POSTED: January 4th 2013
NewsUpdate

TIM LEFFEL: Seeing Tokyo from the Water

The Himiko boat cruise in Tokyo almost looks like an amphibious space ship / Danny Choo
The Himiko boat cruise in Tokyo almost looks like an amphibious space ship / Danny Choo

Tim Leffel has written travel books, business books, articles for travel publications and is the editor of Perceptive Travel / Tim Leffel image
Tim Leffel has written travel books, business books, articles for travel publications and is the editor of Perceptive Travel / Tim Leffel image

TIM LEFFEL / Sports Features Communications

January 4 - It doesn’t take long for any Tokyo visitor to figure out that going underground is the fastest way to get around the city. When you’re not in a hurry though, the best way to actually see the city can be from a boat.

Before this massive city grew out and up with concrete and steel, most commerce took place in the bay and on the river. You can still see some remnants of that along the way as cruise boats share the water with barges hauling heavy cargo. Several companies run trips up and down the Sumida River on a trip that’s 45 minutes or so in transit if you go the whole route, less if you stop off to stroll the gardens near Ginza.

River cruise ships are seldom more than utilitarian affairs, no matter where you find them in the world. The Hamiko ship of Tokyo is a different story. Designed by the famous space story manga creator Leiji Matsumoto, it looks more like a spaceship than a terrestrial vehicle. Although it will celebrate its 10-year anniversary in 2014, both the sleek exterior and the designer interior still look like they came from the future. The ship travels between Toyosu on Tokyo Bay to Asakusa or Odaiba on the Sumida River, with characters from Matsumoto’s Galaxy Railways 999 acting as narrators.  To be assured of getting a seat, take the subway to Toyosu station on the Yurakucho line, walk toward the water, and get tickets at the dock. The reverse direction is more likely to sell out.

Other ships operated by the  Suijobus company as well ply a similar route from Hinode Pier to Asakusa in less stylish ships, but for a lower price and with some outdoor space for fresh air. Descriptions of what you’re seeing are in both English and Japanese. You pass 12 bridges on the Sumida River and with any of these trips, the Asakusa stop puts you at the Asahi headquarters building, a rather bizarre architectural mish-mash with two bars inside serving Asahi beer. Across the river from Asakusa is the new Tokyo Skytree, for now the tallest building in the world and a huge entertainment and shopping complex.

For a less urban experience, it’s possible to kayak down parts of Tokyo’s other river, the Tama. It flows from a neighboring prefecture all the way to Tokyo Bay. If you want to travel along it instead of in it, there’s a 50 km long bike path on one bank. The path starts from Hamura in the suburbs and runs to the bay.

To spend a night on the water like a local, book a trip on a Yakatabune boat. You sit on tatami mats for a multi-course dinner with sake as the boat moves around Tokyo Bay at night, the modern buildings and the suspension bridge twinkling with lights. If there are fireworks displays planned for a festival, this is one of the best places to be for viewing.

Tim Leffel is the author of four travel books and editor of the award-winning webzine Perceptive Travel. http://www.perceptivetravel.com


Keywords · Tokyo 2020 · Tim Leffel · water cruise · Olympic bidding


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