Open Season

Open Season

Celebrating 150 years as the international face of Japan, Yokohama gets ready to greet the crowds


Originally published on on April 2009


Starting later this month and continuing through September, Yokohama is throwing itself a party. And why not? It’s been exactly 150 years since US Commodore Matthew C. Perry sailed into town and, ahem, urged the Japanese government to rethink its longstanding policy of isolation. Since then, Yokohama has become the country’s largest port and second largest city, spearheading Japan’s emergence as a preeminent global power.

Officially called Expo Y150, the five-month celebration is centered on Yokohama’s picturesque waterfront (a separate series of events will take place adjacent to Zoorasia animal park; see following page for details). To prepare for the anticipated 5 million visitors, the city fathers have spruced up such neglected locales as Shinko Pier, while giving a makeover to well-loved attractions like Red Brick Plaza, Osanbashi Pier and Yamashita Park. Street theater performances, international food stalls, public art installations, interactive technology exhibits, a site-specific theater—all lorded over by something called an “Earth balloon”—will welcome revelers from near and far. Here’s your guide to all the merriment.

1. Y150 Hajimari No Mori (“Forest of Beginnings”)

open season

Billed as an “entertainment zone where visitors can experience how the future will feel,” Hajimari No Mori is also focused on the past. A purpose-built theater will screen the cinematic history Yokohama Monogatari, while workshops introduce local culture and products. The Kurofune (“Black Ship”) Restaurant offers Meiji Era cooking—and atmosphere. Striking an avant-garde note will be “spectacle art” troupe La Machine, which makes its Japan debut with street performances featuring 12m-tall “living machines.” Lovebirds will want to stop by Hajimari No Mori at night, when the area’s illumination is dubbed Evening Picnic.

2. Y150 Tomorrow Park

open season

The centerpiece of the sci-fi themed Tomorrow Park is an “Earth balloon” called Home, which floats above the area emitting light and sound. Intended to highlight environmental issues, the massive orb—20m in diameter—was created with the help of Japanese astronaut Chiaki Mukai. Tomorrow Park is also home to the Future Theater, which will screen the three-part film Baton—the first animated movie from renowned screenwriter Shunji Iwai (Love Letter). Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura of Azumi fame, Baton features the voice talents of superstar actors Hayato Ichihara and Aya Ueto.

3. Nissan Y150 Dream Front & Super Hi- Vision Theater

Japan’s national broadcaster and one of its leading automakers have transformed a lonely stretch of Shinko Pier into a high-tech showcase. The Nissan Y150 Dream Front is an interactive pavilion focusing on environmental themes where kids can enjoy “learn-as-you-play” activities using the technologies of the future. NHK, meanwhile, has created a mammoth 154-inch high-definition display to “create a dramatic visual world that rivals reality.”

4. Red Brick Site

Yokohama’s prominence as an international crossroads is featured in events and exhibits in the historic Red Brick Warehouse district, a.k.a. Aka Renga. The main attraction is a tent city with food stalls and shops representing five countries with strong ties to the city— the US, France, Holland, Russia and England—as well the important Japanese ports of Hakodate, Nagasaki, Niigata and Kobe. Aka Renga will also host the Busanten, a separate exhibition site that highlights the importance of silk as a Yokohama export in the late Edo and early Meiji periods. Visitors here will also be able to pick up official goods featuring the Expo Y150 mascot, Tanemaru.

5. Osanbashi Pier

Osanbashi Pier, which normally houses an exhibition hall and serves as the launch point for pleasure cruises around Yokohama Port, takes on a community focus for the duration of Expo Y150. The “Yokohama Fune Project” features boat-themed creations from local citizens groups, and the pier will also host workshops where adults and kids can try their hand at building small-scale models of sailing craft.

6. Zo-No-Hana Site (“Elephant’s Trunk”)

open season

Specially created for the 150th anniversary celebrations, Zo-No-Hana is an art-themed park displaying ten works by young talents chosen by renowned Japanese contemporary artist Katsuhiko Hibino (below, left). Elsewhere, internationally celebrated “trick artist” Kurt Wenner, who is best known for skewing perspective and depth of field to create “sinkholes” in city streets and “walkways” in building exteriors, has been commissioned to present “black ships that appear to float in 3D.”

7. Yamashita Park Site

Yokohama’s best-loved esplanade will welcome a side-wheel steamship similar to Commodore Perry’s infamous “Black Ship” for three visits (in May, June and August). Visitors will be able to hop onboard during the day and enjoy a “light up” event at night. Yamashita Park will also be the main staging ground for athletic events such as Yokohama’s annual triathlon and dragon boat races, as well as a variety of live performances.

At a glance

Where: Yokohama waterfront area

When: April 28-September 27

Hours: Daily 10am-10pm

Tickets: Advance tickets offering unlimited one-day entry to all events in the Bayside Area are available until April 27 for ¥2,200 at major travel agencies and convenience stores. Same-day tickets cost ¥2,400.

Ticketholders are also eligible for discounted entry into a variety of other local attractions, including half off the Marine Shuttle and Royal Wing pleasure boats, the Landmark Tower observation deck (at 273m, the highest in Japan) and the Nippon Maru sailing ship. See the website for details

Access: Minato-Mirai line, Bashamichi, Nippon-Odori or Motomachi-Chukagai stations (about 35 minutes from Shibuya); JR Sakuragicho stn (27 mins from Shinagawa)