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  • Writer's pictureNigel W. Ruddock

Giddy Heights, a much-loved survivor and some fake soup

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Japanese Spring 2019 Wednesday (水曜日) 27th March

It’s always nice revisiting old haunts, so I decided to stay in Yokohama today. The sun was out and a fresh spring day beckoned. I headed for the Marine Tower. This is a rather dated looking observation tower on the south end of town, but I had heard the views from it were worth it, so….paying my 750 yen to the smiley attendant I enter the lift at the bottom.

A night image of said tower...

OMG…going up I really get the HEEBIE JEEBIES (sorry can’t explain that word)…it’s like going up the spire of Strasbourg cathedral at top speed. Gripping the hand rail with whitening knuckles I concentrated on the two little children in the lift with me…they were loving it, gleefully pointing out all the landmarks to their mum. When we reach the viewing platform I relaxed.

There was huge glass panelling all around. The views were really breath-taking.

It took me a while to take in this huge city on the Bay of Tokyo. And it is hard to believe that only about 170 years ago this was a small fishing village in the Edo period with no contact to the outside world. When the Americans arrived just south of Yokohama in 1853 they asked, or rather demanded, that the then ruling Tokugawa Shogunate open several ports to foreign commerce. At first the idea was to open a port in Kanagawa-juku, which is today at the northern side of Yokohama. Here’s a picture of said “village” in the 1830’s.

It’s a woodblock print from perhaps the most famous Ukiyo-e artist of them all, Hiroshiga. He’s the one that made the iconic “Great Wave of Kanagawa” that everybody recognises today. The “village” was the third station on the famous Tokaido route, the famous road connecting the old capital Kyoto to the new one at Edo (Tokyo).

But this was deemed too close to Edo for comfort, so a new port was built at the other end of the bay. It’s hard to imagine today the nervousness felt by this isolated country in opening up their gates to foreigners.

There was great excitement on the viewing deck when some window cleaners arrived from above……!

Anyone who does this work must have nerves of iron. They even had these suction pads which they stuck to the windows in a rather James Bond (or Johny English/Rowan Atkinson) fashion!


The descent was much easier, and having picked up some postcards from the gift shop I walked over the road to the Yamashita Park. I remember this park from my visit last year, and it was a strange feeling to be back in the same place again. This park was created in 1930 from rubble after the devastation of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923…only to be devastated again in the 1945 bombing. The graceful Hikawa-maru still rests at her moorings here. This time I decide to go onboard and investigate.

Watching the introductory video which you see on boarding the ship, I notice the emotional pull of all this. The ship is portrayed as a sort of microcosm of Japanese history since 1930. Fascinating. It started its life as a luxury trans-pacific liner. At the time Japan was trying to compete with the American and European liners of the day, and the route to Seattle was seen as crucial. Then came service as a hospital ship in WWII – despite hitting mines it survived, and was one of only 30 Japanese ships that survived the war. Then it was used to help Japan’s post war recovery by shipping coal from Hokkaido. After this it was refitted as a passenger ship to run the Seattle route again (famous passengers included Charlie Chaplin), before going into graceful retirement. Due to its survival, the ship is often seen as harbinger of good fortune. Couples marry on the upper decks these days!

Looking around the ship – the first-class lounge, the nursery, the smoking room, the mighty engine room, I was struck by the provenance of many of the fittings. The living quarters are unmistakeably French Art Deco. Here are some pictures:

the engines are from Copenhagen, the electricity fuse box from “Siemens London” (odd…Siemens is a German firm)…..etc.

The mighty central engine shaft.....

This place must have hummed and roared at high sea....

Note the indicator!

Up on deck you get a feeling of what it must have been like to lounge in a deck chair somewhere mid-pacific...

As usual I stumbled across some pretty strange translations...Careful ladies, there are no restrooms in the hereafter....

After all this clambering around an old ship I was hungry. The usual predicament – where to eat? So much choice. I drop into a bistro selling what looked like nourishing soup. Imagine my surprise when I realise the soup and its ingredients are all actually sweet! Time I learned some more Kanji…..

This eating place was next to Yokohama’s famous China Town....

and the Motomachi area. There is a pleasant little shopping street here selling all sorts of things. I buy some real Japanese chopsticks for my daughter.

Yokohama used to be the main port which handled silk exports. In the 19thc. A lot of Japanese silk was exported to Britain then, and there is an interesting Silk Museum in town which describes the history and production of this fine commodity. It was used in Kimonos of course...

and for theatrical Kabuki costumes....

They have also got some REAL silk "worms" on display.......

Here's some modern products on sale in the museum shop....

But you don’t always have to go shopping. As darkness fell I walked out on to the new Onabashi International Passenger Terminal, getting a great view of the Yokohama skyline.

A brightly lit night cruise boat was just reversing out of its moorings as I arrived.

Another very full day of new experiences. There is so much to see in just one town.

乾杯 !

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Nigel W. Ruddock
Nigel W. Ruddock
Apr 15, 2019

....and No Jet Lag on a passenger liner


Apr 14, 2019

I bought my Brompton near the Yokohama tower and never even thought of going up. I‘ll do it for sure next time. And hailing from Seattle, I really wish the ship still made the crossing. What a way to travel!

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