Ibaraki : Ferryboat offers escape from the hustle of daily life

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Toride-go ferryboat is reflected on the surface of the Tonegawa river as it approaches the pier in the Ohori district in Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture, on May 3.

It takes only about 50 minutes from Tokyo Station on the JR Joban Line to reach Toride Station in Ibaraki Prefecture. From there, it is about a 15-minute walk to a small pier on the Tonegawa river. This is one of the starting points for Ohori no Watashi, a ferryboat service operated by the city of Toride.

The Tonegawa river more or less corresponds with the border between Ibaraki Prefecture on the northern bank and Chiba Prefecture on the southern one. But Toride, entirely in Ibaraki Prefecture, also includes a small patch of territory south of the river, called the Ohori district.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Passengers enjoy the view from the deck of the Toride-go.

The ferry route connects three stops along the river. Two of them are in the larger part of Toride and one is in the Ohori district. The boat makes seven runs, almost hourly, every day except Wednesdays and during the New Year holiday season. The ferry takes about 50 minutes to make a circuit of the three stops.

Two years ago, a new boat went into service on the route for the first time in about 30 years. The third boat to bear the name Toride-go was designed by Katsuhiko Hibino, who was then dean of the faculty of fine arts at Tokyo University of the Arts. (He is now president of the university.)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
This shack is a waiting room for the ferry at one of the two stops in the larger part of the city. The banner over the roof signals that the ferry is in operation.

According to the city, the boat’s color scheme, featuring red, yellow and blue, represents the splendor of a moment when the image of the city’s bird, the kawasemi kingfisher, is reflected on the water.

The approximately 10-meter-long, 3-meter-wide boat can accommodate up to 12 adults, although the number is currently limited to eight due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. An observation deck has been installed atop the cabin so passengers can enjoy a good view.

The fare is ¥200 per section of the course for adults and students of junior high school age or older or ¥100 for elementary school students. A complete round-trip of all three sections costs ¥400, or ¥200 for elementary school children. Since the ferry was used by commuters and students in the past, residents of the Ohori district can use the service for free. Passengers can bring a bicycle or motorbike on board at no additional charge, limited to one per person.

These days, most ferry users are tourists, so there are chairs and small flower beds at the pier in the Ohori district, which has plenty of open green space. It is an escape from the busy world where passengers can leisurely spend time as they wait for the boat.

The Tonegawa is Japan’s second-longest river. In older times, the river meandered more and frequently caused floods. Thanks to civil engineering work that started in 1907, the river was straightened. The Ohori district, which used to be contiguous with central Toride, was left as an enclave on the southern side of the straightened river, surrounded on land by Abiko, Chiba Prefecture.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Passengers chat with ferryboat captain Masahiro Kuribayashi, right, at lunchtime near the Ohori pier.

Separation from the rest of Toride inconvenienced Ohori district residents in their day-to-day lives, so they started operating a ferry on their own in 1914. This became the basis of the current ferryboat service. To get from central Toride to the Ohori district on foot today, you still have to briefly enter Chiba Prefecture.

A 64-year-old man who got off the boat at the Ohori pier said he used to work in Abiko for a long time.

“This is the first time I used the ferry,” he said. “So quiet and close, it’s great. Even when expressways are badly congested with traffic, the ferry is like a chartered boat, and you can enjoy watching the blue sky, clouds and water and listen to birds chirping.”

The ferry has three captains, who work in turns.

“I really hope many people will appreciate that there is nothing special here, and yet feel how great it is,” said Masahiro Kuribayashi, 53, one of the three captains. “Nowadays, the world is full of digital things, and there’s information overload. I think it would be great to let your mind drift and reset here.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A drone photo shows the ferryboat as it sails away from the Ohori pier on May 3.

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