Instead of taking the Shinkansen, I am saving the start date of my Japan Rail Pass till tomorrow so that I will be able to utilize it more effectively for the return trip as well. Thus I boarded the Shonan-Shinjuku line from the Ebisu Station which is close to the Yebisu Garden Place and the Westin Tokyo where I was spending the previous night at. It was perhaps a 20 minute journey from Ebisu to Yokohama and while it was a local train, I was able to alight at Yokohama station and it was just another 5 minute walk using the overhead pathway to the Yokohama Bay Sheraton Hotel and Towers which is just opposite the station.
Arriving at the hotel, I took the escalator down to the first floor of the lobby for check-in. However since I was SPG Platinum and my room was upgraded to a Club Room, I was directed to the Club Floor for check-in. As I took the elevator up, it was nice to be in the same elevator with a bunch of athletes from Malaysia. The so-called Towers check-in is located on the 26th floor of the hotel and I was assigned a room on the 25th floor, just one floor below. Unlike the wonderful Towers Club in Singapore, the Towers Club in Yokohama was small and basic but it does have wonderful views over the city of Yokohama that the Towers Lounge in Singapore lacked.
My assigned room was another Twin room but it wasn’t such a big issue for me as it was just a one night stay. The room was a non-smoking room and was clean and well-kept even though the furnishings were real dated. My main gripe was that the beds weren’t as comfortable and really on the soft side. From the hotel’s website, the Towers Room seems to be better furnished than those of the other class of rooms (Luxury and Regular). However the bathroom seems to have been updated and had both a walk-in shower and a bathtub. This was surprising since I was expecting the normal tub here. Considering that the price of this hotel was the cheapest I stayed at throughout this trip, it was terrific value for money! In fact travellers who are looking to save money can consider staying at Yokohama while visiting Tokyo, since many of the sights in Tokyo aren’t that far away from this hotel anyway!
I headed up to the Towers Lounge for some snacks and coffee after placing my luggage in the room. However as I mentioned earlier, the lounge was really basic and offers not much in terms of food. Thus I went to enquire from the Towers Reception to seek places to head to and get a map of the city. The receptionist recommended that I head to some of the ramen places as Yokohama is famous for its Chinese-Japanese food and ramen is one of the favourite dishes which has Chinese origins. One of her picks was Yoshimuraya Ramen that was one of the best meals I had in this trip, and I encourage those staying at this hotel to walk about 15 minutes to the ramen stall for one of the best Shoyu ramen!
As a guest staying in the Towers Floor, I was entitled to breakfast, and I was also given a choice of having it in the lounge or the restaurant in the 2nd floor. Since the lounge was pretty small, I decided to have it on the main restaurant. The breakfast was basic as the hotel and it was nothing spectacular. In fact it was quite forgettable since it was also crowded. All I remembered was the buffet spread with scrambled eggs on the tray like those on American hotel lounges, some Japanese choices, fruits and salad counter… which are all too common!
The best part of staying here is perhaps the low price that could be as low as US$90, which is more or less what one would pay for the rate of airport hotels in the United States. But here, I get a solid 4-star hotel that is right smack in the middle of the city. Situated just opposite the main Yokohama station, it is a short walk to all the major department stores, shopping and good food in what is the second largest city in Japan. Not a bad deal if I should say myself! For the first night I took it easy and just walked around the bay and by accident came across the Nissan Global Headquarters. Being the second largest carmaker in Japan, Nissan also manufactures the GT-R, one of the best sports car to come out of the country and perhaps the most lust-worthy of all Japanese cars. A nice showroom is located at the ground floor which is open to visitors with many models being displayed there including their latest all-electric vehicle aptly named Leaf. For young adults, the main attraction is definitely the GT-R and the racing simulation game arcade that Nissan has set up, racing GT-Rs virtually, of course! There is also a small boutique selling all things Nissan including scale models and NISMO accessories that would be difficult to get elsewhere.
For dinnertime, I seek out the ramen store using the map provided by the receptionist and managed to pass by another BIC Camera outlet as I walked across the canal. There are also many other smaller stalls selling interesting knick-knacks along the street. The area seems very pedestrian friendly and 2 other very famous ramen chains in Japan can also be found in the vicinity including Ippudo and Santouka. Since the one recommended – Yoshimuraya is available only in this city, this was the one I headed to. But first the obstacle was the huge queue outside, and since I wasn’t in much of a hurry and the fact that the owner has supplied benches outside the store, I waited along with the rest. But before you take your spot outside the store, purchase your ramen tokens from the vending machine which is only in Japanese, though the staff can help out a bit in choices (even then do not expect it in English). It took about 25 minutes from the point in the photo to get into the store, as it seems people do not linger long after gulping down their ramen and they tend to leave in groups so it can be a fast turnaround.
Yoshimuraya only makes shoyu ramen,and they are topped with pork slices, spinach and seaweed. The shoyu soup base was one of the best I have tasted, and what makes it wonderful was the array of condiments you could add into the ramen, ranging from garlic chips to chilli paste. Being able to select the condiments allow guests to create variations in flavour to their liking, not that it was necessary. The pork slices was also amazing considering they use mainly lean pork (thus healthier), but it manages to be tender and slightly chewy. Best lean pork slices in ramen ever!
While Tokyo might take all the glamour, Yokohama is an enjoyable city as well for its beautiful bay and the waterfront was very active in the day unlike Odaiba in the day which seems dead. There are cruise ships being docked along the bay, and even an old cargo and passenger ship that used to belong to NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) lines being moored for tourists to board. The NYK Hikawamaru is also moored around the Chinatown area, and is close to the Motomachi-Chukagai subway station so tourists could really visit the bay and explore the largest Chinatown in Japan. While I’ve been to many Chinatowns around the world, the one in Yokohama is probably the cleanest, and it is very pedestrian friendly too! Some of the best things to get in Chinatowns worldwide are usually the foodstuff and the most famous in Yokohama is pan-fried soup dumplings called Shengjianbao or 生煎包. These are larger versions of Xiaolongbaos that are pan-friend and has a pork filling with hot tasty soup inside. Again being a very popular destination in Yokohama, queues are present in one of the shops selling these dumplings and they were really delicious to have even compared to similar ones I had outside of Japan.
Close by the Chinatown is Yokohama Park that still features autumn colours when I was there in early December and it is definitely a nice place to end the day for a stroll before I headed back to the hotel to check out and board the train to Shin Yokohama station. Being the second largest city in Japan, Yokohama has 2 major train stations, one being Yokohama itself which is closer to the main sights and the bay, with the other being Shin Yokohama which is close to the major commercial district and where all the Shinkansen trains arrive and depart from. Since I am heading out west towards Nagoya, I started utilizing my Japan Rail Pass on that day for my train ride to Nagoya. Let’s just say that if one visits Japan for the first time, a ride on the Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka is a must to experience the culture of Japanese people.