Yakatabune: See Tokyo from a Floating Restaurant


2024.05.14

NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR

Yakatabune: See Tokyo from a Floating Restaurant

A river cruise is a chance to see Tokyo from a unique perspective—and if you’re going to enjoy a cruise, why not make it a fully catered one? This is the promise of the yakatabune. Read on to learn more about these often luxurious covered boats and how you can get a seat aboard one.

  • 01

    Messing About in Ever-Bigger Boats

    Yakatabune, literally “covered boats,” have been enjoyed by the rich and powerful throughout Japanese history, but the modern idea of yakatabune as pleasure craft for the common folk dates from the Edo period.

    The prototypical Edo yakatabune plied its trade along the Sumida River, specifically the Ryogoku Bridge area, where there were always things to see and do—cherry blossoms in spring, fireworks in summer, eating and drinking all year round. The shogunate repeatedly tried to limit the number, size, and ornamentation of the yakatabune, but to little avail. The boats were just too popular, especially as a way to beat the summer heat, as these two senryu show (senryu are humorous poems that use the same 5-7-5 form as haiku):

    rankan ni / hito o naraseru / ii suzumi
    turning humans into handrails—now that’s cool!

    yakata kara / hito to omowanu / hashi no ue
    from the yakatabune, up on the bridge they barely seem human


    The Sumida River’s many bridges were popular places to cool off in summer themselves, and when a yakatabune passed by “human handrails” formed as people lined the edge of the bridge to look enviously down. Meanwhile, the yakatabune’s passengers felt free to smugly ignore the spectators completely.

    Ryogoku Bridge in the summer, circa 1859. The smaller craft were technically yanebune (“roof-boats”), but they all served the same basic function of carousing on the river. 
Utagawa Sadahide, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

    Ryogoku Bridge in the summer, circa 1859. The smaller craft were technically yanebune (“roof-boats”), but they all served the same basic function of carousing on the river. Utagawa Sadahide, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • 02

    Yakatabune Today

    Skyscrapers and subways have made Tokyo’s waterways less prominent in everyday life today, but the rivers remain. Are there still yakatabune catering to the human impulse to carouse offshore? The answer is yes! Dozens of companies operate hundreds of yakatabune that offer everything from chartered luxury experiences to simpler sightseeing experiences with light refreshments.

    Most yakatabune today still stick to the Sumida River from Asakusa southward. Many offer a stop at Odaiba or a cruise around the bay for a view of Tokyo the Edoites of old never dreamed of. (And, of course, there are yakatabune in other cities, too—Osaka isn’t the “City of 808 Bridges” for nothing.)

    Yakatabune near Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay

    Yakatabune near Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay

  • 03

    How to Get Aboard

    As a general rule, the first step to enjoying a yakatabune is making a reservation. There are many individual operators with their own web pages and plans, and there are also options like the Tokyo Yakatabune Association, which represents multiple operators (with more than a hundred craft in all) and takes bookings online. Note that yakatabune are particularly busy at cherry blossom time and whenever there will be a fireworks display to watch, so if those are in your sights, best book as early as you can! (https://www.yakatabune-kumiai.jp/en/index.php)

    Some things to decide before you book include:
    - Do you want seats on a shared boat, or a chartered boat all to yourself?
    - Are you looking for a gourmet meal, or would light refreshments be fine?
    - How long do you want to your cruise to last? Day or night?
    - Where do you want to embark and disembark?

    Once you have your reservation, all you need to do is turn up at the embarkation point on time. There are piers and boarding platforms all up and down the Sumida River, usually beside a bridge of some sort. Most piers are within walking distance of a subway station, which is usually the best way to get to and from them.

    Boarding a yakatabune (note pier at left)
©tcvb

    Boarding a yakatabune (note pier at left) ©tcvb

  • 04

    The Harumiya Akane: A Luxury Option

    For the ultimate river dining experience, consider the Akane, the most luxurious craft in yakatabune operator Harumiya’s fleet.

    Akane: https://www.harumiya.co.jp/akane/

    Inside the luxurious Akane yakatabune

    Inside the luxurious Akane yakatabune

    The Akane is billed as a “floating ryotei,” a ryotei being a kind of luxury restaurant in traditional Japanese style, and it certainly feels the part, with soothing plain-wood décor and just ten counter seats, so you can watch the chef prepare your meal as the city passes by outside. The multi-course sushi kaiseki meal uses fresh, seasonal seafood and other ingredients sourced from around the country.

    The Akane’s chefs offer a dining experience that appeals to all the senses

    The Akane’s chefs offer a dining experience that appeals to all the senses

    The Akane offers boarding from four different places along the Sumida River—Harumi, Ryogoku, Asakusa, and Odaiba—all five minutes or less from a subway station. At time of writing, a cruise on the Akane costs ¥240,000 for up to three guests and ¥33,000 for each additional guest beyond that, so it’s no discount option—but it’s sure to be a cruise to remember.

  • 05

    Making a Reservation

    You can make a reservation with the Tokyo Yakatabune Association or Harumiya at the following links:

    • Tokyo Yakatabune Association: https://www.yakatabune-kumiai.jp/en/reserve/reserve.php

    • Harumiya Akane private plan: https://reservation.harumiya.co.jp/products/4503b771-2c29-5c80-9658-2615857c8eab?lng=en-US

    The Akane in mid-cruise

    The Akane in mid-cruise

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