Sail Training Ship Nippon Maru: A Must-Add To Your Yokohama Itinerary
Discover the rich history of Japan’s biggest Port City
You have to visit the Nippon Maru and the Yokohama Port Museum when you’re in town. With over 160 years of history to discover, fun hands-on attractions, and friendly expert local guides, it’ll give you a new level of appreciation for this beautiful city.
Yokohama, Tokyo’s bayside sibling city, is technically the second biggest city in Japan and is filled with countless attractions. From the Cup Noodles Museum, Minato Mirai, and Chinatown, there’s so much to see and do in Yokohama. The Nippon Maru and Yokohama Port Museum is another stop to add to your ‘must-visit’ list.
A Brief History of the Nippon Maru
The Nippon Maru was built in 1930 as a training ship for Japanese cadets. During her lifetime, the Nippon Maru clocked some rather impressive numbers; she served a total of 11,500 cadets and sailed the equivalent of 45.5 trips around the globe, clocking in an impressive 1,830,000 kilometers.
In 1984, at the still spritely—at least by Japanese standards—age of 54, the Nippon Maru was retired as a training ship. She soon found a permanent home here on the sparkling waters of Minato Mirai where she remains to this day in her almost luminescent-white glory.
The Nippon Maru Today
Visitors are welcome to hop aboard the decks of the Nippon Maru most days of the week. While you’re exploring the ins and outs of the almost 100-meter-long ship, you’ll bump into one of Nippon Maru’s volunteer tour guides. In fact, many of the guides aboard the ship were once cadets. This fact makes the visit all that more enriching knowing that you’re exploring the Nippon Maru with someone who knows just what it was like to live and breath this beautiful vessel.
A handful of the guides do speak English, so it’s worth asking about at the ticket office. With one of the locals taking you under their wing, you can weave your way through the ship, inspecting the Captain’s Quarters, the hospital, kitchen, and the very ‘cozy’ cadet bedrooms. A comprehensive tour of the ship will take about 45 minutes. But if you want to take your time exploring, taking photos, and quizzing the guides on what it was like to travel the globe, it’s best to set aside a solid hour.
What about the museum?
The ship docks at the front of the Yokohama Port Museum, which is an impressive looking arch-shaped complex. Back in 2009, the museum was remodeled from Yokohama Maritime Museum as part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations of Yokohama’s Port Opening Commemorative Project.
The best way to appreciate the inner workings of the Nippon Maru and the context in which it lived is to spend a little time strolling through the basement level displays. The exhibits are broken up into different ‘zones’ each exploring a different facet of the maritime scene both cultural and constructional. Some of the zones include displays on the port building, the history of Yokohama’s relationship with the US during the war, harbor transportation, and the impacts of the Great Kanto Earthquake.
For children, the in-depth, information-heavy exhibits may get a little dry, but luckily the museum also boasts an ultra-realistic, ship operation simulator set in the Yokohama port. Complete with options to change the weather and time of day, the full-scale simulator puts you in the driver’s seat as you strategically maneuver an oversized major cruise ship along the Port of Yokohama. If you succeed in mastering the boat, you’ll be awarded a certificate for your efforts!
Don’t miss the Yanagihara Ryohei Art Museum
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When strolling around the port, you may have spotted a very cute, thick-bodied cartoon captain smiling at you in his 1960s retro-like The Jetsons kind of way. This captain and his crew of portside pals is the work of writer and illustrator Ryohei Yanagihara (1931-2015).
A long-time Yokohama resident, Yanagihara created Suntory’s famous mascot, Uncle Torys in 1958, but he was also obsessed with ships. On the first floor of the museum, you’ll find a vibrantly colorful museum dedicated to the marine-centric and more everyday illustrations. You’ll want to put aside a little extra time as the exhibit comprehensively covers all areas of his work from classic illustration, graphic design, animation, books, oil paintings, and lithographs.
When to visit?
The Museum and the Nippon Maru is open year-round, but it also hosts special events. Twelve times a year, around a hundred volunteers unfurl Nippon Maru’s 29 sails in what’s called the full-sail exhibition. It’s an excellent time to visit if you’re looking to snap the perfect picture.
Don’t miss this special summer campaign made specifically for foreign visitors until Oct. 31! All you have to do is fill out a brief questionnaire when purchasing the tickets and you’ll receive a ¥100 discount, an original sticker featuring an adorable illustration by Ryohei Yanagihara (only 500 available each month!), and a refreshing bottle of water (we think that’ll come in handy during this summer season).
Every Sunday and on holidays, the museum hosts a papercraft workshop. The area also hosts the occasional flea market too. Unfortunately, there’s no online listing for events. If you’re planning a visit and want to know what’s going on, it’s recommended you call in advance to ask.
One very special time of year to visit is between August 6 and August 12. This time of year marks Yokohama’s annual Pikachu Outbreak. As nonsensical as it is cute, this time of year thousands of larger than life-sized Pikachus take over the Port of Yokohama. You’ll find Pikachu putting on parades and performances along the waterfront, including right on the grounds of the Nippon Maru and Port Museum.
What Else is Nearby?
There’s so much to see and do within walking distance of the Nippon Maru, which makes it the perfect addition to a fun-packed day of exploring Yokohama’s waterfront. There’s sea kayaking around the Nippon Maru, which you can book here, but do note it’s currently only in Japanese. It’s just a two-minute walk from Landmark Tower, home to the viewing platform in the city. The famous Nissin Cup Noodles Museum is a 10-minute walk along the water, and retro amusement park Cosmoworld is on the way. If you put aside a day, you can easily do it all and still have time for dinner and a stroll in Yokohama Chinatown, the biggest of its kind in Asia.
Address: 2-1-1, Minato Mirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama
Access: 5-minute walk from Sakuragicho Station, 5-minute walk from Minatomirai Station
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed on Mondays (open if holiday)
Admission: ¥600 (Adults), ¥300 (Students), ¥400 (Seniors), young children
Accessibility: Disabled stall, service dog allowed (deck only), wheelchair rental