When thinking of some good family entertainment options on a trip to Tokyo, many things will come to mind: Disneyland, the Sky Tree, even a trip to people watch in Harajuku. One option that should be added to this list is the Boat Races or Kyotei. This journey is about one such track located in Toda City, Saitama Prefecture.
The Boat Races, or Kyotei is a recent addition to the sports scene, having been introduced to the country in 1952, and one of only four sports that enjoy legalized gambling on the action. This venue is typical of other boat racing venues as it is located along a body of water, and in this case a man-made offshoot of the nearby river, and is connected at one end to a rowing venue.
There is lots of parking here and there is a free shuttle bus from a few of the train stations in the area, notably Toda-Koen on the Saikyo Line (the closest station) and Kawaguchion the Keihin-Tohoku Line. The ride from Toda-Koen is about 5 minutes.
After you arrive at the parking area or the bus drop off zone, you will cross a bridge to the stands and the main entrance. There is a small entrance fee. Inside the building, there are TV screens to view the races as well as races at other tracks and plenty of spots to gamble. Since I was a novice at the gambling, the staff at the entrance explained the process and how to read the gambling forms and odds. Their English website is also quite informative.
When I did by a ticket, I blindly chose two boats to place 1st and 2nd. The form requires that you choose two boats and cost ￥100 each bet. Alas, I did not win. But it was still interesting to get involved in the action!
The racecourse is the most unique in Japan as it is not a typical straight-line to the first turn as the other tracks are, but this one has a slight narrowing on the inside due to the width of the entire course (the narrowest of the tracks in the country). The English language literature provided stated that this unique feature makes the boat in the pole position have the hardest route and therefore should not be considered the favorite.
Races typically take place over almost every weekend and even in the winter too. Some of the more important races require a higher entrance fee, but are promoted heavily in the local trains.
For the families, it is an entertaining way to spend a day, and there are even a couple of small food courts inside the building complete with the usual Japanese fast food of noodles and curry options as well as a Yoshinoya outlet. There is also a Game Centerand Gift Shop as well as a men's hair salon.
Seats are available for viewing the races both inside and outside. So no matter what the weather, you can enjoy the races in comfort.
The Boat Races are a unique and interesting way to experience a different side of Japanese culture and if you have some extra time on a weekend, you should make the trip up to Toda Cityto watch a race.