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Tuesday, December 19

Strolling the Streets of Yokohama’s Chinatown

Way back in the late years of the 1800s when Japan first opened its ports to foreign trade, an area of residences close to the Yokohama ports called Chinatown (Yokohama Chukagai) was among the first to spring up. Many Chinese importers settled in the area in those early days and while many have since left the area leaving behind mostly a small population of Cantonese, the area today is still home to over 500 shops and restaurants that epitomize the imported culture.

Most people have spent time in a Chinatown somewhere in the world. Myself in both DC and in New York. But this Chinatown paled those in comparison in every fashion. The streets are narrow like most of Japan but the colors are what first stand out. Bold reds, greens, yellows, blues and gold are splashed on buildings pervading each intricately carved wall. Yokohama’s Chinatown is the largest in Japan and one of the largest that can be found anywhere in the world which was proven as we meandered up and down street after street, never passing the same place twice. There are four main gates, all dedicated to Chinese gods, that stand decorated in the same fashion as the buildings that signify entering and leaving this area.

At the center of Chinatown is a temple that, if even possible, was even more crammed with the colors and carvings of the area. The name of the temple is Kanteibyo and it was built in those early years by the Chinese who lived there and dedicated to their god of business and prosperity. Looks like it worked well.

At 8 pm on Sunday evening, the area was bustling with people and every restaurant’s golden light enveloped the many people waiting to get a table for the evening. Japanese language, which is heavily influenced by characters from the Chinese language, covers the menus and tells the reader of the possibility of Cantonese, Szechwan, Beijing and Shanghai delicacies at the more than 200 restaurants that are packed behind those gates. Of course, the menus to us were nothing but jibber and we thankfully had the recommendation of a friend to aid our choice for the evening.

In usual Japanese fashion, this restaurant had menus with pictures which we choose a shrimp appetizer from and then KH with a dish that would either be chicken, pork or duck and me a seafood type noodle dish. As you have probably guessed, I am not a picky eater and am pretty willing to try just about anything. Kimono Hubby, well, he can be a bit of a picky eater with regards to meats. It must be cooked and it must be cooked very dead. And no fattiness. Wouldn’t you know that his dish turned out to be duck… and in its usual way, very fatty and greasy. My noodle dish I honestly thought wouldn’t be so far out there. While the touches of octopus rings were different, I do like octopus and didn’t have a problem with this. I did however have a problem with the legs filled with suckers that I later dug out. Looking back, I would have to say that this was probably better than the whole duck you could purchase on a plate for 8,400 yen at many establishments.

Back home, like everyone who lives with too easily delivered foods, often had Chinese. It has never been a favorite food of mine but I need variety. After our meal in Chinatown, I hate to admit it, but I have for the first time come upon a cuisine that I could seriously do without ever eating again. It isn’t like General Tso’s back home, kids. And neither KH nor I cared for any of it.

Not ones to miss out on an experience though, we still plan on going to China next year. However, I will be searching for hotels that serve Western foods so we can eat there every day and not starve. I joke. Sort of.

It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday evening and I even debated purchasing one of the battery operated pandas that sang strange Christmas carols that found their market in just about every store in Chinatown. I refrained. We spent our money instead on roasted chestnuts that could be found peddled every few steps. A much better choice… and help for the hunger that still had its grips on us.


Mike S said...

KK, Chinese food is like every other type, ya need to sample lots and remember the ones ya liked. If a place offers a sample platter get one for both of you & see what's good. If nothing, go to another place & repeat. A good place to sample used to be the Yokohama train station. If ya couldn't find good food there, ya weren't hungry. Any cuisine.

Anonymous said...

I like chinese food, or at least I thought I did. I now work at a company with many chinese and they sniff at the stuff I mention (Kung Pao, Ming Beef, Orange Peel chicken) and say "That isn't REAL chinese food". Sad to say, the stuff they push on me was not well received.