Kids in Tokyo — Escape to Yokohama

Minato Mirai, YokohamaFeeling overwhelmed by Tokyo’s bustle and sprawl? Take a subway ride just a bit south, to the relatively compact seaport city of Yokohama.

It has the largest Chinatown in Japan, plus the attractive waterside Minato Mirai park area, with its skyline-dominating Cosmoworld amusement park Ferris wheel and the soaring Landmark Tower shopping and hotel complex.

There is a much more relaxed atmosphere here, especially near the water.

Many of the elaborate shopping complexes around Minato Mirai will feel much like your local mall, with brand-name shops and a Hard Rock Cafe.

Still, let’s face it; sometimes your kids (and maybe you) just want something that feels familiar. This can also be good for a rainy day or a slow evening (shops are open till around 8 p.m., and restaurants till later.)

Pokemon enthusiasts will find the Pokemon Center shop in one of the indoor shopping complexes, with every imaginable item branded with the cartoony little creatures. Best option is a chopstick set or a kid’s bento (lunch) box.

Pokemon Center shop Yokohama (Scarborough photo)

You Hello Kitty fans will find plenty of that in this mall as well, including neat little washcloths with the Kitty in various guises around Tokyo neighborhoods.

Take a pleasant walk over the water bridge to the World Porters area if you haven’t had enough shopping, or stroll past it even further to the Red Brick Warehouse (Web site in Japanese) where there is an outpost of the beloved fresh cosmetics company Lush.

Also at the Warehouse is Motion Blue, a smaller version of Tokyo’s dinner club and performance venue Blue Note, with some terrific jazz musicians on the schedule. Good for older kids.

Does your son or daughter like ramen, the noodle soup that blossoms in the microwave in just a little water? Check out the real stuff at the unique Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum.

Once you pay a small fee to enter, you are transported back to late-1950s era shitamachi Tokyo, right down to the advertising signs, street performers, a little toy shop and eight different actual ramen restaurants, each serving different styles of the iconic noodle bowl, at very reasonable prices (including perhaps a Kirin or Sapphoro beer for the adults.)

Some of the museum street performers tell Japanese adventure tales to children using special painted story-boards.

Watch their technique of building up to an exciting point in the story and then quickly showing a new picture: this is one of the cultural foundations of today’s anime styles.

Shin-Yokohama Raumen/Ramen Museum, Yokohama (Scarborough photo)

The gift shop has noodle-related knick-knacks including Naruto, who is a very popular manga character with his own action show on American TV.

His name comes from the traditional small decorative egg item with a swirl that is placed on top of bowls of ramen.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take the subway from Tokyo to the Sakuragi-cho subway station and walk out the Minato Mirai exit.

There is a tourist booth just outside the exit where you can get maps and directions to all of the attractions in Yokohama. The Ramen Museum is a few minute’s walk from Exit 8 of the Shinyokohama subway station on the Yokohama City subway line.

Maritime Manhole Cover, Yokohama (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Update 8 October 2006: There’s a nice LA Times article on taking a side trip from Tokyo to Nikko.

I haven’t been there myself but it looks like a wonderful option with older kids (and would be closer than Kyoto.)