When you go on a yakatabune cruise, you will not only get to see unparalleled sce-nic views of Tokyo from the river, but also feast in traditional Japanese fine cuisine with free-flow drinks for a span of 2 to 3 hours.
Yakatabune is a traditional pleasure boat originally enjoyed by the Japanese impe-rial family for centuries. Originating in the Heian era for entertainment, Japanese aristocrats used these boats for mainly for cherry blossom viewing, moon viewing and fireworks festivals. During the height of their popularity in the Edo era, some boats were even lavishly decorated in silver and gold. Despite its long history, it is only recently made accessible to the public due to the bubble economy of Japan in the 1980s when interest in luxury cruises flourished.
The yakatabune boat of today retains a traditional feel in its design and bright red lanterns hanging by the windows. The word ‘yakatabune’ is literally translated into house-style boat, and just as its name suggests, the interior is decorated like an up-per-class Japanese home with tatami mats and a horigotatsu seating style (low table with a recessed floor for legs to rest). And what do you first do when you enter a house? Take off your shoes, of course! Remove your shoes and relax like it’s your home in this house on water.
The classic look of the boats was also made more authentic by the wooden em-barkment and steps leading down to the boat. And the company which provided this wonderful experience is Shinagawa Yakatabune Funasei, located a 13-minute walk away from Shinagawa Station.
The traditional feel of the boat is further accentuated by the servers and boatmen dressed in happi (traditional Japanese short coat) and the spread of Japanese cuisine on the table. While the cost of the experience may be on the higher end at around 10, 000 yen, the traditional Japanese course meal is so lavish that it is really a feast fit for kings and queens.
We were provided with the winter seasonal course, which comes with a winter sta-ple, nabe (hot pot). The bubbling hot nabe and delicately arranged appetisers were just the starters of the meal. Soon, a miniature boat filled with fresh sashimi ap-peared before our eyes, and over the course of over 2 hours, piping hot crispy tem-pura was constantly replenished, and as if they were afraid you won’t be full enough after the cruise, a bowl of rice topped with shirasu (whitebait) and a bowl of soba is served one after another. While the food on its own is already plentiful, that is not all. A nomihodai (all you can drink) service of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks is also included, and you can even mix your own alcoholic drinks at the counter.
In between your meal, when the boat docks at Tokyo Bay, you will be able to head up to the rooftop deck for a stunning view of Tokyo. We most certainly enjoyed spending our time out at the deck despite the freezing winter cold, for the 360 de-gree view of Odaiba with the Rainbow Bridge lit in kaleidoscopic glow is a sight to behold. The night view from the deck is spectacular, as many other brightly lit ya-katabune are also gathered around the area, casting a prism of colourful lights over the waters.
Rainbow Bridge, despite its name, is not always bathed in rainbow illumination. It is usually lit in a pale white glow for the rest of the year, but during the holiday sea-son, from early December to early January, it will be lit in a rainbow of colours that constantly changes over time, known as the “Millenium Illumination”. This view is truly best appreciated in a yakatabune, where you can see the bridge colours slowly transform as you wine and dine.
Even if you miss the “Millenium Illumination”, boarding the yakatabune in other seasons bring about other unique seasonal viewing experiences as well, and the ya-katabune is especially popular during the cherry blossom season in spring, where lines of cherry blossoms bloom along the Sumida River, and as well as in summer, where you can expect to see a burst of fireworks over the night sky.
Both night and daytime cruises are available, and there is usually a range of routes you can choose from, though Odaiba with its Rainbow Bridge is one of the most popular. Many companies provide this boat tour, and reservations are required, so do make sure to research and book in advance, especially if you wish to go during the peak seasons, to avoid disappointments and to ensure an absolutely romantic and special date!