by Stefan Chiarantano, Mar 14, 2007 | Destinations: Japan

Yokohama is an historic city, tied to Japan's transformation from feudalism to modernity and embracing of Western ways. I spent a lovely day in Yokohama taking in several of its major attractions. They included a visit to its Chinatown, a stroll along its parks and boardwalks which hug the bay, and the Yokohama Museum of Art.

It was a balmy wintry day when I visited. The city has a beautiful skyline. It's such a modern Western looking city that you wouldn't think you were in Japan.

I loved visiting Yokohama's Chinatown. It's quite different from Toronto's Chinatown. Ornate entrance gates and red lanterns hanging along telephone lines demarcate the area. It was bustling with tourists strolling about and hawkers selling giant size dumplings, and roasted chestnuts. The restaurants and shops were doing a brisk trade too. I visited one of the ornate temples, and was overwhelmed by its riot of colours. I stopped for lunch in one of the Japanicized Chinese-style restaurants. Although the food was Chinese, the service was impeccably Japanese. The main difference I noticed between Yokohama's and Toronto's Chinatowns is that Yokohama's Chinatown caters mostly to tourists while Toronto's Chinatown caters to the needs of local Chinese-Canadians.

Yokohama's skyline is breathtaking. The architecture reflects a mariner motif. Buildings resemble sails and cruise ships. And its a city sizzling with renewal, given the many construction sites I noticed doting the downtown core. There is also a splash of many historic buildings which have been beautifully restored. It's so unlike other Japanese cities that I've visited. It has a "je ne sais quoi" quality to it, which surprised me.

Parks and boardwalks hug the bay. On permanent display in Yamashita park is the M.S. Hikawa Maru.

Here's the description from the plaque which I copied.

Yokohama-Yamashita Park Gross Tonnage: 12,000 tons
Length Over All: 163 meters. Hikawa Maru was built as a passenger liner of the N.Y.K. Line (designated to the Yokohama/Seattle Service) at M.H.I Yokohama Dockyard in April, 1930. During World War II, she was engaged as a hospital ship, then served as a repatriation ship after the war. She could fortunately survive through the war,and she eventually resumed her original service between Yokohama and Seattle in July, 1953. She crossed the Pacific as many as 248 times during these pre/post war periods. In May, 1961, she was moored permanently here, of the Yamashita Park to commemorate the centenary of the port of Yokohama, since then, Hikawa Maru together with Marine Tower Standing near by the Park are regarded as the Symbols of Yokohama.

I strolled along the boardwalks stopping now and then to take in the skyline which I found quite appealing. There's even a giant ferris in its midst, which gives the city an air of merriment.

I made my way on foot to the Yokohama Museum of Art. It's a beautiful art deco style building. It's courtyard is quite beautiful and the magnolia trees along the perimeterr were beginning to flower.

I took in the permanent collection. Once again, I was impressed by its permanent collection and the current shows running at the museum.

There was a photography show by the artist Yoneda Tomoko - A Decade After, referring to the decade after the Kobe Earthquake.

On view are a series of large format chromogenic prints.

Here's the listing:

2005 Prints

River - view of earthquake regeneration housing project from a river flowing through a former location of evacuees' temporary accommodation.

Vacant Space III - located in one of the most damaged areas and untouched since the earthquake.

Garden - overgrown and greatly reduced in size as a result of the earthquake and public land readjustment.

Vacant Space II - located in the most damaged area and untouched since the earthquake.

Classroom I - used as a temporary mortuary immediately after the earthquake.

Classroom II - used as a temporary mortuary immediately after the earthquake.

Vacant Space I - view of earthquake regeneration housing project from a former location of evacuees' temporary accommodation.

Park - site of an evacuees' shelter in one of the areas most badly damaged by the earthquake.

