On the 23rd of November, there was a national holiday in Japan – Labor Thanksgiving Day – so work was cancelled and I had an extra day to explore Yokohama.
Traditionally observing the harvest, the modern Labor Thanksgiving Day came into being after World War II, focusing more on workers’ rights than agriculture. While many Japanese people use the holiday as a time to rest, the city was still packed… especially in Chinatown.
Definitely one of Yokohama’s most famous tourist spots, it’s the largest Chinatown in Japan, dating back to the end of the Edo Period circa 1859. The Japanese for Chinatown, chuukagai, is written as 中華街, using the characters for ‘middle’ (also used in China,中国, chuugoku), ‘flower’ and ‘town’.
Now, if you’re a panda fan, this is definitely the right place for you. Probably capitalising on Japan’s love of anything cute, it’s damn near impossible to walk a couple of metres without seeing something with a panda on. In fact, there are at least two shops and a café dedicated to the animal – and I’m going to be honest – it took all my willpower not to buy anything. Especially the merchandise that looked suspiciously like propaganda… or propapanda if you will.
I know, I only have like, 80% shame over that pun.
Chinatown’s also home to a ridiculous amount of restaurants and food vendors so if you’re looking for an easy choice, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find it. We eventually ended up in a tabehoudai (all you can eat) place, where I ate until my body decided it had had enough, filling up on plates like beef and green peppers, chicken with cashew nuts, and gyoza.
The Saturday after was definitely my best night in Japan so far. Reunited with my friends from training after a couple of weeks, we met up in Shibuya for a chance to let our hair down away from our respective towns. After all, even being an ALT in Japan’s second largest city, you still have to act the role of a sensei outside of work.
Shibuya’s Hachiko statue is a very popular meeting spot, so acting like the tourists we were, we couldn’t not meet there. If you don’t know the story of Hachiko, you can read about it here.
Right next to the statue is the famous Shibuya Crossing, supposedly the busiest intersection in the world. Maybe trying to contend with it on a Saturday evening wasn’t the most sensible plan but it wasn’t as manic as anticipated and I now have video evidence of me making it across in thirty seconds.
We stopped off at a GoGo Curry place – the same franchise we visited during training – and despite being in a different area of Tokyo it felt kind of nostalgic. It may seem weird to already be reminiscing about two weeks before, but those two weeks seemed long enough to warrant it.
After that, we headed to the one place you’d expect to find five Brits in their twenties: the pub.
Just across the road from Hachiko is a HUB – one of a chain of British pubs mainly based in the Kanto area (but with a few locations in Kansai, Chubu and Tohoku). It was still pretty evident that it was a Japanese version of what a pub should be, but from people shouting over the football on TV to the interior decoration, it was close enough to feel familiar. Maybe I’m just really picky having worked in two pubs over the last three years but I don’t think that’s the case. The friendly atmosphere was definitely the same, and we ended up talking to people from Japan, America, and Nigeria.
Anyone who knows me offline will know that I love singing so when karaoke was suggested, I jumped at the chance. I used to do karaoke all the time at university, but it’s an entirely different experience in Japan. Rather than having to stand up in front of everyone, you get to sit with your friends and sing together, in a booth that you rent by the hour. The UK version of karaoke is usually held in a pub once a week and people fuelled by Dutch courage perform for the entire room.
We selected one of my favourites, Evanescence’s Bring Me to Life. It’s not exactly the least embarrassing of songs but who wasn’t obsessed with it in 2003? I just never learnt to cringe over that fact and I still love it today. In fact, the 2017 version made me like it even more.
I used to be really shy about singing in front of people for the first time (and pretty recently too) but I think having to do nursery rhymes in front of 30-180 kids every day helps with overcoming that fear.
After an hour of singing, it was back to the pub for another quick drink before the train home.