycles. I checked the RTA live traffic website and it said there was an accident directly ahead of us! Fortunately it seemed to clear soon after and we were underway again, only for a car to veer out into our lane from a U turn or right turn across the oncoming lanes, and our driver not to see him coming in the heavy rain until I yelled out! He swerved left and just missed the other car, exclaiming, “Where did he come from?” Hearts racing, we made it to the airport terminal without further incident, though it was the longest and most fraught trip I think I’ve ever taken there.

We checked in and made it through passport control and security fairly quickly, although I was stopped and checked for explosives again, making it twice in two trips. We went straight to the Italianish place we’d grabbed snacks last time on our departure for San Francisco, this time planning to have dinner as the waiting time lined up perfectly and the meal on the plane would be too late for our body clocks. I got a chunk of peri peri chicken with wood fired corn on the cob, plus two salads: chick pea with cranberries and cauliflower, plus green beans with almonds and feta. It was all really nice, possibly the best meal I’ve had in an airport. M. got a slice of Margherita pizza and some lentil salad, which she also said was nice.

Boarding the plane was a bit of a trial, as there was a China Eastern flight leaving for Shanghai at almost the same time from the adjacent gate and there was construction work narrowing the corridor leading to these two gates, so the queues got confused and it was hot and stuffy and crowded. But we moved as far up as we could and were lucky when they called general boarding for our flight instead of by rows, so we managed to be almost first on after business class, even though we were seated near the front. We had exit row seats too, so that was good.

We both ignored the meal after take off, but I grabbed some red wine to help me try to sleep, and then we tried to sleep as much of the flight away as possible. I don’t think I managed any but M. got some. We had the light breakfast just before landing though, just a bit earlier our normal sort of breakfast time in Sydney, but about 04:00 in Tokyo. Our flight landed at 05:00 and we queued for ten minutes or so before clearing immigration, then headed to the Keikyu line train platform for a train. The first one was going to Shinagawa, but I saw the one after was going direct to Yokohama, so we waited for that one. This saved us from having to change trains at Keikyu Kamata, and also from accidentally getting on a local all stops train to Yokohama, like I did last year.

Monkey uses the hand holds on the train
Monkey riding the train to Keikyu Kamata

Our train stopped for a few minutes at Keikyu Kamata, and a bunch of people raced across the platform to another train that pulled in, presumably another express to Yokohama that left before ours. But we stayed put and got to Yokohama quickly enough, then changed to the Minatomirai line for the train two more stops to Minatomirai near our hotel. When we arrived, M. wanted something to eat before heading to the hotel to check in, so we located a 7-11 on the street (since Queen’s Square where I knew there would be some convenience stores was closed still). M. got a twisted chocolate bread stick thing and a hot coffee in a bottle, while I grabbed a salmon onogiri packet. We walked to the hotel and checked in, then sat in our room to eat.

InterContinental Yokohama Grand view
View from our first hotel room

Our room turned out to have two single beds in it, so we called reception to see if we could change to a double room and they said they could give us one after 14:00, but it would be on the other side of the hotel, with a bay view instead of a city view. This was a bit of a shame, because the city view is much nicer, but we accepted it. After M. had a nap until a bit after 09:00, we left our bags in the room for the hotel to move to our new room while we were out sightseeing for the day.

We left to go on a walk past the sights of the Minatomirai area of Yokohama, but first we stopped in Queen’s Square to take a look and to get a bit more food, more like a morning tea than a third breakfast, really. We found a bakery cafe called Pompadour where we grabbed an almond croissanty thing and a chocolate croissanty thing, and M. got a coffee as well. The chocolate one, which was a half cut from a large ring, was really nice. We sat for some time, enjoying the pastries and M. her coffee, watching people scuttling past the window on their way to work or wherever.

Pompadour pastries
Pastries at Pompadour

After finishing this snack, we began our walking exploration of Yokohama for the day. First I showed M. the adjacent Landmark Tower shopping complex, then we backtracked outdoors past the Burano Street amusement park area towards the bridge that took us across the canal towards Cosmo World amusement park and World Porters shopping centre.

