Cruise around Tokyo Bay to see the panoramic views of Tokyo’s cityscape.
Countless ships glide across the Tokyo Bay all day. But perhaps the most eye-catching of them all is the Gozabune Atakemaru. The luxurious cruise ship is modeled after vessels used by feudal lords during the Edo-period.
The exquisite replica is popular with tourists and locals, partially because of its unmistakable Japanese feel. Atakemaru also offers a special dining experience along with the sweeping backdrop of Tokyo Bay. However, the biggest draw of this cruise is its time-warp style of entertainment.
To learn more, we sailed off on the Gozabune Atakemaru and spoke to its entertainment producer, Mr Kentaro Mori.
Atakemaru: The majestic cruiser on Tokyo Bay
The Gozabune Atakemaru is drawing attention as a popular way to see the Tokyo Bay area. The ship is modeled from the Atakemaru -- a massive Edo-period vessel shrouded in mystery. The original Atakemaru is said to have been a luxurious leisure boat for the feudal lords.
Gozabune Atakemaru gliding along the Tokyo Bay
Atakemaru: A majestic cruiser on Tokyo Bay
The modern version of the Atakemaru is painted in vermillion and has a truly Japanese vibe that makes it stand out from western-styled cruisers nearby. The Atakemaru has transcended time and serves a completely different clientele today.
■ A legendary ship built under the Tokugawa dynasty
Atakemaru was originally commissioned in 1634, during the rule of Tokugawa Iemitsu. He was the third ruler of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The original version was a massive battleship with a size comparable to Mount Fuji. The opulent décor was compared to that of the Tokugawa shrine in Nikko, north of Tokyo. Iemitsu is said to have boarded the Atakemaru off the coast of Shinagawa, in southwestern Tokyo.
Detailed model of the Gozabune Atakemaru ship
The ship required massive funds for maintenance and it was decommissioned about 50 years later. Detailed records of the original Atakemaru have yet to be found. To this day, not much is known about the vessel. Some historians suggest that it may have been built as a fortress to defend today’s Tokyo Bay.
According to the documents found later on, the ship was 64 meters long and roughly 16 meters wide. That is about 30 times larger than Japan’s largest naval ship, and one of the biggest ships in the world at the time.
The Tokugawa emblem displayed at the stem
The Tokugawa emblem is heavily displayed both inside and outside the Gozasen Atakemaru.
The Tokugawa clan is linked to legendary buried treasure and other historical mysteries. A little knowledge about the Tokugawa family is sure to make the cruise more interesting… but we will leave that topic for another time.
Inside the Gozabune Atakemaru ship
The Atakemaru’s appeal lies in its extravagant décor, both inside and out. The industrial artist and illustrator, Eiji Mito-oka, oversaw the ship's interior design when it was renovated in 2017. Mr Mito-oka has been involved in various projects ranging from architecture, railway carriages, and graphics. He built an elegant and fascinating space within the Atakemaru ship.
Staircase leading to the upper deck
The ship's modern and stylish décor has an imposing Japanese atmosphere. This spacious vessel is overflowing with awe-inspiring luxury so enjoy exploring all the rooms.
“Goza no ma” large dining area
<imgsrc="https://s3-ap-northeast-1.amazonaws.com/thegate/2019/09/05/14/40/03/Gozabune-Atakemaru-Kihinnoma-room.JPG" alt="Gozabune At akemaru VIP room" />
The guest of honor room has private rooms
Atakemaru’s extravagant dinner and Tokyo’s night cityscape from the Bay
◾️ Atakemaru's course dinners are a feast for all
Atakemaru is also noteworthy for its lavish meals. The cruise offers several menus depending on the cruise length. The meals include both western and Japanese dishes.
For those who want to sample Japanese food, we recommend the seafood course. Not too keen about seafood? Try the beef course, or the all-you-can-drink course.
The popular tuna and meat combo
The most popular dinner menu is the tuna and meat course. One of the highlights of this menu is the raw tuna rib. Diners use shells to scape the tuna off the bones. This course includes delicious items such as beef carpaccio and tomato and chicken casserole.
◾️Enjoy Tokyo’s night view from the deck
Once your stomach is full, it is time to feast your eyes. Although the dining area has great night views, climb up to the deck for the full experience.
The deck offers spectacular views of Tokyo’s night skyline from the waters of Tokyo Bay.
Tokyo Gate Bridge seen from the deck
Tokyo night view from Tokyo Bay
During sunset, you can see planes leaving Haneda airport. The Atakemaru cruise reveals different views of the Tokyo Bay depending on the time and route it takes.
