The chinatown (中華街) in Yokohama is famed for a few things, not least of which are the massive gates hunched over every major entrance into the district. This particular gate was located by an entrance close to the train station right next to a high school. I like this gate because it has a much lighter feel to it than the others – clad in whites, greens and splashes of light gold, it had a very spring like feel against the blue sky, compared to the other gates, which tended to be heavy, hulking and swathed in broad strokes of red and dark brown gold. The plaque on the gate reads simply “Chinatown”.
Walking down one of the more deserted sidestreets. This picture was taken right before the lunch rush began to spill out in the neighborhood restaurants, so all the store facades still look clean and uncluttered, unlike the chaotic mess they would soon become. You can see the burnable garbage thrown out to the curb waiting for collection.
A street vendor selling shumai – small Chinese dumplings with bits of shrimp and such in them. This vendor was more commercial than I expected – the dumplings came sealed in a clear plastic box with dietary information tagged on them, ready for consumption and packaged with their own silk screen chopsticks with toothpick included. At first I thought it was just this one shop, but after walking around some more, I realized most shops in the area were like this. Compared to other chinatowns (NYC, Chicago), Yokohama seemed a little more forced – like they tried to recreate the atmosphere, but just couldn’t stand to be without the conveniences you grow accustomed to in Japan.
Mandatory lantern shot. I believe it’s an unwritten rule that whenever you travel to a Chinatown you need to take a shot like this. (apparently some people are so enamored of these lanterns you can even buy them online) I apologize that my contribution to the chinatown lantern blogosphere is so poor, but the lighting was crap. Sorry.
Another gate into one of the main streets in the district. Compared to the one at the top of the page, this one was much more squat and heavy in its presence.
This yellow building was part of a really cool restaurant/cafe on a street corner. It consisted of several floors, each one very small (about the size you can see in the picture) and with room for only a few people. You could eat or drink whilst looking out your own little vantage point and pretend you were in a castle turret! The colors and shape was really what caught my eye though, and silhouetted against the blue sky with the hints of greenery poking out from the red brick building next door, it was a visual delight to stare at for minutes at a time, just letting the drama of the shapes and the rich suffuseness of the hues sink into your eyes. A detail you might not initially notice is the strangely shaped window on the far left of the frame. If you look closely you’ll see it’s actually stained glass. What a remarkable contrast to the ugly grayness of the ferroconcrete slab wall into which it’s inset!
Another street corner. For some reason, this scene really reminds me of New York.
Ordem e progresso…
A dusty alley leading down into “China Square” which I believe was a pachinko parlor (I might be wrong). If you look closely you can spot a Brazillian flag hanging at the far end of the alley for some reason.
You know it wouldn’t be Chinatown with tons of stores selling cheap trinkets and knockoff goods. The only problem? These trinkets weren’t so cheap. If you look you can see the silly gorilla doll was retailing for about $15 USD, a tiny dancing lion puppet for about $10 and some sort of Chinese postcards or something for $20 USD!! On the plus side, they did have a fair number of cute panda goods but I didn’t buy any at the time, which turned out to be a wise decision, as we’ll soon see…
Gate, Take III
Yet another gate. This one was much taller than either of the two above, but felt even more dominating as it was squeezed in between two very tall buildings flanking a narrow alley. It’s funny how three different gates to exactly the same place can give off such radically different atmospheres.
Another random street scene. This was after the lunch rush, so most of the people had started to wander away.
Sometimes the most fascinating scenery can be found by looking straight up. I really love the incredible mess of wires and power lines that hang off of every electric pole in this country. It looks so unsafe, yet you just want to stare at it and try to unravel all those intricate knots with your eyes.