As we crossed the street towards World Porters, a lady on a bicycle with a small child strapped into a seat behind her turned the corner in front of us, dropping a blanket from the child onto the footpath, but she rode on away from us without noticing. I picked up the blanket but she was too far away to call out to easily, especially since I only know a few words of Japanese. As we watched her cycle away faster than walking, or maybe even running speed, I calculated the odds of catching her were too slim. But then she slowed down a bit, and M. said, “Go!” so I took off after her as fast as I could. She sped up again though, and I was sure I wasn’t going to catch her, but then she slowed and turned off the street into a bicycle driveway leading into a parking area near the World Porters car park. I kept running and saw her getting off her bike just inside, and called out, “sumimasen!” She turned around and I held her blanket up, and she recognised it, and came over to take it, echoing, “arigato gozaimasu” repeatedly in gratitude. I walked back out to the footpath, where M. was far behind, still walking to catch up to me.

Good deed for the day done, we continued walking past the Red Brick Warehouse, which was not yet open. It opened at 11:00, but we were a good 15 minutes early. Since the weather was extremely cold – too cold for our woollen coats and the layers underneath (M. in a leather jacket and me with a jumper, plus hats and gloves) – we kept walking to keep our blood going rather than wait around. I think it was mostly the fact that there was a chill breeze blowing in over the bay, but it certainly was cold enough to make us not want to just stand around.

We walked down to Yamashita Park, where I showed M. the statue of the little girl with red shoes, and the Hikawa Maru museum ship. Then we turned inland past the Doll Museum and towards Chinatown. Here we wandered up and down the various streets, criss-crossing the neighbourhood a few times to see everything, including the large temple that sits within the area. We stopped to get some steamed buns at a stall, but the only vegetarian ones were sweet, so I chose a chestnut and bean paste one for M. while I got a spicy pork bun. We sat on wooden stools on the edge of the footpath to eat them, then placed the paper bags into the small bin at the stall where we’d bought the buns, before continuing our walk. We tried to find some more food that M. could eat, but kept drawing blanks with the street vendors as all of the various dumplings and buns they had were either meat filled or sweet dessert buns.

Chinatown dragon

To complete a lunch then, we began walking towards Motomachi. We stopped in at a convenience store and checked the various pre-packed onigiri rice snacks. I picked one with brown rice that I thought was vegetarian and we went to the counter to confirm, but the guy said no, it had fish in it. Then he helpfully left the counter and came around to find us some vegetarian snacks. M. chose a different one that I thought had ginger in it from the picture nearby on the shelf, but when she ate it she said it didn’t taste particularly gingery. I also chose an onigiri snack which had some sort of salmony fish in it.

Chinatown dumplings
Steamed dumplings at a street stall in Chinatown

We crossed the canal under the freeway to Motomachi, but quickly discovered that many of the shops were closed on Mondays. About half had their doors and windows shuttered, but some were open. We walked up and down the street, and it was enough to give M. the impression of the place, and she said she probably didn’t need to come back as it was all the sort of fashion shops you could find anywhere, rather than interesting Japanese style stuff.

We looked for a place to stop for a coffee, and M. found a fancy looking cafe hidden back from the street between two buildings, but as we went in we saw a sign that it had smoking and non-smoking sections, and we could smell the reek of tobacco as soon as we entered, so we quickly about faced and went somewhere else. Over behind the southern side of the street we found another cafe called Peace Flower Market, partly disguised as a florist. This looked much more homey, with hand made muffins and cookies and things like that. The lady behind the counter spoke decent English and took M.’s coffee order, but when I asked for just a coffee she requested that we buy a drink each, so I chose an iced chocolate from the drink menu. This turned out to be basically chocolate milk poured over ice cubes, but was okay. The oatmeal cookie was a bit crunchy but also okay, with nuts in it. The place had a very hipster vibe, and one of the other customers was a guy who looked European, with blond hair.

