With so much history in the area, Yokohama features many foreign buildings and places, and is heavily influenced by various different Cultures. It is one such culture that brings me here today, the Chinese. Today is of course Chinese New Year, so I thought the ideal place to celebrate would be in a city with its very own Chinatown.
Marking the entrance to Chinatown hangs a brightly coloured gate. The first thing I notice is that beyond the gate, the rows of Chinese restaurants and shops no longer resemble Japan. Tucked between two such restaurants sits a branch of Starbucks Coffee, instantly shattering the illusion that I might actually be in China. I make my way through the crowds, and arrive at a temple.
Yokohama Kanteibyo is a Taoist temple, dedicated to Chinese general Guan Yu. He is recognised today as the god of war and victory. Built in 1871 by Chinese migrants, the temple has since been destroyed four times, but always rebuilt. A common theme in Japan regarding temples. The temple these days symbolises good luck and good fortune in business, and is packed full of Chinese residents and tourists here to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Inside the temple, people are queueing up to pay ¥1000 for a piece of scented wood. The incense here is lit, then placed into a pot. It is said that burning the first incense of the New Year is especially important in Chinese Culture, and that those that take part in this ritual, are said to have a prosperous year ahead.
After the incense, people take their fortune in a way similar to that of Japanese temples and shrines. I find common themes between the two countries, especially the way that they each celebrate their own New Year. Visiting a temple or shrine, the first prayer or burning of incense, eating traditional food. The only thing that really stands out as different today, is the impending Lion Dance.
I leave Yokohama Kanteibyo, and head out into the lantern lined streets. Twenty-one million visitors come to Yokohama Chinatown each year, and it is the largest such town in Japan; with over six hundred shops and restaurants compacted into this small area. It feels like the twenty-one million visitors have all chosen to come here today, as both sides of the streets are packed full with people. My confinement makes it difficult for me to move.
I find a decent spot in the crowd, and wait. Even though the Lion Dance will parade through here shortly, for whatever reason, the road is still open for vehicles. A traditional Chinese vehicle displaying the name ‘Family Mart’ sails through the crowd, getting dangerously close to running someone over. Every time a vehicle cruises through, a man with a megaphone shouts for everyone to step back. It is carnage. A problem with the head of the lion costume causes further delays, and the Lion Dance ends up running very late. The event finally starts at half four, one hour after the scheduled time.
Firecrackers louder than the Big Bang consume the silence. The shock of noise startles me, and children around me cry in fear. Eventually, a man dressed as a lion appears, and the crowd roars. Drums start, and the lion begins to dance. I watch the lion dancing for about four seconds, before it disappears into a Chinese restaurant; presumably continuing to dance around inside.
After the lion re-emerges from the restaurant, his head is removed, and the drums stop. This is what I came all this way to see, effectively nothing. I stick around to see if anything else is about to happen, but the crowd has all but dispersed. The firecrackers sound again, the air filled with a gloomy white smoke, before the lion begins to dance into the next Chinese restaurant.