It is easy to forget, but until quite recently, historically, Tokyo was a city built on water: reclaimed lands, great moats, canals, rivers, streams, inlets, marshes just about anywhere and the sea constantly present. In the era before reliable road transport the humble push-boat ferry crossing was the daily staple of hundreds of thousands of people all over Tokyo, and remarkably, one of those ferries have survived to this day. There used to be ferry spots at or near almost all major bridges in Tokyo, but as the bridges went up, the ferries went in decline of were actually banned by the Meiji government outright.
The last remaining ferry crossing in Tokyo is on the edge of a little field on the Edogawa-river, connecting Shibamata and Shimoyakiri Matsudo, which is technically in Chiba Prefecture. Operating these ferries was by government appointment only, and the present and last operator is a fourth generation ferryman. The ferry system was made semi-public by decree in 1740, and its has been a special operation involving both the city of Matsudo and the families of the town for the last 255 years. The boats were traditionally made from a kind of wood which is excellent in sea water but rots rather quickly in the fresh water of the river. Back in the old days the revenue would be used to keep new boats coming in and it is said that the river here is littered with old ferry boats having sunk during the centuries. The present boat is operated by paddle when leaving Tokyo but an engine is usually engaged for the return trip, depending on the number of passengers, the weather, the current etc.
The reason this crossing has survived is because of the bank on the Chiba side of the river used to an uninhabited island with extremely fertile lands for farming, so plenty of Tokyo farmers would need to cross here to get to their fields. If you look at the area from a satellite image you will see instantly the huge difference between the Tokyo side which is densely populated and the very sparse Chiba side. In fact, the Chiba side is so empty (just fields and tiny farms) that no tourists ever bother to get off. The trip is 100 yen, but everyone just pays for the roundtrip at once, so it becomes 200 yen per adult. Half price for kids I think.
As a tourist attraction, well, it depends on what your idea of fun is. What you see in my photos is just what you get and nothing more, nothing less, plus the sometimes interesting banter of the ferryman of course. There is no reason to get off on the other side and the ferry ride itself is over in a matter of minutes, still, to me it was fantastic. As a fan of economic history, and the history of Tokyo in particular, it was a huge event to experience first hand exactly the same thing that hundreds of thousands of Tokyo farmers, samurai and merchants had as part of their daily routine for hundreds of years. It was a brief but fantastic window into one tiny part of life in the old days. Virtually nothing has changed, apart from some of the taller buildings sticking up by the horizon. There are birds watching the boats, now as in centuries past, there is fish in the river and probably a bit of garbage as well. Where humans are, garbage will accumulate. From half a meter above the water, this is quite possible the only place in the entire city of Tokyo where nothing visible to the naked eye has changed in three centuries. If you narrow your eyes and listen carefully on quiet Sunday afternoon, it what you see and hear and smell will be exactly the same as any peasant farmer in 1755 or 1815 or 1855. These places are quite valuable I think, and apparently the government agrees with me because a few years ago it was selected to be part of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, a government initiative to identify and preserve a variety of unique and vulnerable soundscapes, in order to fight the ongoing noise pollution of the country.
To most tourists, this ride and the walk to and from it would be a major pain in the behind and boring as nothing else, but for this Tokyo lover, it was a little piece of heaven. Explore at your own risk!
One of the most interesting high schools I have come across in Japan is the Kayo Highschool (or its full name of Ibaraki Kenritsu Kaiyo Koto Gakko, 茨城県立海洋高等学校), founded in 1934 and located just by the harbor of old Nakaminato City in Ibaraki Prefecture. Originally the school was a Fishing Experiment Station training center, and is now Japan’s only high school specialized in deep sea science and fishing. It is most well known for having a pool that is 10m deep, much deeper than most and therefore a preferred training pool for everything from marine civil engineering to rescue divers. As I didn’t actually visit the school all I did was sneak a few photos from the edge of the baseball field, but I would love to someday see the famous pool! The school also has a state of the art fishing vessel at their disposal and a training ship placed well out of the water. It reminds me of the tsunami when such sights were common place but this ship was put here by no accident.
The school is open to both male and female students, but not surprisingly all female students focus on the seafood products or marine science programs rather than the technical programs.
I think that if I could go back in time and be a high school student in Japan I would pick this school!
Being a huge fan of boats (I know that Japan is more into trains, traditionally) I could not resist walking around the tiny commercial harbor of old Nakaminato City (in present day Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture). All the boats were in very good condition – I wonder if this is due to them having been recently replaced after the tsunami in 2011? My favorite from this harbor though was the Nakakaze CL82, Craft Large class patrol ship of the coast guard. Clocking in at 20m in length and weighing 26 tons it is one of the smallest regular patrol ships of the Japanese navy and coast guard. This boat was commissioned in 1996 so it definitively survived the tsunami. It belongs to the 3rd Regional Coast Guard (there are eleven), covering the Kanto are coastal prefectures of Shizuoka, Kanagawa, Tokyo, Chiba and Ibaraki. The 3rd Coast Guard even has a section on their homepage where you can download and build your own paper models of their bigger ships. Since many of the southernmost islands in Japan formally belong to Tokyo the 3rd Cost Guard has to cover a huge territory, far south of even the Ogasawara Islands. Their work must be tremendously interesting!
The harbor in Hitachinaka City (ひたちなか市) is famous in Ibaraki prefecture north east of Tokyo, for its fine produce and fresh seafood. The city itself was formed when the two neighboring cities of Nakaminato (那珂湊市) and Katsuta (勝田市) merged in 1994. For most young people it is better known for its rock festival taking place every year since 2000. Since I love harbors and boats of all kinds it is a given that I visit the harbor rather than the city itself when I travel in Japan. At the time of the big earthquake in 2011 all of the things you can see in these photos were wrecked by the tsunami but four years later the is absolutely no damage to be seen in the harbor itself. The fish market is especially interesting, but I arrived too late in the afternoon to do anything more than have a quick sushi lunch before the fisherman packed up their shops for the night. However if you have a big family and want to score a deal I can recommend being the last customer at the market, I saw a few big boxes of fish going pretty cheap!