Sailing on the Sumida River on a hot and humid summer day in Tokyo is a pleasure that is hard to resist. There are many tour boats offering excursions on the Sumida River but the more traditional way is on a yakatabune, which literally means roof-shaped boat. These wooden tour boats (although many today are made from light weight fiberglass) were popular among the well to do in Japan during the Edo era. With lanterns under their roofs, tatami floors and tables inside, these unique boats are in reality moving restaurants. Some boats even come with kotatsu tables covered by a futon with a heat source underneath which helps to take the chill out of a cool evening cruise on the river. Oftentimes, the yakatabune are rented for special occasions such as year-end parties and weddings.
The typical menu consists of appetizers such as handmade tofu, salmon, tuna, shrimp and scallop sashimi. This is followed by a course of fish and vegetable tempura. You can expect to be served noodles and a final course of fruit or Japanese pickles. Of course there is plenty to drink also.
Some boats feature entertainers/ musicians while others offer the do-it-yourself type of entertainment with a Karaoke machine.
Tokyo has more than fifty companies that operate yakatabune. The tours typically last anywhere from two to three hours and although there are some boats which operate during the daytime (i.e., cherry blossom viewing cruises) the weekend evening cruises are the most popular.
The yakatabune represent the Japanese spirit of hospitality. Many of the boat operators have been in business of several generations therefore it is not uncommon to encounter a fifth or sixth generation owner.
An excursion on a yakatabune offers an experience of Tokyo unlike any other. You can enjoy a different experience each season whether it is viewing the sakura (cherry) trees that run alongside the Sumida River during spring, the hanabi (fireworks) in the summer or admiring the fall foliage, there is something for everyone throughout the year.
Further, not only can you enjoy a yakatabune cruise in Tokyo but you can also take part in excursions offered in Osaka, Kobe, Kochi and Fukuoka.