For a long, long time I’ve been aware that there was a way of crossing Tokyo Bay by car but I just assumed it was a tunnel. Little did I know that it was a mix of both tunnel and bridge with a 650 metre long island-of-sorts in the centre. It’s known as Umihotaru (Sea-firefly) and is basically a service station in the middle of the bay.
The only reason anyone ever goes to Umihotaru, which took 23 years to plan and nine years to construct, is to rest their legs, go to the toilet and take a break from driving between Kawasaki (Kanagawa) and Kisarazu (Chiba). Well, everyone apart from me! I wanted to check it out whilst the sun was prevalent so decided to visit it on what I thought may have been the last proper sunny day of the Summer at the end of September.
As round trips go, this one was as pointless as they come. Getting to Kisarazu Station on the Uchibo Line was then followed by a bus from outside the station. The Aqua Line Bus costs 1080 yen and took about 30 minutes with this part of the journey all being via a 4.4 kilometre bridge. Be aware that there is only one an hour and they leave at about quarter past the hour.
Head on up to the 4th and 5th floors on arrival (the 2nd and 3rd floors are parking spaces for cars) at this unique white five-storey structure and there are a load of restaurants, shops, souvenir shops and amusements as well as all the other amenities you’d expect to find (toilets etc) at any other service area. The big difference here though is that you get 360 degree views of Tokyo Bay from the observation decks. You really do feel like you’re on a ship…and you kind of are I guess.
This is Japan so of course there are some food items which can only be purchased here but I was unaware of that until I read a leaflet later that day. A good thing maybe as I really didn’t need to be spending more money on this day-trip! Other attractions include a Fortune Bell, animal art benches and there was even a museum of technology known as Umimegane but it was closed when I was there.
At the other end of this artificial island is the view looking towards Tokyo and Kanagawa with Dinosaur Bridge (a.k.a. Tokyo Gate Bridge), among other things, clearly visible to the right as you look straight ahead. Between Umihotaru and land is a distinctive tower called Kaze no Tō (the tower of wind) which is in the middle of the tunnel. The bay’s constant wind is used as a power source (not sure what exactly!) and supplies air to it too.
One of the symbols of the island is the huge cutter face exhibit (below) which was one of the slurry shield machines used to drill the tunnel over the space of 24 months between 1994 and 1996. The tunnelling was completed in August 1996 using a 14.4 metre diameter cutter face which is the worlds largest.
It was actually the 2016 Japanese-produced movie ‘Shin Godzilla‘ which brought Umihotaru to my attention as filming was done on and around the island. It both features and is referenced in the opening moments of the latest film about the radioactive lizard and homage is paid to this in the form of some Godzilla footprints (below) on the western side of the island. I didn’t actually notice them at first though!!
The HGV car park on the ground floor where the bus drops you off is also the place where it picks you up again and be aware that it’s not so obvious as it’s a little hidden away with just a solitary bench beneath a small Umihotaru sign and a timetable. Very few people use a public bus to visit this floating service area so it’s probably not worth me mentioning that there is only one bus per hour but I just have…and for a second time in this post too!
One hour was sufficient enough time to spend at Umihotaru so I took the next bus over to Kanagawa prefecture. This was the tunnel part of the trip (9.6 kilometres long) and took about 45 minutes in total although the majority of that was back on land and an area I recognised from a few months earlier when I was in Kawasaki to do some plane spotting across the water from Haneda Airport. I was unaware back then that the start of the Aqua Line was so close by!
With a bit of time to spare in Kawasaki I decided to hunt down the American-Chinese fast food place Panda Express (72-1 Horikawacho, Saiwa-Ku, Kawasaki) which is to be found in Lazona Kawasaki Plaza next to the station. A Chinese friend told me about this place a few years ago and I have wanted to sample their famous orange chicken dish since then but just never got round to it. It was very nice but a bit small and probably not worth the 810 yen price tag. For a one-off occasion though it was all fine.
Click here to read ‘A Day In Kawasaki City’
Click here to read ‘The Sighting Of This Mysterious Hotel Is Very Much For Real’
Click here to read ‘On The C*cks Trail……In Chiba!!’
Click here to read ‘Tokyo Daytripper: Chiba-jo Castle’