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(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan February 21, 2012

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “(Top 3) Chinatown’s In Japan” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-LA

There are 3 major Chinatown districts in Japan.  They are located in Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  I have had the pleasure to visit each one and all of them are different.  To me Chinatown is a tourist destination that isn’t really an actual Chinese area.  When people say you must go to Chinatown, I feel like I am about to head to a tourist trap with various vendors hawking their wares.  Japan, unfortunately, continues this stereotypical trend.  Being of Chinese descent and having visited China I feel that Chinatown is not a great representation of Chinese people or China in general.  While the surrounding areas may be more representative, I feel as if I entered an amusement park where stereotypical Chinese culture is on display.

The biggest Chinatown in Japan is in Yokohama.  Located at the end of the Minato-mirai Line, which happens to be connected to the Tokyu Toyoko Line, is the Chinatown where most people will visit when they come to Japan.  It also happens to be the most crowded and touristy of the three Chinatowns.  I found that the area is almost completely filled with Japanese people and various restaurants selling different types of buns.  I never had a great time visiting Chinatown in Yokohama and rarely recommend it to tourists.  Japanese people tend to love it there and think that the food is all authentic Chinese food.  Unfortunately most of it is Japanese variations of traditional Chinese dishes.  It can be hard to get excited when the Chinese chefs adapt their dishes to Japanese tastes, but that is how they make their money.  I may also be slightly biased due to the fact that I found a small worm/maggot in a buffet lunch and all they did was use the tongs to throw it in the garbage.  Not the most hygienic method of fixing the problem if you ask me.  If you enjoy large crowds and Japanese style Chinese food, Yokohama’s Chinatown is a nice place to visit.

As you can tell, bigger does not equal better.  Kobe has the second largest Chinatown in Japan.  It is actually called Nankinmachi (after Nanjing) rather than Chukagai (Chinese Street).  It is one of the best Chinatowns in Japan, in my opinion.  It is lined with various food stalls and a few touristy souvenir shops as well as the stereotypical Chinese style architecture of Asian styled red roofs.  Once you get past the touristy look of this Chinatown, you can get a lot of good food and a large variety of it too.  Kobe’s Chinatown is also less crowded than Yokohama which makes it a lot easier to move around.  Sometimes trying to get around in Yokohama can be a challenge as there are people spread across the entire street making it nearly impossible to move faster than a snail.  In Kobe, this is not a problem at all.  The only problem with the Kobe Chinatown is the fact that it is very touristy.  It is hard to escape the fact that they do cater to tourists but thankfully I also saw many Chinese tourists when I visited so it couldn’t be that bad.  I’m sure they are curious as to how Japan views Chinese culture just as Japanese people are curious to try sushi in other countries.

The last Chinatown, and smallest is Nagasaki.  It spans just a few blocks and it is lined with various large and small shops.  Like the other Chinatown’s, it is dominated with restaurants but the unique feature of this Chinatown is the number of other types of shops such as fireworks and medicine shops.  You can easily notice a huge difference in atmosphere in Nagasaki.  I felt relatively safe in Yokohama and Kobe however in Nagasaki I felt it was a little dangerous, comparatively.  It could also be the fact that I walked in the area around midnight.  In Nagasaki, it is common to see Chinese people as in Kobe but you can also eat the famous Nagasaki Champon, Sara Udon, and Kakuni Manju.  These are all delicious, yet Japanese variations of originally Chinese dishes.  I do enjoy them the most as they are fairly close to Chinese tastes.  Due to the size of Nagasaki’s Chinatown, it is difficult to elaborate a lot on the different things in Chinatown as there really isn’t a lot.

Chinatown in Japan is something that a resident should see once in their stay in Japan.  However for the average tourist, I doubt a trip to Chinatown would be very high on their list of things to see or do.  I find it to be overly touristy and focused on Japanese people.  As with many other Chinatown’s in various other countries, I rarely visit them.  I prefer to go to the real thing.  I have already visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing.  I doubt I could find anything that is specifically Chinese in any Chinatown in the world, even in my hometown Vancouver.  The food is good, for the most part, but dealing with the crowds and tourist activities is not as enjoyable for me.  I would much rather go to a normal Chinese restaurant in another area than head to Chinatown.  In fact, for people looking for a more authentic Chinese food, Ikebukuro is reputed as a secret Chinatown.  Many Chinese people take up residence near Ikebukuro leading to many Chinese restaurants being located there.  It is also somewhat contentious as the Chinatown merchants in Yokohama have complained openly about the idea of starting a Chinese Business Association in Ikebukuro as they feel it will create a rival Chinatown to their destination.  I doubt things will really change in the near future but who knows about the long term.

