On the same day that I visited Sojiji Temple with “Johnl”, we had some time left over, but not enough to visit another temple, so John led me to Yokohama’s famous Chinatown called chūkagai (中華街). The name basically just means “China street” in Japanese, because 中華 is a commonly used word in Japanese to describe Chinese things such as Chinese food (chūryōri 中華料理) and so on, even though the name of China itself has changed many times over the years.
Anyway, Chukagai is fairly different in many ways to Shin Okubo and the Koreatown there. Where Shin-Okubo is kind of hip owing to the KPop craze, Chukagai has more of a traditional “Chinese” feel without the benefit of a pop-culture fad.1 However, it was also somewhat different than other “Chinatown” districts I’ve seen in Seattle, San Francisco and Vancouver, and I think this has to do with the less contentious history of immigration to Japan. Because Chinese immigrants suffered a lot of discrimination when they came to Western countries, the neighborhoods were neglected and relegated to undesirable parts of the city, while the experience in Japan seems to have been relatively smoother even during the Imperial era. Thus, Chukagai felt a lot friendlier and less intimidating than the Chinatowns I had seen in Seattle and Vancouver in particular, and certainly a lot safer.2
Chukagai is near Yokohama Bay and is pretty easy to miss if you don’t know where to look. We walked past a lot of old Western-style buildings until we noticed this gate:
Once you go past this gate, things change quite a bit. It’s like a hidden world inside of Yokohama’s business district:
As I said before, a lot of buildings have the more traditional (touristy) Chinese look, and it was interesting to hear people speaking Japanese but with a noticeable Chinese accent. We had already eating at Mos Burger, so we just picked up a nikuman instead:
Nikuman is short for “niku manju” I believe and is variation on Chinese-style buns, which often have vegetarian options too such as taro root rather than meat. After we ate, we took a left from the main street and came to a back alley:
…which led to this temple:
This temple, named Kanteibyō (関帝廟）, is a famous temple in Chukagai devoted to none other than the famous general Guan Yu, referred to as Guan Di Miao there. Most Westerners might recognize Guan Yu from the famous 16th century novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or at least the computer games based off it, but in fact Guan Yu is a deeply loved character in Chinese culture. I’ve read elsewhere that many people pray to him in certain fields, such as police officers in Hong Kong. Either way, the temple and Guan Yu have served to unite the people of Chukagai for generations, and it was probably the first Chinese-style I’ve ever seen anyway. Quite a treat, really.
If you step through the gates you see this small shrine here:
I couldn’t take pictures of the main shrine just behind it, but it was pretty awesome. The temple is an interesting fusion of Japanese religious culture and Chinese religious culture. The grilled donation-boxes were very Japanese, but the incense sticks were larger and thicker and more Chinese style. Also, I overheard a tour-guide explaining to visitors that you were supposed to 3 incense sticks at a time, whereas at Japanese temples, it is usually only one.
The inner shrine, which you can see on the temple website by clicking on the blue cloud in the picture twice, also was quite interesting, and another fusion of Japanese-Chinese culture. It was bright red and adorned with a lot of gold color. You can see General Guan Yu there in the middle, with a deep red face and long beard, which is how he is often depicted in Chinese culture. The layout of the room though looked somewhat more similar to what I’ve seen in Japanese Buddhist temples, and to the right there is a statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, who is highly revered in both China/Japan among many other places.
You can also see me here ringing the gong near the entrance like a total tourist:
Thankfully a lot of us were doing it, so I didn’t feel too silly.
Suffice to say, I enjoyed the temple quite a bit. We lingered for a while in the area, buying up some good Chinese tea before we headed to the nearest train station, Motomachi-Chukagai, which looks really cool on the inside:
The high, rounded roof above is something I usually don’t see in train stations in Japan.
Yokohama is interesting in general because of its fusion of Chinese, Japanese and Western culture, but Chukagai in particular was a pretty cool place to visit, and certain worth a visit. As with Shin-Okubo, it’s really interesting to see how a major ethnic minority has adapted and thrived within Japanese society.
Thanks again, John!
P.S. Next post will be on my visit to Fukugawa, and meeting reader “Marcus” for the first time.
1 That didn’t stop any shops at Chukagai from selling KPop stuff though. I found that really amusing. If there’s profit to be made, someone will find a way. :p
2 The point here isn’t to criticize the Chinese communities there, but to point out that history hasn’t been kind to them.