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Earthquakes, torrential rains, catastrophic typhoons, deathly heatwaves – it never ends for Japan and the Japanese. Watching the news from a thousand miles away, it saddens me to think of a country as lovely as Japan having to cope up with the aftermath of such disastrous cataclysms. Even in the midst of such circumstances, the Japanese continue to live a life of courage and fortitude and amaze the rest of the world with their many wonderful creations.
In my last few posts on Japan, I have mostly described the Japanese countryside and the hiking trails in and around the Northern Alps. This article, in contrast, talks of Yokohama, its crowded streets, colourful markets and the famous summer festival that draws millions to the historic sea-side harbour.
To the south of Tokyo, lies another thriving Japanese city that rivals the capital in more ways than one. One of the first Japanese cities to participate in trade, Yokohama has a strong western influence with its many American liners resting on the much frequented port. Like other major cities, Yokohama is characterised by tall skyscrapers, amusement parks, Japanese styled gardens, a baseball stadium and a spectacular China town.
The China town in Yokohama is guarded by four gigantic shrines that mark the east, west, north and south entrance to the long array of Chinese shops, restaurants and Buddhist temples. The emperor Guan’s shrine in Yokohama is the spiritual centre of Yokohama’s China town and is very Chinese in terms of its design and architecture. It was built to honour Guan Yu, a general from the late Eastern Han dynasty. A spot of good luck and prosperity, the shrine is very popular on Chinese New Year and is dear to the people of China and Hong Kong.
Walking around the Chinese markets, I couldn’t help but notice the vast collection of Chinese themed goods sold in the roadside shops. From Chinese dragons to Chinese lanterns, Chinese tea stops, lucky charms, and art stalls selling one stroke brush paintings, there is no end to the splendour, colour and gaiety associated with that of a China town. The walk in the streets is made more appealing by the flavoursome smell arising from the freshly skewered chicken, pork and beef delights sold in small food joints that are teaming with a long queue of hungry visitors.
At Yokohama, I had my friend and guide who was enthusiastically taking me around the places of interest and was kind enough to let me put up at her place for the night. By the time we finished rummaging for our very own collection of Chinese sauces, herbs and pickled vegetables, it was starting to get dark and the time for the fireworks was drawing near. Tiny blobs of light appeared on the office buildings and the giant ferries wheel was glittering in rainbow colours.
The Summer festival and fireworks that takes place in the middle of July is a much awaited event for the people of Japan. Robed in traditional kimonos and carrying a paper cut umbrella with flat wooden slippers, the cheerful faces gather around the harbour with their enormous picnic baskets and highly equipped cameras. This half an hour event of continuous fireworks is greeted with thunderous claps and spontaneous cheers from locals and visitors alike. The fireworks were a much needed respite from the most recent flooding that took away so many lives in southern Japan.
The ferries wheel against the iconic landmark tower of Yokohama is a truly pretty sight. At night, the city comes alive and the Ōoka river reflects the many shades of Yokohama at night. Roman Coppola had once said –
Japan is the most intoxicating place for me. The Japanese culture fascinates me: the food, the dress, the manners and the traditions. It’s the travel experience that has moved me the most.