Peace Flower Market Cafe
Peace Flower Market cafe, Motomachi

After this break we finished heading west along the shops then turned south to the hilly residential neighbourhoods behind Motomachi, heading up the hill to the top of Motomachi Park. Here there are large and fancy houses, and also several historical buildings originally occupied by western immigrants around the 1900s. Once was open for free visits, but required removing shoes before entering and M. didn’t want to bother so we didn’t go in. We walked down the hill inside the park, passing a rather green looking swimming pool, wondering if it would be cleaned up for the summer. We continued down to the location of the historical tile works operated by Albert Gerard, and into the twisty back streets of residential houses.

We decided to return to the hotel via the Red Brick Warehouse since we still had plenty of time before dinner. We walked back around Chinatown and through the edge of Yokohama Park, seeing the Japanese garden there which I hadn’t seen before. There were sakura cherry blossoms out already, both pink and white ones, and the garden looked beautiful. It looked like there was construction going on at the baseball stadium, but there was also a huge queue at the ticket booths there for tickets for something, I have no idea what.

Monkey with sakura
Sakura in Yokohama Park

Reaching the Red Brick Warehouse, I quickly showed M. the layout of the place and then retired to Beer Next to relax and type up some of today’s diary while I had a Yebisu beer, letting M. explore the shops and food places in the building after she had finished a cassis and soda drink herself. She returned after an hour and had another drink while I asked for a gin rickey off the menu, not knowing what it was. The drink that arrived tasted like gin, lime juice, and soda water, which I later confirmed were the exact ingredients for a gin rickey.

A bit before 18:00 we left to walk over to World Porters and up to the 5th floor, where I found Syabu Yo, the shabu-shabu place where I’ve eaten on my last two trips here. We got a table and selected our broths that were placed in a divided steel pot on the hotplate in the middle of our table while we grabbed vegetables from the self serve buffet area. When we returned there were also trays of meat laid out for us, beef and pork sliced paper thin, which I dunked into the dashi broth side of the pot while M. filled the chilli and ginger side with vegetables. We also had bowls of self mixed sauces from the selection available, and M. grabbed a bowl of rice as well, while I made do with the meat and plenty of mushrooms and bean sprouts and other things. The meal was all you can eat within 100 minutes, including dessert, but we declined to add soft drinks or liquor. The all you can drink liquor option cost 1500 yen for males but only 1200 yen for females! M. really enjoyed cooking the veges in the broth and concocting her own combination of veges and sauce and rice, so this was a hit.

Shabu-shabu at Syabu Yo

After filling up on the savoury I told her dessert was included, and she wandered over to have a look, returning a few minutes later with a waffle she’d cooked in the waffle iron, and then squirted with syrup. I went and made a waffle too, but I misread a sign in Japanese next to the batter bowl which had a big red 2 on it. I assumed it meant you needed to add 2 scoops of the batter to the waffle iron, but I didn’t notice the smaller black 1 in the text before the red warning, and the batter squeezed out and oozed everywhere when I closed the lid! So it was probably warning you to use one scoop, not two! But I scraped up all the overflowed batter after it had hardened from the heat of the iron, then topped my mutant waffle with soft serve ice cream. M. went back to make a second waffle, topping it with chocolate sauce that was meant for the ice cream, then I went and got some mochi balls and some type of green jelly, adding a green syrup to match.

We were full and had had a great time making our dinner here. I commented that there seemed to be no policing of the the fact that we hadn’t ordered any drinks, while other people were going up to the self serve bar and helping themselves to both soft drinks as well as beers, wine, and harder mixed drinks. I suppose here in Japan they just assume everyone will be honest.

Cosmo World at night
Cosmo World amusement park, near our hotel

We returned to our hotel room, getting in not much later than 19:30. Now it was time for the decompress at the end of a day following an overnight flight, and we showered and cleaned up before getting an early night in the bed of a new room, after the hotel had moved us so we could have a king sized bed. M. fell straight to sleep, while I wrote a bit more diary but then turned in around 21:30, after setting an alarm for 07:30.

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