Tokyo Aqua-Line – Umihotaru
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.