If you've already checked off viewing cherry blossom trees, quiet time at a temple or shrine, and booked a trip to see the snow-capped Mt. Fuji, try taking a drive through an undersea tunnel to marvel at something outside of Tokyo. Remember the movie scene in Titanic when Jack shouts, "I'm the king of the world!" as he stood at the bow of the ship? You can re-enact this scene safely in Tokyo Bay. Well, not exactly on a boat, but with the wind in your hair and standing at the top of this artificial island in the middle of the ocean it sure comes close. Welcome to Umihotaru!
Umihotaru, literally meaning “sea firefly,” is an artificial island that is accessible from the Tokyo Wan Aqua-Line tunnel. Also known as the Tokyo Bay Aqualine, this tunnel is a unique bridge and tunnel expressway that opened to traffic in December 1997 at 15-kilometers (9.3 miles) long and connects Kisarazu City of Chiba Prefecture and Kawasaki City of Kanagawa Prefecture in just 20 minutes of driving time.
Four miles after entering from Kawasaki, signs for Parking/Information/Drink, or otherwise known as a Rest Area, are posted along the way as you approach the light at the end of the tunnel, literally.
If you're familiar with Rest Areas around Japan, they are usually top-notch facilities with expansive parking, large, pristine restroom areas and a shopping center that houses a variety of restaurants, souvenir shops, café's and desserts. Umihotaru ranks at the top of that list.
Umihotaru is a pretty spectacular landmark, especially if you happen to visit during a breezy, sunny afternoon. We immediately found a parking space directly off the ramp onto the third floor and decided to stay for lunch after browsing through the Directory. Even if you decided not to proceed to the fourth and fifth floors to shops & restaurants, the vending machines on the parking floor are just as impressive.
Trying to get familiarized with the facility, we followed the crowd up two flights of escalators. Low and behold, a large white sail appears above which opens up to the spectacular deep blue seas of Tokyo Bay. It was very windy this day, but I was able to take a few decent photos of the Tokyo BayOasis signs thanks to the stabilization feature of my trusty camera. It's a nice place to view airplanes landing at Haneda airport, point out the large white Wind Towers (Tokyo Wan Aqua-Line Kaze-no-To) towards Kawasaki, and pause for a moment to try and wrap your head around how the tunnel, this man-made island, and bridge to Kisarazu were developed and completed to success. Amazing!
On 5F, Restaurant level, we enjoyed lunch at Ocean Kitchen, which specializes in Hawaiian cuisine and commands awesome views of the boardwalk and Bay. After my meal, I was entranced by the smell of waffles and just had to sample the bite-sized teddy waffles. On 4F, we stopped for a nice cup of coffee and some ice cream. Yes, Starbucks is here, but I opted for my favorite Italian coffee, LaVazza, at IDEBOK. There’s a nice large sitting area that overlooks the fantastic views, so you can enjoy all of the treats you just purchased. And if you have small children, they can enjoy themselves in the enclosed play areas. So fun and relaxing! If you have extra time, stop by 1F to visit the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line museum. Admission is free.
Umihotaru parking is free and most restaurants will accept credit cards, but just in case have yen handy. The Tokyo Wan Aqua-Line requires a toll fee of ￥3,000 for standard sized vehicles, so it's cost effective if you plan a group trip to the other side, Chiba. If you enjoy shopping, visit the fairly new outlet mall, Mitsui Outlet Park, located off of the first exit of Kisarazu, Chiba. Buses also depart from Kisarazu Station No. 8 East terminal or Kawasaki Station East Exit No. 22 terminal. I hope you enjoy!