¥2,500 Koto River Cruise!
Published: June 28, 2022
Cruising with Kaizoku River Friend
While there are many ways to explore Koto-ku, one of the most interesting is by boat. In the case of Kaizoku River Friend, a brand-new cruising company based in Morishita, this is a motor boat tour of the canals and rivers that criss-cross the ward. On a recent sunny afternoon we donned life jackets and took a cruise in the company of Mr. Shoji Mukai and his pirate partners.
Kaizoku are pirates in Japanese, but taking a watery tour with the guys at River Friend will be kind on your wallet as the cost is a remarkable 2,500 yen per person for a two hour cruise with a minimum of two people. That’s a really friendly price!
Not only is the cost user-friendly but the starting location is very convenient too. The embarkation point is a mooring right on the Onagi River, just five minutes walk from Kikukawa station. Just south of the Onagi River is the popular area of Kiyosumi-shirakawa, noted for its parks, gardens, Museum of Contemporary Art and cafe culture.
“All cruises can be customised,” explained captain Mr. Mukai. “Customers just have to tell us their preferred date, time and route. There’s also a set cruise route (the omakase) we recommend for those who don’t have any specific requests themselves. We want people to enjoy the delights of the waterways and experience the area from a completely different perspective.” Friends since junior school, Mr. Mukai and his pirate partners have over 50 years experience each of boats and boating. Their great love of boating shone through!
After meeting up at the mooring in glorious sunshine we belted up with life jackets and boarded the motor boat to begin our magical tour of Koto-ku, the land of waterways.
Customers can take their own food and drinks aboard the boat, so we loaded up at the nearest convenience store. From the mooring on the Onagi River we first headed west towards the Sumida River, one of the most storied rivers of old Tokyo. Mr. Mukai acted as a guide, pointing out famous spots and describing the history of the area. One of the first points of interest was the Matsuo Basho Heritage Garden, a small terrace area dedicated to the most renowned poet of the Edo Period (1603-1867). The great man’s statue gazes out over the river, just as he did in real life, some 350 years ago. The statue changes direction at 5pm apparently, and then changes back at 10pm.
With Basho watching over our craft we left the confines of the Onagi River and moved out into the broad Sumida. Our field of vision suddenly expanded, the far banks retreated and the river seemed to gain in size and strength.
The Kiyosumi Bridge was built in 1930 from high-tensile steel and is said to be modelled on one over the River Rhine in Cologne, Germany.
The boat holds eight passengers in the cockpit and stern deck area. There’s also space for a bed behind the bow!
And there’s a toilet too. All mod cons!
After bearing left we passed by Etchujima and caught a glimpse of the orange funnels of the Meiji Maru, a sailing ship built for the Japanese government in Glasgow in 1873. The Meiji Maru now serves as a museum and is located on the campus of the Tokyo University of Maritime Science and Technology.
Chugging along nicely in the sunshine we hove in sight of the towering apartment buildings and offices of Toyosu.
After passing by the famous Sano Shipyard in Shiomi we reached Yumenoshima with its marina, yacht club (on the left) and tropical greenhouse dome (on the right).
Beyond Yumenoshima we passed through the Shinsuna Watergate into the majestic Arakawa River with its views of Kasai Rinkai Park, Tokyo Bay and as far away as Umihotaru on the Tokyo Bay Aqua-line that connects Kanagawa with Chiba prefecture.
Mr. Mukai attracted the attention of a flock of seagulls on the river by hurling handfuls of snacks into the air.
The birds wheeled in mid-air as they dived for the corn chips.
Two of the highlights of the cruise are the watergates on the Kyunaka River and the Onagi River. There’s a 3m difference in height between the Arakawa and the Kyunaka, which is bridged by the Arakawa Lock Gate. It takes about 10 minutes for the water level to fall to the lower level; progress can be followed by watching the gradations on depth gauge boards fitted to the walls of the lock.
We returned to the calm surface of the Onagi River and chugged along, occasionally waving to kids crossing over the many bridges above. We passed under the famous Clover Bridge, where the Onagi meets the Yokojikken River.
Further along is another scenic highlight, the Ogibashi Watergate. Once again we enter the lock and watch the water level rise until we’re back to sea level again. Being able to experience passing through locks like this is a rarity in Japan, let alone twice in one afternoon.
We returned to the start point totally satisfied with our wonderful afternoon on the waterways of Koto-ku. It’s a great way to experience the area from an entirely different perspective, one that was an everyday experience for people in the city before trains, subways, trams and cars became the modes of transport.
Up to five people can book a tour together; families and friends are the main customers, but evening cruises for couples are popular too. Whether you’re a long term resident or a short term visitor, why not call Kaizoku River Friend for an unforgettable Koto-ku experience.
Story and photos by Stephen Spencer