The chromogenic prints are juxtaposed with black and white photographs taken just after the earthquake. They were reprinted in 2005. They include:

Flowers dedicated to Victims, Nagata

Shoes from Shoe factory, Nagata

Drawers and Pills, Motomachi

Kobe City Hall, Sannomuja

Rubble, Suma

Photograph, Nada

Looking at the Epicentre, Awaji Island

There's also an eleven minute DVD of Yoneda Tomoko on location hunting earthquake sites with the Volunteer Group 'Tomato'.
2004 DVD 11 min.

The artwork in the permanent collection is quite impressive and features a mix of works by both Japanese and Western artists. On display were works by Western trained Japanese artist Hasegawa, Kiyoshi.

There a fascinating oil painting attributed to Peter Bernhard Wilhelm HEINE of the "Landing of Commodore Perry at Yokohama". The artist captures the splendour of the military power of America. It shows a procession of America's militia arriving on shore. The black ships, eight of them, are in the background. In the mid-ground, there are many row boats filled with American naval and military men waiting to land. In the foreground, there are rows of American military standing on guard forming an enclosed area protecting Commodore Perry. Behind Commodore Perry and his senior officers stands three black sailors. The Japanese delegates are surrounded on all sides by America's military. There's a shinto shrine on the left. Behind the lines on both sides of the American military are masses of Japanese people. They are lightly sketched. The Japanese delegation are wearing traditional ceremonial dress.  The Japanese flag is very interesting. It predates the current flag, a red sun on a white background. This flag consists of three red diamond squared shapes stacked upon each other, resembling a three tiered pagoda. Within the enclosed area, there are two small dogs running amok. There's a Japanese boy wearing ceremonial dress standing beside a Japanese male also dressed in ceremonial dress. Commodore Perry has taken off his hat. Gold epaulets adorn his uniform. He's wearing gloves. He is clutching his sword.

On view are the works of the following artists:

A baby
Watanabe Yuko

He's a chubby little baby boy. He has a curious expression. With his right hand, he is gripping dirt. His left hand is placed in front of his chest. He is lying on his stomach. He is tied to a cement weight. In the foreground are some chips.

Takahashi Yuichi
View from Atago ill towards the Sea of Shinagawa

Kishida Ryusei
Portrait of Mr. Tsubaki

Shimizu Toshi
Yokohama Night

Kono Michisei

Noda Hideo
Two children

Kitawaki Noboru
For the Sleepless Night (Study)

Work C - 89
Yamada Masaaki

ca. 1890
Gustave Moreau
Goddes(s) on Rock

1888 Jean Paul Laurens
Le dernier trone Carolingien

Paul Cezanne 1839 - 1906
La montagne Sainte-Victoire, vue de Gardanne

Paul Cezanne
Madame Cezanne en robe rayee

Georges Braque 1882-1963
Le chevalet

Fernand Leger (1881-1955)

Graham Sutherland

Naum Gabo
Construction in Space (sculpture)

Jean Fautrier
Sans Titre

1969 (1901-1985)
Jean Dubuffet
Figure de repere

Francis Bacon (1909-1992)
Seated Figure

Graham Sutherland (1903-1980)
Head II

Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978)

Otto Dix (1891-1969)
Stilleben mit Kalbskopf

Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953)
Corner Caunter-Relief

Wassily (1866-1944)
Rot im Netz

One of the galleries featured an impressive sculptural installation by the Japanese artist Saito Yoshishige.

Saito Yoshishige (1904-2001)

Toro-wood (Original Work)
Saito Yoshishige

Saito Yoshishige

One of the galleries featured a black and white photo exhibit of the photographer Suda Issei titled "My Tokyo"

Also, on permanent display were sculptures by Japanese and Western artists. They included:

Sculptures by Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi

Salvador Dali
The Woman with a Head of Roses

Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Tete de femme

Ossip Zadkine

Andre Masson
Monument dans un desert

I'm so glad that I had a chance to visit Yokohama. I was pleasantly surprised and look forward to another visit to this ultra-modern Japanese city.