What is a yakatabune cruise? Simply put, a yakatabune cruise is a luxury cruise. Once you are on the cruise, you will not only get to see unparalleled scenic views of Tokyo from the river, but also feast in traditional Japanese fine cuisine with free-flow drinks for a span of 2 to 3 hours.
Yakatabune is a traditional pleasure boat originally enjoyed by the Japanese imperial family for centuries. Originating in the Heian era for entertainment, Japanese aristocrats used these boats for mainly for cherry blossom viewing, moon viewing and fireworks festivals. During the height of their popularity in the Edo era, some boats were even lavishly decorated in silver and gold. Despite its long history, it is only recently made accessible to the public due to the bubble economy of Japan in the 1980s when interest in luxury cruises flourished.
The yakatabune boat of today retains a traditional feel in its design and bright red lanterns hanging by the windows. The word ‘yakatabune’ is literally translated into house-style boat, and just as its name suggests, the interior is decorated like an upper-class Japanese home with tatami mats and a horigotatsu seating style (low table with a recessed floor for legs to rest). And what do you first do when you enter a house? Remember your manners and take off your shoes, of course!
The classic look of the boats was also made more authentic by the wooden embarkment and steps leading down to the boat. The traditional feel of the boat is further accentuated by the servers and boatmen dressed in happi (traditional Japanese short coat) and the spread of Japanese cuisine on the table. While the cost of the experience may be on the higher end at around ¥10, 000, the traditional Japanese course meal is so lavish that it is really a feast fit for kings and queens.
I went last December, courtesy of YOLO Japan, (Note for those living in Japan or aiming to: if you use my invitation code (IYU4IC) to sign up, you may win ¥1000 Amazon voucher!) a Japan website catered to job-seeking foreigners, as one of their hand-picked influencers. As it was a 2-hour long cruise, we not only managed to have a great meal, but also plenty of games and karaoke. On a side note, I won ¥3000 Amazon voucher which I totally put to good use.
We were provided with the winter seasonal course, which comes with a winter staple, nabe (hot pot). The bubbling hot nabe and delicately arranged appetisers were just the starters of the meal. Soon, a miniature boat filled with fresh sashimi appeared before our eyes, and over the course of over 2 hours, piping hot crispy tempura was constantly replenished, and as if they were afraid you won’t be full enough after the cruise, a bowl of rice topped with shirasu (whitebait) and a bowl of soba is served one after another. While the food on its own is already plentiful, that is not all. A nomihodai (all you can drink) service of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks is also included, and you can even mix your own alcoholic drinks at the counter.
In between your meal, when the boat docks at Tokyo Bay, you will be able to head up to the rooftop deck for a stunning view of Tokyo. We most certainly enjoyed spending our time out at the deck despite the freezing winter cold, for the 360 degree view of Odaiba with the Rainbow Bridge lit in kaleidoscopic glow is a sight to behold. The night view from the deck is spectacular, as many other brightly lit yakatabune are also gathered around the area, casting a prism of colourful lights over the waters.
Both night and daytime cruises are available, and there is usually a range of routes you can choose from, though Odaiba with its Rainbow Bridge is one of the most popular. Many companies provide this boat tour, and reservations are required, so do make sure to research and book in advance, especially if you wish to go during the peak seasons. Do check out for more details in my Yatakabune article in Japanfor2 and give it a like!