Yakatabune light trails from Eitai Bridge are beautiful

Yakatabune are a part of Tokyo life. They are a great way to pass an evening, so I’ve heard. You can enjoy a nighttime meal on them while cruising the bay. The boats also make for great photos. They are perfect for light trail photography.

The photos on the internet are incredible. They are so colorful and bright. The light trails of the Yakabune lead into the distance. Do they remind you of crazy laser beams? That’s what they look like to me. And behind the light show will be the apartment buildings of Tsukishima. It’s a beautiful scene.

What are Yakatabune?

Yakatabune (屋形船) are dinner boats. They are boats with a roof and a tatami-matted floor. Passengers can enjoy seaside and riverside scenery while enjoying meals and drinks. I’ve been in Tokyo for thirty years and have never been on one! It’s on my bucket list.  One day I will eat on one!

A brief history of the Yakatabune

  • A long time ago, sightseeing cruises were very popular in Japan. In the 7th and 8th centuries, Japanese nobility rode on decorated boats. They read poems and performed music while enjoying the scenery.  
  • During the Edo period, things changed. Wealthy samurai and merchants built the yakatabune. They made luxurious boats and used them for sightseeing and dining. 
  • The Shogunate outlawed these boats as they viewed them as overly lavish lifestyles.  
  • But there is a silver lining in every cloud. The commoners saw an economic opportunity and built their own! Their boats were more basic which didn’t aggravate the Shogunate. Thanks to them, the average Tokyoite can enjoy Yakatabune boat cruises today.

Where is the best place to photograph the Yakatabune?

It is Eitai Bridge (永代橋). You can find it on the Sumida River in Koto Ward. The closest stations are:

  1. Monzen-Nakacho (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line)
  2. Suitengumae (Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line)

From both of those stations, the bridge is about a ten-minute walk. It’s not far.  See it here on Google Maps.

How to photograph the boats

  • Set up your camera on a tripod in the middle of the bridge. If you can’t, try getting as close to it as possible. Why? The boats don’t follow the same path. They will spread out slightly. If you are in the correct position, you’ll be able to get multiple light trails.
  • If you are a novice photographer, you might wonder how many light trails appear in one photo. There’s a reason for that, especially as so many boats never arrive simultaneously. To do that, you take several images and stack them using software such as Adobe Photoshop. 
  • For this article, I’ve also included a long-exposure photo from sunset. You might notice there weren’t any boats around that time. Still, I thought it would be worthwhile showing something different.

When to photograph them?

The Yakatabune start their outbound journey for dinner just after sunset. Then they will make their return trip about two hours later. You can photograph them in both directions. Well, that is if you want to wait.

It’s not only about Yakatabune.  There is other traffic on the Sumida River.  Occasionally, you will see police boats and other private vessels.  Some of those might even have brighter lights on them!

Are there any problems with Eitai Bridge?

Yes, there are. Here is what I have found:

  • On weekends, it can be crowded. And I’m talking about photographers! The bridge and the yakatabune are famous, so many people go there.
  • You also need to be aware of pedestrian traffic. There are lots of people with bicycles, dogs, and prams. Keep your gear compact and out of the way.
  • There might be some downtime between boats. But don’t fall asleep! Early in the evening, it can be difficult to spot them. On their outbound journey, they will suddenly appear from under Eitai Bridge.

Here are some spotting hints

  • Listen! Their engines have a distinctive sound that tells of their approach.
  • Look behind you, towards Tokyo Skytree. You can see a small part of the river. Keep an eye on that, and you might spot them.

Here are two photos to give you an idea about the bridge:

Wrapping up

Eitai Bridge is a great place to capture Yakatabune light trails. I doubt there is a better place for it in Tokyo. But if you do know another location, please share it with us.

For more bridge-related articles, look at:

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