Deck bar on the second floor
Seasonal events are often held on the deck, such as bon-odori folk dancing in the summer. The deck area turns into a beer garden from spring to summer, when an all-you-can-drink package is available.
As we have been mentioning, Atakemaru is full of lavish décor and meals.
But the most important feature of this cruise is its highly rated theatrical show. We watched the samurai-themed performance.
Stellar acting by samurai inspired actors
The performance is put on by a group of actors called WAGAKU. Some of the actors hail from Shiki Theater -- one of Japan’s leading theater companies.
Samurai-inspired WAGAKU members
WAGAKU has several meanings, such as appreciating and learning Japanese culture. The group’s name is also inspired by the Japanese word “wa,” which means to “blend together.” The WAGAKU performance is a mix of traditional culture and theatrics.
It's showtime! WAGAKU’s extravagant performance
An hour into the cruise, an announcement declares the beginning of the WAGAKU show.
Pine tree painting in the background
The main focus of the show is to wish for passengers’ prosperity. The performance features elements of Japanese mythology, from which Japanese theater originated. The show is also inspired by Japanese festivals.
WAGAKU performance in full swing
Sharp dance moves
Lively, almost festival like-feel
The show gathers momentum as the actors shout out chants often heard at Japanese festivals. Halfway through the show, guests are invited to join in. The show brings everyone together and there is a lot of clapping to the music and dance.
The audience helps build up the party
To further liven things up, the WAGAKU performers come down from the stage to involve the audience. They even set aside time to celebrate birthdays at the end of the show, so it is great for celebrating special occasions.
The WAGAKU members will pose for photos with you after the show, and even send you off at the end of the cruise. They certainly know what hospitality is all about.
Photo opportunities with WAGAKU actors on stage
Interview with WAGAKU general producer
The general producer of WAGAKU, Mr Kentaro Mori, is a former actor of Japan’s famed Shiki Theatre Company. He is now president of Office Pierrot Co., Ltd. We asked him about directing WAGAKU and Atakemaru’s appeal.
Mr Mori is a former actor
ーーMr Mori, I can’t help noticing your good posture. You used to appear in musicals when you were an actor with the Shiki Theater Company.
Thank you. Yes, I was a musical actor and was involved in the Lion King and other musicals until 2012.
ーーHow did you get started as a producer?
I wanted to create opportunities for former colleagues and other actors in the field. Then I learned about Gozabune Atakemaru. I negotiated with the cruise’s operator, Ryobi Holdings, and took charge as the producer in 2014.
Things were not smooth at first, but we gradually improved our services and the show. The cruise’s detailed time schedule is the result of trial and error. It has been perfected to deliver the best cruise experience.
The theatre cruise is also popular with overseas guests
ーーTell us about how you see things as a producer.
When I first saw the Atakemaru, I felt it was similar to the Studio Ghibli movie “Spirited Away.”
That film is centered in a bathhouse called Aburaya. The exterior of the Atakemaru and Aburaya are both vermillion, and they have the same Japanese vibe. The way I look at Atakemaru is definitely influenced by "Spirited Away.”
Besides the ship, vermillion is used a lot in the costumes. It is the color of flames and the Sun -- a color that symbolizes life.
I wanted to create something different from traditional performances, such as Noh or Kabuki. I wanted the Atakemaru show to be a lively Japanese festival. That’s why our show plays cheerful music to wish the success of our guests.
ーーShare with us any thoughts on WAGAKU.
We increasingly live in a world of instant gratification. It’s driven by online technology. In days like these, the most important thing we can do is to make a valuable contribution to society. We have what it takes to entertain our guests. But good singing and dancing is not enough. We want to energize and inspire our audience and move them deeply.
Our priority is to make the entire Atakemaru experience worthwhile, in terms of both time and space.
Our goal is to create a Disney-land-like space that offers an extraordinary experience full of exciting drama and hospitality.
During my years at Shiki Theatre, I learned how theatre nurtures the spirit and conveys the joy of living. Everything that I learned while studying art has also helped shape my current work.
Mr Mori with WAGAKU actors
Set sail with the Atakemaru and party with WAGAKU
The Gozabune Atakemaru offers delicious meals and spectacular views of Tokyo’s night skyline. The secret behind the cruise’s popularity is linked to Mr Mori’s work -- the WAGAKU show and the hospitality delivered by its passionate team.
The two-hour cruise with WAGAKU is full of entertainment.
The cruise welcomes all group sizes, and is perfect for special occasions, such as New Year celebrations.
Gozabune Atakemaru is a graceful cruise that has the cheerful and boisterous vibe of traditional Tokyo.