All you can eat…
Besides gates and restaurant facades (which I didn’t really take any pictures of because they were too big to fit in the frame well), the other thing Yokohama Chinatown is famous for is food. Since you can’t charge people to look at gates or your building exteriors, about the only way the merchants make their money (besides charging $20 USD for postcards) is by pricing the food exorbitantly high. This was a rather delicious looking (if somewhat Japanized) spread of Chinese food, but you have to be prepared to drop some serious dough to get at what you want. For example a small dish of mabodofu (which is basically just tofu cubes in a simple sauce) was $15 USD (it’s around $4 here in the countryside) and if you wanted a proper panda-sized meal, it would run you about $25-$40 even at the mid-level places. Yeouch! There were a couple of all-you-can-eat buffets for about $25 USD but since they were flooded with literally hundreds of guided tour participants (about 99% of which were women, and there’s no way I’m going to fight for food with a bunch of women at an all you can eat buffet) by the time I got there, I had to content myself with sadly pressing my nose against the glass and looking longingly at meals I couldn’t afford to eat…. *sadpanda*
I lied. The Chinatown is also famous for big steamed dumplings like these. These massive beasts looked delicious (though some of the more dodgy ones had like bean paste and stuff in them) but they were also $5 USD EACH which is clearly in “ludicrous” territory. For comparison’s sake, you can get one of these for less than $1 USD at a convenience store. It might be slightly smaller, but these are clearly not 5 times bigger. My god. I was all drooling when I approached, then I saw the price and my mouth (and my poor empty stomach…) fell.
….until I saw these. Oh my god!! This was the first of what would soon spin into an incredibly propitious string of Yokohama Chinatown panda spottings! These are steamed dumplings with are stamped in the shape of cute little panda faces! I squealed like a school girl when I saw them and ran over to purchase one. They were pretty steep (like $3USD each) but I was all set to plop down for them, when I saw to my disappointment that they were filled with chocolate and bean paste instead of delicious steamed meat. (Actually there were ones filled with meat – the one in the topmost poster for example – but they weren’t so cute so I didn’t buy them). My disappointment was soon alleviated, however, when just around the corner I spied…
Oh my goodness, an entire store devoted JUST TO SELLING PANDA GOODS!! I was in heaven!! I rushed over to the store, brusquely pushing aside a small 12 year old girl and two old women who were in my way (pandas are endangered, old women and little girls are not so it’s all good in my book). Had I found my mecca? I think I had!!
They actually have a website you can order from (if you’re in Japan). It’s at www.pandaya.net. I bought those super cute matches featured on the front page! And I don’t even smoke!
I think I get waaayyy too excited about pandas for a straight 26 year old man…
The vending machine outside the pandaya store. I’m not quite sure what’s up with skeleto-panda in the middle there, but the rest of the designs were really cute! Maybe it’s saying that if you drink a refreshing beverage from that machine you will go from dehydrated skeleto-panda to happy smiling panda?
A small sign on one of the baskets of goods in the pandaya store. I thought this picture was so cute I had to have a picture of it. The clerk watched bemusedly as I tried to focus in and frame the shot just right, which only made me
a) more nervous
b) very cognizant of the fact that I was the only dude in the entire store
c) that I was, in fact, attempting to carefully photograph a basket full of panda finger puppets.
Panda, meet pandas….
So I finished up my shopping and decided to get a picture taken in my personal little heaven. I walk up to the clerk.
“Excuse me, can I please ask you to take a picture of me?”
The woman looks at me like I dropped out of the sky.
I look around the shop, which is about the size of my living room. We are the only people in the entire store.
“Umm… yes please, if that’s okay.”
A pause as she reflects on this. Finally she extends her hand over the counter.
“A picture of you in the store?”
“Where are your friends?”
“Your friends? Where are your friends? ” She’s laughing that embarrassed giggle Japanese women do when they make fun of you.
“Ummm. It’s just me. Can you take a picture with the pandas in the background please?”
Giggle giggle. “Don’t you have any friends?”
I narrow my eyes and consider clocking her.
“Just take the picture please.
Can you believe that!? I woulda said something back to her, like “oh yeah, look who’s talking, you work in a stupid panda shop all by yourself for eight hours a day”, only you know, I was insanely jealous of her and wanted to switch places with her.
Why does she get to work in a panda shop and I don’t!?
And that was Yokohama China town.
Now listening to: Alkaline Trio – Deathbed
Calling all cars or coroners, we got a dead one here
And anybody else receiving this, the west coast is far from
Like a time bomb, a sudden death
It’s gonna find you when you least expect
It’s gonna leave you the emptiest feeling inside
They found me face down in the street
On the night you left to find, another place to sleep
In rain and regret
They said they tried everything but it was no use
Yeah, they tried everything and everyone but you