I travelled the short distance from Tokyo to Yokohama, back in January of 2020, to film my third episode of NHK World’s ‘Journeys on Japan’ programme.
Yokohama is around half an hour from my home in Tokyo and work and recreation take me there as much as two or three times some weeks. My first visit there was about 20 years ago and in all the time since, I’ve come to know the city pretty well.
But when I first heard of the opportunity to go there with Journeys in Japan, I was excited. Knowing the programme’s track-record of showcasing the history, culture and people of each destination they visit, I knew that by the end of my week there, Yokohama would mean something new for me. I wasn’t wrong.
Yokohama is a city with 160 years or so of recent history closely entwined with Japan’s opening up to foreigners. Yokohama has literally been the front door to Japan, welcoming and providing a home for people of many races and cultures.
Having grown up very close to the coast in England, spending a lot of my youth at, in and on the sea, ports like Yokohama have a special place in my heart. Apart from the physical presence of the sea, most ports and trading centres have a unique atmosphere that is linked to their being a conduit for goods and people from faraway places. That atmosphere is tangible in Yokohama, whether in the fabric of the city and its historic buildings or in the cosmopolitan makeup of the city’s population.
It’s a city that has also had its fair share of tragedy. The 1923 Kanto Earthquake did much to shape present-day Yokohama. As did World War 2. Yokohama has risen from the ashes at least twice in recent history and gone on to thrive.
No visit to Yokohama would be complete without spending some time in its Chinatown. The biggest outside of China, anywhere in the world. And as well as all the wonderful people, food and culture I was able to experience there, it was on a building-site behind one of the main temples there that I was able – with relics recently excavated there – to reach back and touch that day in 1923 when the earth shook and fires destroyed the city.
After 20 years of visiting and working in the city, my week in Yokohama with Journeys in Japan brought me into contact with people, history and experiences that have given a new and profound substance to the place. Whether it be visiting bank vaults from 1904, eating a beef pot dish that has been served the same way for over 150 years or climbing to the top of a building I’d never visited before.
This trip gave me fresh eyes with which to look a place I’ve already come to love. Fresh eyes and a new, deeper historical context. Above all, what I’ll remember most fondly are the people I’ve met who’ve humanised and helped me understand the history. History, after all, is often just things, facts, stories. But it’s people who give it life.
Here’s a gallery of some of my shots from my week photographing Yokohama for the show. I used the Nikon D800e with 80-200mm and 135mm lenses. Also the Fuji X100S. All the shots were cropped to the Hasselblad XPan aspect ratio. I started doing this on the first NHK trip, when I was shooting with the Hasselblad X1D. I liked the format, so did the director of the show and we stuck with it.