Less than an hour by train from central Tokyo, Yokohama is a city of great culture and many sights – and Chinatown is one of its top tourist draws.
The port city was one of the first to open to foreign trade, and in 1859, many Chinese settlers came to work and live here. Today, the Yokohama Chinatown, or Yokohama Chuukagai (横浜中華街), is the largest Chinatown in the country, with more than 300 businesses and restaurants driving flocks of tourists no matter the season.
Heed the call of beautiful red paper lanterns decorating the district, and experience a bit of China – in East Japan.
The 10 Gates of Yokohama Chinatown
When you reach the Yokohama Chinatown – you’ll know it! The paper lanterns are not the only tell…
Four tall, ornate Chinese gates label the four entries to the area, one on each point of the compass – and in accordance with feng shui. You’ll pass through six more beautiful gates (known as mon, 門 in Japanese) walking around the inner Chinatown.
The symbol of the town is the gate known as Zenrin Gate (Zenrinmon, 善隣門), located at the western entrance to Chinatown’s main street. The first to be erected back in 1955, Zenrinmon is a symbol of rebuilding after the war. The name of the gate, Zenrin, means “Good neighbor” or “Goodwill”, symbolizing the recovering friendship between China and Japan.
Like Kyoto and many other cities throughout Asia, Yokohama Chinatown is surrounded by four protecting symbols, one on each point of the compass. These are the main entrances to the Chinatown.
Approaching from the west, you’ll enter the district through the beautiful white and green gate with tiger figurines on top. It’s called Enpeimon and it’s devoted to Byakko – The White Tiger of the West, which brings peace.
The southern gate is known as Suzaku, its gold-and-red color scheme reminiscent of a mythical creature known by the same name. Suzaku is a flaming Vermilion Bird of the South, also depicted as a golden relief on the gate itself. The most recognizable detail of the gate is a little fire on top.
Choyo Gate welcomes visitors from the east, near Yamashita Park. The blue gate is devoted to Seiryu, the Blue Dragon of the East – and the gate is colored accordingly, in a nice blue hue.
If you approach Chinatown from the north, the first gate you’ll come across is the black and blue Genbu Gate. This one is devoted to the mythical Black Tortoise of the North, the god of winter.
There are five other gates, small and big, scattered throughout Chinatown. Can you find them all?
Temples in Yokohama Chinatown
This place is not only a tourist attraction with great food. From its conception, Chinatown served as the main place of life and work for many Chinese settlers. Of course, the people built their own schools, shops, administrative buildings, and – places of worship.
Yokohama Chinatown has two big temples. It’s customary to make a donation before taking photos, so make sure to make a little offering when you arrive.
Kuan Ti Mao – or Kanteibyo temple is the main place of worship, established as a modest shrine in 1862, just 3 years after Chinese settlers arrived to Yokohama. The large building of the temple was built in 1871, but has since suffered great damage several times, and been rebuilt four times. The building you can visit today was finished in the year 2000.
The temple is devoted to Guan Yu, a historic figure from the 3rd century that is now celebrated as a god of business, prosperity, and learning. Inside, you’ll find an imposing statue of Guan Yu, surrounded by dazzlingly detailed reliefs in gold.
Ma Zu Miao, or the Masobyo temple is a newer addition to Chinatown’s spiritual life, built in 2006. The temple is dedicated to the Chinese goddess of the sea, Mazu, and it’s a place where sailors often come to pray for safe travels.
Both temples are built in the ornate style of Chinese architecture – and they’re quite fascinating to see.
Shopping and Dining
The Yokohama Chinatown is kinda large, but it’s not hard to navigate – the streets are neatly organized in a grid. Covering approximately 300 square meters, this bustling district is home to about 250 stores and restaurants, with a little something to suit everyone’s taste.
You’ll find all kinds of authentic Chinese and Taiwanese foods and goods here.
From fast food to fine dining, Chinatown is famous for its tasty delights – and it’s one of the few places in Japan where it’s ok to walk and eat at the same time. It’s, actually, even expected to have a snack as you stroll along.
Apart from food, you’ll find a bunch of authentic goods and services here. Including but not limited to Chinese traditional dress rentals, arcades, paper lanterns and fan craft shops, massage and acupuncture parlors, karaoke bars, medicine stores, tea and spice stores, incense stores, lucky charm stores, and even fortune tellers.
