I love harbors and I love big ships and if there is one place to really see them up close it is at the International Port of Yokohama, the Osanbashi Pier. Last year I saw the gigantic MS Asuka II (飛鳥II) at port. It is the largest passenger vessel in Japan right now, at 241m. It has a crew of 545 and can take 960 passengers. I usually use this site to track the position of large ships but I already knew that the Asuka II is currently in port at Hakata/Fukuoka on the north coast of the island of Kyushu, in southern Japan, where it arrived about half a day ago.
The ship was launched in 1989 and is currently sailing under Japanese flag (which is unusual in this day and age of “Flag of Convenience” maritime traffic.
One of the things that makes Yokohama one of the most interesting cities in Japan right now is their great use of the city’s prime oceanfront location. There is a great network of sightseeing boats, cruise ships and sea taxies crisscrossing the harbor and if you feel like you need to save your legs while sight seeing or want to try something else than a train or subway ride back to Yokohama station, then the Sea Taxi might be worth checking out. It is not that much more expensive than other public transportation and certainly cheaper than a normal taxi (although not cheaper than a rental bike or bicycle taxi).
I went on the little Sea Bass, the speediest sea taxi in Yokohama bay to save me from walking all the way back to a station and then get on a train back to Yokohama station. At 580 yen (children half price) the ticket price was not too much, especially considering that the night time view of Yokohama from the ocean is pretty sweet.
The Sea Bass commutes from Yamashita Park – Pier Akarenga – Minatomirai Pukari Sanbashi – Yokohama Station East Exit. On the way you will see all these destinations and more. In the last two decades there has been massive development in this area of Yokohama and I see new buildings every time I pass through, for example several new upscale apartment houses and a brad new commercial center at the east end of Yokohama Station. Well, brand new for me at least! You also get a good view of the Japan Coast Guard ships anchored at harbor and the opportunity to spot a lot of other ships and boats coming into or out of the harbor. In winter this ride was pretty chilly but it is fantastic in summer!
It is a great mystery about Mount Fuji, that the closer you get the more elusive it gets, and when you least expect or least of all look for it, there it suddenly appears in front of you on a clear and sunny day. A couple of weeks ago I visited Enoshima on the southern coast of Japan, not far from Yokohama which in turn is not too far from Tokyo to make it a very simple day trip or even half day trip. Not even on every sunny day can you see Mount Fuji from the ocean front here in Enoshima, but on this day we were lucky and the gorgeous mountain was visible throughout the day until the sun set at night.
To get to Enoshima from Tokyo it is often easiest to catch the express in Shinjuku, on the Odakyu Line. It will take you to the imaginatively designed Takase-Enoshima station (片瀬江ノ島駅), modeled after the mythical underwater castle of the dragon God of the sea, Ryujin. There are many tales and stories of the dragon, but the most famous is of Urashima Taro who spent three nights in the castle, each of which equalled a century in the outside world.
Enoshima is famous for more than the rocky island, there are also a marina, several beaches, a great aquarium and plenty of opportunities for fishing and water sports. The way to the island from the station is pretty simple and uses a long flat bridge over the ocean. Halfway along the bridge there is a landing for a couple of small boats which ferry passengers to the far side of the island, saving tourists at least an hour’s walk. In one of the photos you can see one of the boats, the Bentenmaru.
Have you ever wondered where those narrow party boats you see cruising on Sumida river and in front of Odaiba at night come from? Well, here’s two of the companies at home in Tokyo’s Asakusabashi district, the Tanakaya and the Suzukiya let their classic Tokyo style party boats, the yakatabune (屋形船), to groups and companies that have something special to celebrate. At night dozens of them gather at scenic spots in Tokyo harbor where they are served by a small armada of ships delivering food, necessities and of course, booze. I have always wondered where they go during the day, and now I know. After all my years in Tokyo I have still never been invited on one of these, but some day I hope I will be! At over 10 000 yen per head (usually this includes all you can eat and all you can drink) per evening it is a little out of my budget at present, and you usually need to be a group of over 20 for them to even bother! I’m sure there are also cheaper boats and arrangements for smaller groups but I have never had reason to investigate. Maybe some well traveled reader can tell us of their yakatabune experiences in the comments section?