Before there were bridges, people were using ferry boats to cross the rivers in Tokyo, as they were doing anywhere else. The only place where this is still in use in Tokyo is in Shibamata, albeit just for tourists. This crossing is called the Yagiri no Watashi.
A ferry, without motor, connects Shibamata with Matsudo city in Chiba prefecture as it has been done for the past 400 years. Maximum 30 people can take place in the boat and it takes 10 minutes to cross the Edogawa river.
This crossing, together with the Taishakuten temple, is part of the 100 Landscapes of Japan that represent Japan during the Heisei era (the current time period started in 1989 when Emperor Akihito acceded to the throne, time periods in Japan coincide with the reign of an emperor). Only 7 places in Tokyo made it on this list, which means this is really a place dear to many Japanese. It is also part of the 100 Soundscapes of Japan, a list of 100 places in Japan where natural and traditional sounds prevail. It was made in 1996 by the Japanese Ministry of Environment in an effort to combat noise pollution and protect the environment.
The entrance is a bit difficult to find, this is how it looks like on the Shibamata side.
The crossing has its origin in connecting the two farm communities at either side of the river. It has sort of an idyllic atmosphere around it thanks to the novel from Sachio Itō titled Nogiku no Haka (“The Wild Daisy” from 1906, literal translation: Grave of Wild Chrysanthemum) and a song about the crossing written by Miyuki Ishimoto. The novel was made into movies in 1955, 1966 and in 1981.
I have been wondering what the actual appeal is of this Yagiri no Watashi crossing. The boat seemed rather new and the scenery is rather modern, so where is this “Edo-style” crossing? I read on one blog you should close your eyes and just feel the wind, hear the water. The ferry is manpowered, so no motor sounds to disrupt your experience (even though a motor is available on the boat). My guess is that the strongest appeal comes from the song “Yagiri no Watashi” by Takashi Hosokawa. This song was a number one hit in Japan in 1983, and is subconsciously embedded into the mind of many Japanese. The contents are rather bland, a love story in which the couple tries to elope by way of the Yagiri no Watashi ferry because their parents object to their relationship. A less popular version of the song was released in 1976 by Naomi Chiaki.
Takashi Hosokawa – Yagiri no Watashi (1983)
Please note that on the other side of the river, in Chiba, there is nothing really there except fields. Walking to the nearest train station takes over 20 minutes. Also take into account all information is in Japanese, it does not seem to be made for foreign tourists.
Practical information in Japanese regarding the service, e.g. that you can take small dogs on board as long as you carry them.
7-18 Shibamata, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo
Shibamata Station – 10 minutes walk (Keisei Line)
summer: all days 10:00-16:30 (It was closed about once a week during summer 2017, mainly Mondays, some Tuesdays. This information is not on the website)
winter: only during weekends, national holidays and temple festival days 10:00-16:30
Fee: (one way)
Adults: JPY 200
Children: JPY 100
At the start of the Tora-san movie series, this Yagiri no Watashi crossing is shown with a clear shot of the prices: 30 yen for adults, 20 yen for kids. Prices have inflated indeed since the late 1960s.
Web: http://www.katsushika-kanko.com/guide/scene/spot_1247.php (in Japanese)
Name in Japanese: 矢切の渡し