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News Navigator: Why is aquatic transportation getting attention?

Passengers disembark from a boat at a pier in the Ariake area of Koto Ward, on Nov. 7, 2016. (Photo courtesy of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Urban Development)

Looking toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been looking to make transportation by boat, called "shu'un" in Japanese, a centerpiece for tourism.

While speed and arriving at the destination on time are not guaranteed, and ticket prices are higher than for trains, the boats are strokes ahead of the railway in one vital way: you can't do much sightseeing from the window of a subway car. Using aquatic transportation, passengers can enjoy views of Tokyo Bay or along the Sumida River, and there is a public and private move to use Tokyo's waterways with foreign tourists in mind. The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about why boat tourism is attracting attention.

Question: Did Tokyo always have aquatic transportation?

Answer: During the Edo period, transportation along the Tone and Sumida rivers flourished. Not only people, but lumber, foodstuffs and other goods also made their way along the water. It wasn't until the road and railway systems were developed during the Meiji era did aquatic transportation slowly lose its role as the main method for moving people and things from place to place.

Q: Are there any specific plans for where the boats will run?

A: The metro government is researching just what kind of routes would attract tourists by experimenting with different services. This fiscal year, beginning on the first day of "Golden Week" on April 29, boats are touring Tennozu in Shinagawa Ward, Odaiba Marine Park in Minato Ward, and Kachidoki in Chuo Ward, just to name a few. The boats can carry from 10 to 66 passengers, with a ticket for one segment of the route costing 500 yen, and a full route ticket priced at 2,500 yen.

Q: Does it look like aquatic transportation will gain momentum?

A: The metropolitan government is also planning to operate "matchmaking" boats, boats serving traditional sumo wrestler meals, Halloween boats, and many more down the line. In addition, by holding events and opening cafes nearby, they are also trying to make the areas surrounding the piers more lively. Tokyo isn't the only Japanese city reviving its waterways, either. Last year, the central government also aimed to revive Osaka's Edo period "Yodo River shu'un" by offering trial boat tours between Osaka and the city of Moriguchi on the waterway, among other activities. Tokyo is also considering the future possibility of incorporating boats into everyday travel -- not just for tourism. (Answers by Kazuo Yanagisawa, City News Department)

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