Tokyobling's Blog

Tokyo Aqua-Line – Umihotaru

Posted in Places, Shops, Stuff by tokyobling on July 4, 2009

I thought it was time to write a little about the place were the gorgeous Paper Craft Castle (see earlier blog post) is exhibited. Place is essence a glorified parking lot built at great cost in the middle of the ocean – Tokyo Bay to be exact. The artificial island is known as umihotaru and the highway project goes by the name of Tokyo Aqua-Line, combining central Tokyo with southern Chiba prefecture. At least in theory. The tunnel from the Tokyo side is the longest undersea tunnel in the world at 9.6km. Connecting Chiba prefecture with Umihotaru is a bridge of about 4.4km. The whole thing took 31 years to finish (now you understand the sympathy they must have felt for the genius art student that built that Paper Craft Castle during 4 long lonely years) and the idea was to connect the underdeveloped southern part of Chiba with intensely crowded Tokyo and Kanagawa. Even though the connection took place, the development on the Chiba side never took off and it remains totally rural: a world apart from Tokyo.

What can possibly save a tunnel and a bridge that no one will use? Why off course, a huge entertainment area! Officially it is a rest area for drivers but in reality it is for most people the only reason to use the tunnel. The island has restaurants, cafes, parking and rest spaces, a viewing deck (not that there is much to see apart from the huge amount of traffic coming and going to the harbors that line Tokyo Bay) that is quite popular with plane spotters (Narita Airport is very close). There is even a Starbucks cafe on the island. As far as I know, the only Starbucks cafe in the middle of the ocean. Naturally they also have a character in the form of an umihotaru (or sea-firefly, Vargula hilgendorfii), blue is for boys and pink is for girls!

But even a casual tourist should take the time to visit. Not a long drive from the area lies one of the finest temples in Japan and the biggest Buddha statue in the country: Nihonji. More on that magical location later.

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4 Responses

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  1. michaelpanda said, on July 12, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I drove through here a couple of years ago (back when it cost an arm and a leg each way) and remember thinking it’d make a pretty good date spot in the evening when you can watch all the ships coming in and stuff. But I don’t recall a Starbucks!!! Is that new, I wonder?

    I love the stretched out clouds in the fourth and fifth shots. Did you use a wide angle lens to capture those? I can’t get enough of pictures like that!

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on July 13, 2009 at 2:37 am

      Thanks Michael. Tokyo has plenty of good date spots, and I would the idea of dating a ship spotter: in the few minutes while I was there looking through my 500mm lens I saw Japanese, Chinese and Norwegian vessels coming and going. It still is a bit pricey though and in the winters it must be bitterly cold. But summer would be great I think. At least more interesting than the more socially accepted date spot of Roppongi Hills (which has an outdoor platform that is now open to the public but insanely cold in the winter). The Starbucks looked new, but I didn’t talk to the staff.

      Yes, the shots I got up here were all taken with a wide angle lens, 10-20mm Sigma, and I might have had a cir.pol. filter on top of that to really bring out the sky. Other than that, it is the rainy season and the skies have been generous in dishing out impressive cloud landscapes these last few weeks!

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  2. Bill said, on October 3, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Just because southern Chiba hasn`t become an extended suburb (which I don`t think was the purpose anyway) doesn`t mean nobody uses the tunnel. Remember that there are a bazillion people around the Tokyo area (ok only about 30 million within an hour and a half or so from the tunnel) and that the summers are crazy hot and there are no good beaches. Plus surfing is huge in Japan. On the weekends in the summer the big Pacific coast beaches in Chiba are packed. There are resorts and inns along the coast and a nice SeaWorld type zoo/aquarium.
    As for the date spot comment, it is great, but the night boat cruises around Tokyo Bay probably are a better bet. The view of the tunnel from the water, or I should say of the bridge going out to the island, is pretty crazy, especially if you don`t know about the Aqua Line underneath.

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    • tokyobling said, on October 4, 2009 at 10:44 am

      Hi Bill, thanks for your comment! Yep, a lot of people tell me the night boat cruises are something special! I will have to look it up, with or without a date! I one way it’s good that southern Chiba has stayed provincial. I have heard it is quite something for surfers, I was merely looking at the projected number of tunnel users versus the actual (much lower) number of users as stated by the government.

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