If you’ve come this far, you probably know by now that Tokushima is a city of waterways. And, with a total of 1,655 bridges crossing over 138 rivers in the city district alone, there certainly is a lot of water flowing about your feet! But while the cost of bridges to cross this mass of water may be putting the city deeper into debt, it does make for a pretty sight and plenty of chances to catch a boat ride down the river ways.
As it happens, the area in the middle of Tokushima city is known as Hyotan-jima. Loosely translated, the name means ‘gourd-shaped island’ in English, and it is so named for the shape of a small, island-like area separated by rivers on which the centre of Tokushima City stands.
As the name suggests, the Hyotan-jima Boat Cruise takes its passengers around this central city area via an open-top boat. The trip takes around 30 minutes all up, almost 6km from start to finish, and passes by some of the best tourist spots in the city, such as Tokushima Central Park and the remnants of the old Tokushima Castle (underwhelming as it may be).
While the standard course along the rivers is set, you might run into a surprise or two now and then. Many of the boat captains have done the same course again and again, and are often open to doing something a little different. You might find they take you out a little farther than usual on some trips (I know of one that went all the way to the Yoshino River and back!) or slow down if there is an event along the river banks. Awa Odori and the period leading up to it can be excellent times to take the trip as well, as you can see the dancing troupes in preparation or on stage, and sometimes even fireworks displays and much more. So keep an eye out!
One thing to look out for, though is the level of water in the river. Everything is fine when the water is low, but when the tide comes in you might find some of the bridges a little too low for your liking. The boats generally manage to get past all obstacles in their way, but if you’re of the claustrophobic sort then there might be a few tense moments along the way.
Now, if you’re wondering what this costs, then have no fear – it’s entirely free!*
* The boat ride itself is free, of course, but the boat captain sometimes asks for a 100 yen insurance fee. I get the feeling you are supposed to pay whenever you take the tour, but some people pay and others don’t.
From September to June –
13：00, 13：40, 14：20, 15：00, 15：40
July and August –
17：00, 17：40, 18：20, 19：00, 19：40
August 12-15 (Awa Odori)
Every 15 minutes until 9:00-10:00pm.
And for those who want to burn a bit of cash on this ‘free’ boat ride, it is possibly to book out one of the boats for your own purposes. The cost is 10,000 yen for one hour, and the boats can hold up to 14 people each. Split the cost amongst you, however, and it’s not such a bad option.
One catch, though – reservations are necessary. Call the Shinmachi River Preservation Society 088-655-1201 for full details or to make a reservation.