View of Matsue Castle from the Tour Boat. (Photo: Louise Waghorn. )

Horikawa Boat Tour in Matsue City

Edo period moat and waterways offer unique city tour

View of Matsue Castle from the Tour Boat. (Photo: Louise Waghorn. )
Louise Waghorn   - 3 min read

Many old castle towns in Japan have retained their castle, but how many have retained their moat? The Horikawa Sightseeing Boat Tour offers a unique view of Matsue Castle as well as offering fascinating glimpses into the city's past. Steps leading from the back doors of houses, the many bridges each with their unique names and stories, even the bronzes statues commemorating particular stories from the Kawaidan by Lafacadio Hearn, invisible from the road but placed to be seen by boat visitors, all speak to the importance of Matsue's waterways in its past.

Commentary is offered by a Japanese guide, but don't worry if you don't speak Japanese! The tour speaks for itself and there is plenty to offer in terms of interest. The moat is fed by nearby Lake Shinji, so there is a rich variety of life. Taking the tour in August, we saw cormorants fishing, ducks including one mother with her family of ducklings, aloof herons, turtles basking on rocks, cicada clinging to the underside of the wooden bridges and brilliant jewel-like dragonflies that skimmed over the water with lazy grace. The moat offers beautiful views of old Matsue city, the stretch of the moat to the north of the castle park in particular providing lots of photo opportunities to capture a glimpse of forgotten Japan, traditional buildings beautifully offset by manicured pines and framed nicely by the boat itself.

The boat tour also comes with a surprise or two in the form of bridges so low that in order to fit under them the boat has to shrink. If you board the boat at the main boarding location, Horikawa Departure and Arrival Point, the guide will practice with you before you set off. Get ready to duck! When the guide tells your that he's lowering the roof, you'll have to crouch down fast.

You can board the boat at 3 locations around the city. The main departure point has a waiting room, and is close to the Lafacadio Hearn Memorial Museum, Residence and the Buke Yashiki. The second arrival and departure point Karakoro Hiroba is close to the Karakoro Art Studio and a lively shopping area with restaurants and souvenir shops, and the third departure and arrival sport just beside Matsue Castle itself. Your ticket allows you to hop on and off the boat at any location as many times a day as you'd like, making this not only a fun activity but a convenient way to see the city.

The first time I visited, our guide was a retired high school English teacher so we got a full English commentary. This latest visit, we weren't fortunate enough to catch him, although both our guides made a big effort to speak to us in simple Japanese and make sure that we knew when and where to duck! So far, both of my visits have been in the summer but I would like to do the tour again in winter when they equip the boats with kotatsu, a heated table to beat the Shimane cold. Definitely a worthwhile experience!

Louise Waghorn

Louise Waghorn @louise.waghorn

A New Zealander who has been living in Japan far longer than she has any right to, Louise is living proof that it is possible to survive wheat-and-soy-free in Japan!A big fan of discovering Japan's lesser known or quirkier destinations, Louise enjoys small town life in the heart of Japan's countr...