One of the most interesting sights when window-shopping through Chinatown – the incredible array of panda-themed stores and trinkets! It’s a veritable pandatown!
Must-Try Foods in Yokohama Chinatown
You’ll find an incredible array of Chinese food here in Yokohama, and here’s a short list of dishes you really shouldn’t miss out on if you visit! You’ll find some of these elsewhere in Japan as well – but few places offer such an authentic Chinese food experience.
Steamed Dumplings (包子, Baozi or 中華まん, Chukaman)
Dumplings are a legendary Chinese dish, and of course, one of the most popular snacks to have while walking the streets of Yokohama Chinatown.
Known as baozi in Chinese, or chukaman in Japanese (literally meaning – Chinese buns), these are delicious and come in a few different versions. You can get meat buns, often filled with pork, cheese buns, or dessert buns filled with red bean paste or sweet potato.
Steamed dumplings often have fluffy, yeast-leavened dough – instead of the thin, slimy dough you may be used to with other types of dumplings.
Soup Dumplings (焼き小籠包, Xiaolongbao or Yaki Shoronpo)
Soup dumplings are a fun snack – just be careful not to scald your tongue!
Pan-fried and filled with piping-hot soup, it’s tempting to put the whole dumpling into your mouth, but that’s a bad idea. Instead, pierce the dumpling first to let some heat escape, and then either drink the soup (using the dumpling as a tiny drinking cup) or eat the dumpling whole.
The most common type is called masamune shoronpo and it’s filled with collagen-rich pork soup. You can also get thefukahire shoronpo with shark fin, or a veggie-based (but not vegan) soup hisui shoronpo.
You must have heard of Peking duck, a world-famous recipe from Beijing – known for its flavor and crispy skin.
While the whole duck comes with a steep price tag, you can get a little piece of Peking duck wrapped in a sort of tortilla with fried vegetables for a reasonable price on the streets of Yokohama Chinatown.
Taiwanese Fried Chicken Cutlet (雞排, Zha Ji Pai)
Coated in starch and tapioca powder, the Taiwanese fried chicken cutlet is somewhat similar to Japanese karaage. However, it’s so large, thin, and crispy that it’s definitely worth trying the next time you go to Chinatown.
Taiwanese Oyster Noodle Soup (麺線, Mensen)
Japan is famous for its variety of noodles and noodle soups – but if you’ve tried them all, you can still find a new flavor in Chinatown. Taiwanese oyster noodle soup, mensen, is a perfect example of a hearty and comforting soup you can’t try elsewhere in Japan.
Made with misua – thin wheat vermicelli noodles, oysters, and sometimes pork intestines, mensen is a perfect pick for a cold day. The noodles are dark brown, a color gained thanks to a detailed steaming process that helps the noodles keep their texture even if cooked for a long time.
Taiwanese Pepper Bun (胡椒餅, koshou mochi)
Pepper-spiced meat in a crispy bread bun topped with sesame: sounds heavenly, doesn’t it!
The tender, peppered meat is delicious, but the bun is the true star of the show. Baked in a clay oven similar to the Indian tandoor, the crunch of the bun is just unbelievable!
Once you’ve had your fill of savory delights from China and Taiwan, hop on for some dessert.
Egg tart is the most popular option – and its subtle sweetness is pleasant even if you don’t like sugar. The little tart is light, and has the winning combination of textures: flakey and crispy on the outside, and filled with delicious egg custard on the inside.
If you like it, try the coconut and milk versions too!
Sweet Black Sesame Dumplings (湯円, tanyen or tangyuan)
If you like Japanese daifuku, try the Chinese tangyuan – sweet glutinous rice cake filled with a sweet filling, most typically sugared black sesame.
It’s not exactly like the Japanese sweet either – in fact, tangyuan comes in sweet soup! Often, that’s ginger-based soup, but you can find it in red bean or fermented rice soup as well.
Any foodie heading to the Kanto region of Japan and Kanagawa prefecture should use the opportunity to visit the Chinatown in Yokohama. There’s no better place to enjoy the unique mix of Japanese hospitality, Chinese hearty and tasty food (for fairly affordable prices), and the explosion of colors that is Chinese architecture.