It’s the opening night of Tokyo’s most popular (and boozy) evening boat cruise, back again this July for a three-month run of all-you-can-drink beer, wine and cocktails, festival food, twinkling city views, dancing and summer romance on the sea.
Upon arriving at the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal around 18:30 p.m., it’s clear that the bustling crowd of college students, families and salary men and women have been looking forward to this party all week.
There’s an atmosphere of excitement like it’s the beginning of a show or a summer matsuri (festival). As if a curtain might lift momentarily. There are yukata (summer kimono) everywhere — a discount if you wear one — and an escape from Tokyo city mode.
Walking towards the ship, my heart skips a beat. Before we enter we catch a glimpse of the boat, Salvia Maru, in the same family of multi-level cruise ships that transport summer travelers overnight to the remote Izu and Ogasawara island chains. This time though, we’ll be doing a slow cruise of Tokyo Bay, up to Haneda airport and back again.
Kebab sandwiches, french fries, bowls of karaage (fried chicken), edamame, and castella (sponge cake), boxes of sushi and giant sticks of butabara (pork belly) fill this first scene. It’s tempting to use our blue food coupons — included in in our cruise ticket — on everything in sight, but we decide to grab our first of many free beers and to explore our new environment.
At 19:15, the boat casts off, and we are gently thrust into a night world of Tokyo views with tall immoveable buildings, and cries of “sugoiiii” and “kireiiii” as we pass under the iconic Rainbow Bridge, winking with light. The boat will dock back at the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal at 9 p.m. after its evening tour.
Up on the top deck, the soft light of the evening sky is blue, and the warm lights from the ship illuminate the passengers anticipating departure. The hot summer day is coming to an end, and the cold beer is a welcome partner.
Couples jostle for space on the edge of the deck and I’m forced to weave my way through already red-faced college guys cheersing, and nearby clusters of their female classmates snapping selfies. The food sellers yell as people squeeze through the narrow corridors, plying us with free samples.
We return to the A deck just below for some kebab sandwiches at ¥600 a pop and a romantic view of the ocean near the dance floor and spotlit stage, where there’s scheduled to be a special yukata dance performance later.
After finishing our dinner, we meander down to the B deck, where there is chocolate fondue, candies on sticks, and other sweets. Down the corridor there’s even a cup noodles vending machine.
The C, D, and E decks are dedicated especially to dining and group spaces to sit in. The C deck is a dining room and restaurant area. You can reserve for these in advance. The D deck is a private, quiet room with comfy chairs and videos of the view outside. It’s rather a peaceful place to sit with a friend and take a breather.
The E deck in similar fashion allows for groups of friends to gather and eat together away from the dance floor and matsuri excitement. A space for a picnic and private party of sorts on the sea. We spot a rowdy group of people having a work nomikai in this space; they are smiling and drinking, and making the most of the party atmosphere.
A Show On The Sea
The lights on the stage come to life at last for the main event: a yukata dance performance. The DJs nearby the stage announce the performers names and hometowns one by one. They dance, smile, and the crowd claps in support. Not long after the first performance, the dance floor lends itself to the feet of its own dancing passengers. It’s a matsuri on the sea. And the free beer is still flowing.
How To Purchase A Ticket
A ticket includes entry, free all-you-can-drink beer, wine and lemon or peach sours. You can buy food coupons in ¥100 increments on board; most dishes start around ¥500.* A ticket must be purchased at the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal before 18:45. On weekdays, there is a ¥1000-off discounted price for passengers who wear yukata, so entry will be ¥1,600. The regular price is ¥2,600.
The cruise is extremely popular, so it’s good to plan accordingly. To book in English, email HIS travel agency via firstname.lastname@example.org. Paste NOURYOUSEN2 in the title of your email, and in the body of your message include the date you want to go, and the full names, nationality, age and gender of the passengers you wish to book for.
Reservations can be made in Japanese online or at the convenience store (the website has instructions on how to do this) at any time. Alternatively, you can call 03-3437-6119 between 9:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Be sure to bring your reservation number with you to the ticket booth inside the terminal and extra cash in case you want to buy more food tickets on board.
How To Get There
The closest stations to the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal are Hamamatsucho and Daimon. Coming from Shinjuku, I arrived at Hamamatsucho, and took the North Exit. From here it’s a 10-minute walk. I took a right and went straight, passing the Ryu Shiba Rikyu Garden on my right. Head southeast until you reach the passenger terminal, it’s about a 10-minute walk. Look for the seaside and a large ship mast that resides in front of the terminal.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the ticket price included ¥1,000 worth of food coupons. The ticket does not come with these coupons — passengers must buy them on board.