Traditional Japanese boat for a slow, luxurious time
Yakatabune is a unique Japanese-style wooden tour boat on which you can have a party while sailing a river. The root of yakatabune is believed the boat popular among aristocrats in the 8th to 9th centuries. They reached the height of their popularity during the Edo Period in the 17th to 18th centuries, when there was lavish pastime among rich merchants and high-ranked samurai. It is said that there were luxury boats decorated with gold, silver, and lacquer sailing on the Sumida River at that time.
Modern yakatabune tour boats are made from light and durable fiber-reinforced plastic. However, they keep traditional details such as “miyoshi” (a bow that protrudes upward), which is unique to Japanese ships, and lanterns under the roof. Passengers sit on a lowered tatami-matted floor with tables , which is just like a lounge at a Japanese style inn. In Tokyo alone, there are more than fifty recreational boat companies that operate yakatabune boat tours. They usually offer 2 or 3 hour cruises, and they serve traditional Japanese cuisine that is now designated as UNESCO World Heritage. Vegetarian menu is also available upon advance request.
Hiroshi Ishijima, the 6th generation of the owner of FUKAGAWAFUJIMI boat operator says Japanese style hospitality “omotenashi” is another tradition kept on yakatabune. “Yakatabune tour boat is a moving restaurant on water. We cook dishes such as tempura on the boat, so that our customers can enjoy the fresh and tasty seafood from Tokyo,” he says, whose family business is in operation from the Edo Period. The outfit of crew members also contributes to the very Japanese atmosphere on the boat – the boatmen donning happi (a traditional Japanese short robe), and kitchen staff and other staff in the classic craftsman uniforms.
Yakatabune Tokyo-to Kyodokumiai (Yakatabune Tokyo Association)
Address:Shinozuka Bldg. 2F, 1-5-11 Yanagibashi Taito-ku, Tokyo (Cooperation Office)
Address:2-18-5, Furuishiba, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access:Approx. 10 minutes on foot from Monzen-Nakacho Station of the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line or Toei Oedo Line
The magic of Yakatabune – building friendship between passengers
In addition to Yakatabune cruise for cherry blossom viewing in spring or lunch cruise, weekend evening cruise is also very popular. The cruise operated by FUKAGAWAFUJIMI set off at 7 p.m. with approximately 50 passengers. A Korean-American couple found out about yakatabune on the Internet, and said with a smile, “Since we heard that it’s sometimes difficult to make reservations due to the high popularity, we’re lucky to be aboard.” When the boat entered the Sumida River from the canal where the dock is located, all the passengers joined together in a toast. Everyone enjoyed the trip in their own way; some enjoyed the food, some enjoyed the views of either side of the river.
On a sunny day, the Sumida River is quiet and the boat only rocks slightly, giving it a comfortable, rhythmic feel. As the boat sailed on, the quiet atmosphere in the cabin brightens up and those that happened to be seated next to each other start intimate conversation. “Somehow, every boat becomes a noisy but lively atmosphere. I think this is also one of the charms of yakatabune tour boats,” says a female crew member. For your information, many modern yakatabune tour boats facilitate chairs or hori-gotatsu (a traditional Japanese foot warmer with charcoal fire) that allow passengers stretch out their legs, instead of sitting directly on the floor.
Enjoying the reflection of the brilliant night view on the river
By the time when freshly cooked crispy tempura was served, the boat approached into the bay. Since the passenger seats are located close to the water level, the water is almost within reach. It is thrilling to go under many bridges that span across the Sumida River. Looking up everything along the river from the water level, the cityscape looks very different. For example, the Odaiba Area or Tokyo Skytree, look differently, and we can discover new things. This is also one of great appeals of yakatabune tour boats.
The night view is particularly beautiful. Orange and white lights from city buildings, or red, blue, and green illuminations stand out against the night sky, creating a fantastic breathtaking view. Odaiba, where many yakatabune tour boats linger, is particularly beautiful; when the lights from the boats combine with the colorful night lights, it feels as if you’ve been lost in a different world. The best viewing spot is on the rooftop deck where you can have a 360-degree night view that includes the Rainbow Bridge.
The tour boat returns to the same dock at 9:00 p.m., after entertaining us with Japanese dinner filled with seasonal dishes and beautiful night view. Both passengers and crew and land staff welcoming at the dock are all smiling. Some passengers even shook hands with the crew members. Their contented smiles proves the quality time they had on the boat.
Yakatabune tour boats that provide different things to enjoy during each season
From a yakatabune tour boat sailing on the Sumida River, you can enjoy the different faces of Tokyo, starting from the futuristic tourist spot, Odaiba, and passing through the atmosphere of old time around the four distribution docks between Odaiba and the downtown area. In addition, there are seasonal views along the river: a row of cherry trees as long as 400 meters along the Sumida River, fireworks in summer, the contrast between modern buildings and autumn colors in fall, or an authentic winter Japanese hotpot dish in winter. The cherry trees and fireworks are particularly popular.
Even during the hot and humid Japanese summer, riverside is nice and cool with the view of rocking water and cooler air.. Yakatabune tour boats extend traditional Japanese culture into the pleasant day with a unique combination of seasonal characteristics and cultural experience.
Since Japan is surrounded by the ocean, and many rivers run through it, yakatabune tour boats are widely available not only in Tokyo, but in Osaka, Kobe, the Shimanto River (Kochi), Hakata (Fukuoka), and Hita (Oita). This one-of-a-kind experience on yakatabune tour boat makes your Japan trip memorable.
Yakatabune tour boats for special entertainment
There are two types of yakatabune boat tours: You can reserve the entire boat for a group, or share the boat with multiple smaller groups or individuals. Reserved boats are basically for groups of 20 or more people, and are used for incentive trips or for a special event of international conferences. For example, attendants of the 2012 annual IMF meeting enjoyed yakatabune boat tour as a form of special entertainment and enjoyed a Kimono show.
Yakatabune is available for a personal event such as a wedding reception. There have been some international couples held their wedding on a yakatabune tour boat operated by FUKAGAWAFUJIMI.
How to use a yakatabune tour boat
The fee for yakatabune boat tour is usually around 10,000 yenincluding one Japanese meal and drinks with free refills. Reservation is always required even for a shared boat, and some tours require an advance booking and payment. Information on yakatabune boat tours, such as the accepted payment methods, is available on the official tourist information website of Tokyo and other websites. Unfortunately, not many websites are available in foreign languages. If you are interested in taking a shared yakatabune boat tours, it is recommended to ask your hotel concierge.
Local bus tours, such as Hato Bus tours are also recommended for downtown tour. There are some tours arranged by non-Japanese travel companies, which may be easier for foreign travelers if they can find a tour operated by a company from their own country