Tokyo is famous for having one of the densest and most extensive train/subway networks in the world, and automobile traffic flows along an elevated highway that loops around the center of the metropolis. Before such modern modes of transportation were invented, though, it was Tokyo’s waterways that allowed the city to grow.
It’s been a long time since the average Tokyoite has been reliant on riverboats to get around town, but sightseeing cruises aren’t hard to find. Most of them are short rides starting in the city’s Asakusa neighborhood, but once a month only there’s a special cruise called the Ichinichi Yurari Tabi, or “Softly Swaying Relaxing Journey,” that lasts for six hours and gives you views of Tokyo you’re not likely to get anywhere else.
At 3,400 yen it’s reasonably priced for a full day’s entertainment, so our reporter Mariko Ohanabatake made a reservation for the most recent Ichinichi Yurari Tabi voyage.
When most people think of a river in Tokyo, the one that comes to mind is the Sumida River, which empties out directly into Tokyo Bay on the east side of downtown. However, the Ichinichi Yurari Tabi starts much further inland, in Itabashi Ward. After getting off the subway at Shimura-sakaue Station, Mariko had a 15-minute walk to the Azusawa Water Bus Pier.
▼ Keep an eye out for the 水上バスのりば (“water bus pier”) sign.
Mariko’s ticket was for the full course, meaning that this would be both the start and end point of her cruise.
▼ Azusawa Pier (circled in green) and the cruise course (in red)
Though it’s possible to do just a portion of the course, which makes several stops along the way, for those wanting the full experience Azusawa is the place to get on. In addition to the open deck, there’s also a below-deck passenger area where you can sit down and take a break from the elements.
From Azusawa, the boat heads east along the Arakawa River until it eventually meets up with the Sumida. From there it goes south and out into Tokyo Bay, following the west edge and passing through the Odaiba district before crossing over to the east side of the bay and starting its return trip north.
The northern part of the Sumida section overlaps with many of Tokyo’s shorter sightseeing cruises, since it offers views of such famous landmarks as the Tokyo Skytree…
…and the Asahi Beer headquarters building, which looks like a mug of delicious golden beer with a frothy head of white bubbles on top.
▼ We won’t talk about what the unusually shaped roof decoration on Asahi’s smaller building looks like.
But what really makes the Ichinichi Yurari Tabi special is the opportunity it gives you to see Tokyo from perspectives you won’t get on normal cruises.
The section of the Arakawa from Azusawa east to the Senju neighborhood, for example, is largely residential. Seeing uniformed students walking atop the riverside embankments on their way to or from school, or locals waving and shouting “Hello!” as Mariko and the other passengers sailed by, remembered her of something out of an idlic youth TV drama like “Kinpachi Sensei.”
Not long after the Sumida River splits off from the Arakawa, Mariko found herself at the collection of high-rise apartments in the Toshima neighborhood that’s become known as “the mammoths.”
This is also where the cruise starts being particularly interesting to engineering and infrastructure fans, as it passes through and by some impressive river gates. On the day of her cruise, Mariko felt like about a third of the passengers pulled out their cameras at these points to photograph the structures from these otherwise impossible angles.
After the mouth of the Sumida, there’s a noticeable transition to the choppier sea waves. Before long, they were at Odaiba, where Mariko snapped a shot of the Fuji TV headquarters building and its distinctive sphere.
Odaiba is usually where Tokyo sightseeing cruises turn around and start heading for home. The Ichinichi Yurari Tabi, however, continues south through the reclaimed island shipping docks of Reiwajima.
The scenery isn’t entirely commercial either, as there’s also a forested area on the reclaimed land. After that, the ship turns east and docks briefly at the seaside Kasai Rinkai Park.
The rest of the cruise is made up of the return trip to Azusawa, but with the sights of Tokyo flowing past on both sides and the 360-degree field of view from up on the deck, Mariko was happy to have another chance to see anything she’d missed on the trip out.
The six-hour cruise gave Mariko a different perspective on Tokyo, both literally and figuratively, and if you’d like to trace her course, the earliest upcoming days for the Ichinichi Yurari Tabi are May 12, June 9, July 8, August 19 , September 4, and October 19 before it goes on hiatus for the winter.
Related: Tokyo Water Bus website, Ichinichi Yurari Tabi
Photos © SoraNews24
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