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In the early port years, the Kanagawa Magistrate's office (of which the custom house was a part) wielded power not only over the export and import duties levied, but also over foreign matters. The Great Yokohama Fire of 1866 eliminated the Kanagawa Maritime Transportation Office, the forerunner of the Yokohama Custom House, as it has been called since 1872. The present building was built in 1936 and is fondly known as "the Queen," because of its landmark domed mosque-like tower. An exhibit of contraband items includes faux name brand handbags, watches, etc. Ingenious methods for sidestepping customs that were tried and failed are exhibited. (NBW)
The Silk Museum is a delightful museum that portrays the role that silk has played in the history of Yokohama. In the years after Japan opened its doors to the world, silk was its major export, and Yokohama was the primary port for the silk shipping industry. In addition to explaining the role that silk has played in Yokohama's past, the Silk Museum houses a wonderful collection of silk kimonos and antique costumes fashioned from silk. It also houses a library of Japanese books and a movie theater. For those interested in the history of Japanese costumes, and those enraptured by the unique beauty of flowing silk kimonos, the Silk Museum is a rare treat.
Ocean travelers will appreciate this small, but beautifully appointed museum on the waterfront in Yokohama. In 1896 Nippon Yusen Kaisha inaugurated the European route when their first passenger ship, the Tosa-maru, left Yokohama headed for London. Service to Melbourne, Australia, and Seattle, USA, also began later that year. The displays include officers' uniforms, crockery, cutlery, furnishings, biographies of the many foreign ship captains, ship models, photographs of famous passengers, and the first dining room menu from 1896, which featured Western food. Mention must be made of the fine library collection, which has several shelves of books in English on shipping and ocean liners. The tea lounge is a remodeled cabin.
Odori Park is a one-mile long, narrow mall that stretches through the heart of Isezaki-cho, the workingman's playground in Yokohama. Odori Park starts a few minutes walk from the JR Kannai Station. Odori Park is subdivided into several neighborhoods, such as Misu no Hiroba or Water Plaza and Ishi no Hiroba or Stone Plaza. The grassy, tree-dotted park contains a number of sports sculptures by Henry Moore and other popular artists.
The Yokohama Municipal Tourist Association is an excellent English-speaking city tourist office that serves the needs of visitors to Yokohama. Located just a short walk from Kannai Station, and close to the Silk Center and Yamashita Park, this tourist office offers a broad selection of brochures on Yokohama, a good English-language map, and lots of free advice on good dining, fine accommodations, and the city's sightseeing hot spots. Yokohama Municipal Tourist Association also has a Home Visit System where they can arrange for you to visit with a Japanese family. Please note that at least 24 hours advance notice is required if you wish to take advantage of the Home Visit System.
Just an hour outside of Tokyo, Yokohama is really a great place to spend the day, be it by the waterfront, in Chinatown or popping in and out of its various artistic hot spots. Located just off the port is the Yokohama CreativeCity Center/BankART 1929, headquarters for the city's great, artistic, urban renewal intiative. Housed in the stone building of the former Dai-ichi Bank built in 1929, with almost 23-foot ceilings, this spacious hall is presently the epicentre of the Yokohama art scene. With 2 floors of rental and office spaces, and a small, but comprehensive bookshop, the Yokohama CreativeCity Center/BankART 1929 might not show itself off, but it is certainly the key to unlocking Yokohama's other artistic treasures. - Stephen Lebovits