Nagasaki (Part I) November 2, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kyushu, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Nagasaki (Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-uD

Nagasaki is a small city located in Kyushu, southern Japan.  It is often one of the most overlooked cities in Japan as it’s far from Tokyo.  It is one of the most historically important cities in Japan, but a city without the traditional culture of Kyoto, or the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.  It was one of the very few ports that allowed trade with the Europeans from the 16th to 19th centuries.  When visiting Nagasaki, you can easily see this influence in the architecture.  In the modern era, Nagasaki is more infamously known as being the second and last city to be bombed by an atomic bomb.  While the bombing in Hiroshima is well known, very few people outside Japan remember that a second bomb was dropped in Nagasaki.  When people hear this, they tend to be a bit surprised. Nagasaki is a very different city to Hiroshima.  Rather than promoting peace through education, they have decided to grow past it, and much of the city focuses on its history with the Portuguese and Dutch.  That’s not to say that they don’t still remember and commemorate the tragedy of the Nagasaki Bombing.

The first thing to know about Nagasaki is that it’s a hilly town.  Getting around town can be difficult as you have to climb up and down various hills.  If you are staying in the main area, there is nothing to worry about.  You can easily walk from Nagasaki Station to wherever you need to go, without taking the tram or a bus.  However, if you are carrying bags, it’s a good idea to take public transportation.  The station area is a very busy area that is full of cars and people.  It’s the centre transfer point as the final stop for the JR lines is Nagasaki Station.  You must transfer to one of the many buses, or the trams to get anywhere else within the downtown core.  Walking south along the harbour will take you to Dejima Wharf, and a nice park.  This area is a great place to relax during the day.  There are a few large shopping malls between the park and the station, but once you cross into Dejima Wharf, you suddenly enter a different world. Dejima Wharf is like any typical tourist wharf area.  There are boats and lots of bars and restaurants.  It’s probably one of the nicest places I’ve seen and I’d love to go back and enjoy a day just drinking on the wharf.  Just past the wharf is a nice large park that is on reclaimed land.  It’s where the Japanese Coast Guard moor their various ships and also for summer festivals.  When I went in July 2010, they had a big summer long festival where you can get all of the local foods, get free entertainment, and enjoy fireworks from time to time.  It was a bustling place with thousands of people enjoying themselves.

Next to the park and wharf is Dejima itself.  Dejima was a colony/prison island for Europeans.  When the Portuguese and Dutch did their trading during the isolation period in Japan, they were limited to this island.  Today, you’d be hard pressed to tell that it was an actual island.  The river that isolated the island is only several metres wide, and it doesn’t look that deep or dangerous.  The waters were very calm and no dangerous animals in sight.  In fact, as Nagasaki grew over the years, so did the land area.  Dejima used to be an island that was surrounded by Nagasaki Bay, but they have since reclaimed the land and the entire area is surrounded by land.  The most interesting aspect of this area is that they still had some old warehouses and churches in the area.  If you are walking along the river, you can see the old buildings.  The entire Dejima area is now a museum and you can enter the museum itself, but you must pay an entry fee.  Inside, you will be able to see some scale models of the island from the old days, and you might see some artefacts of the island as well.  Personally, I didn’t bother to enter, but if I return again, I will.

Nagasaki is well known for its Chinatown.  There are three famous Chinatowns in Japan, Yokohama, Kobe, and Nagasaki.  The Chinatown in Nagasaki is probably the smallest of the three, and it wasn’t very special.  It’s a nice place and easily visited within 10 minutes.  There are the typical Chinese red gates throughout the area, but at night, they have special lights at the top of the gates within Chinatown with various pictures of dragons and tigers.  The entire area felt like a typical Chinatown tourist trap.  Various Chinese restaurants and some medicine shops were the main attraction.  For those who aren’t into visiting Chinatown, if you head a little further north, you’ll run into the shopping area of Nagasaki.

The shopping area of Nagasaki is a nice place to relax during the day.  At night, it’s busy and difficult to get around.  I’d suggest avoiding it after 4pm if you are looking to have a relaxing trip.  If you continue north along the shopping arcade, rather than east-west, you will come to a nice small quiet street where you can see various small shops selling crafts.   The character alone is worth a short visit as you never know what treasure you will find there.  Heading in this direction will also lead to Meganebashi, or Spectacles Bridge.  It’s supposedly the oldest stone bridge in Japan, and the water is so clean that on a sunny day, the reflection in the water with the arches makes the bridge look like a pair of spectacles.  The area itself is very clean and you can view the bridge from two areas, one that is level to the bridge deck itself, and the other is from the river.  It’s a nice place to visit, but in reality, nothing special.  If you do have the time, please go and visit the landmark, but if you don’t have the time, don’t worry about missing it.   It’s not a must see in Nagasaki.

This is Part I of a two part series on Nagasaki.  Please continue reading Part II.

Nagasaki Information:

Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Nagasaki
Japan Guide: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2162.html
Nagasaki Tourism Agency: http://www.nagasaki-tabinet.com/mlang/english/
Japan’s Top 3 (Wikitravel): http://wikitravel.org/en/Japan%27s_Top_3

Dejima (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dejima
Meganebashi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megane_Bridge


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