Reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea gave me my first sense of adventure while growing up. It’s probably one of the biggest reasons why I love the ocean, be it sailing on top, swimming in it, or diving below it. I mean, who doesn’t want an underwater lair and an amazing ship/submarine? The Nautilus popped up a few more times during my life, during movies, books, even the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While the Nautilus and her crew were a tale of science fiction, her lines and story have inspired many a shipbuilder and adventurer.
If there is any place known for science fiction, it would have to be Japan. We see the Japanese culture completely immersed into all sorts of futuresque shows, places and things. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you know what I’m talking about. The city is notorious for monsters like Godzilla and Mothra fighting in it, as well as 60 foot tall Gundam robots defending it from threats in outer space! You can see the way it has influenced many things when making your way throughout the city. Especially when traveling on the Sumida River (Sumidagawa), which flows throughout eastern Tokyo and into Tokyo bay. It offers a unique and fantastic way to explore Tokyo that not many outside the city know about. It’s quite interesting seeing older Japanese temples and shrines in the midst of modern skyscrapers and towers. Tokyo is a mix of older traditions and new technologies, which makes exploring just that more exciting!
During a recent trip to Odaiba, I came across Tokyo Cruise. While there are many boats in the harbor and many travel the Sumida River, Tokyo Cruise has some of the best! But there are two that stand out from the rest of the many boats traveling the Sumida and Tokyo Bay. They would make Jules Verne and Captain Nemo proud! I give to you the Himiko and the Hotaluna! These ships are amazing! Designed by mangaka Leiji Matsumoto, creator of the manga Yamato, Captain Harlock, and Galaxy Express, there are countless keys of his artistic touch, from the glass ceilings and Ginga Tetsudô figures, to commentary made by some of its original voice actors.
When the Himiko was built, it was a completely unique water bus with its streamline shaped body with 3D windows. Leiji Matsumoto designed based on its concepts, “the image of a teardrop” and “the ship appealing to children.” During the daytime the futuristic looking ship runs through old Edo and modern Tokyo while enjoying 360-degree panoramic view. At night the floor panels are lit up and emphasize the ship’s sophisticated design. “Himiko” is named after Queen Himiko who was the first recognized independent lady in Japanese history.
The Hotaluna was introduced a few years later, with a similar spaceship-like design, silver metallic sleek body ending with a gullwing. With the addition of a roof deck you can enjoy the scenery from both inside and outside the boat. From evening to night a pale light will be emitted from the back of the boat giving a ‘firefly effect’. The name “Hotaluna” was given by Leiji Matsumoto after the Latin goddess of the moon ‘luna’ and ‘Hotalu’ after the firefly. Captain Nemo would have been proud!
While both travel up and down the Sumida River, they have slight variations. The Himiko line starts at Asakusa, just across the road from Sensō-ji, and travels down the Sumida to Odaiba, docking to drop off and pick up. After it leaves Odaiba, it travels northeast to Toyosu, then returns to Asakusa. The Hotaluna is similar, starting in Asakusa, traveling down the Sumida, but stops at the Hinode Peir before it docks in Odaiba. The Hotaluna follows its course back up the Sumida, returning to Asakusa.
Because I boarded in Odaiba, I wasn’t able to do the entire round trip. After departing from Odaiba the Himiko takes a gentle and pleasant trip toward Toyosu, offering great views of the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Bay and both sides of the river. You can also see the Asahi Beer Hall with its distinctive Golden Poop. The 300-ton stainless steel sculpture designed by French architect Philippe Stark was meant to look like foam rising from a beer mug, but it’s known to all the locals as kin no unchi, the poo of gold or unchi biru, the poop building.
There are many distinct bridges along the Sumida River. A total of twelve cross the river. The oldest one was built in the 1700’s, being rebuilt in the 1930’s, with the rest ranging all the way up to present day. Since the Himiko was designed by Leiji Matsumoto, there is the occasional chatter between anime characters of the Space Battleship Yamoto series as they discuss the scenery.
After about an hour, the Himiko pulls into Asakusa Peir, ending our journey up the Sumida River. As you make your way up to Asakusa, there is a neat traditional japanes gate guiding you up to the street level. From here, you’re just a quick walk from the Asakusa Metro Station and plenty of shopping and eating. Asakusa is also home to the Senso-ji, a Buddhist temple in Japan, which happens to be the oldest temple in Tokyo. You can even take the Himiko or another boat back down the river, and stop at other places like Ryogoku, which is lovingly referred to as ‘Sumo Town’. Whether you’re a Tokyo native or a first time tourist, you’ll enjoy exploring Tokyo from the decks of the Himiko or Hotaluna!
1. Other than a slight route modification, the main difference between the Hotaluna and Himiko is the observation deck on top of the Hotaluna. It’s a great way to view the city, especially when the weather outside is nice.
2. Both boats are pretty popular with the locals and like most attractions in Tokyo, the tend to get crowded on the weekends. It’s best to go during the week if you’re trying to avoid the crowds.
3. You can purchase tickets, view the stop schedule and more by visiting the Tokyo Cruise website. There are also other boats you can take, allowing you to visit other parts of the Sumida River and Tokyo Bay.
4. There is a lot to do and see along the river. You can walk, take a taxi or metro, or even another boat to visit many of these neighborhoods. One of my favorites is Ryogoku or Sumo Town. So don’t forget that camera and remember to never stop exploring!