Day 20: Naruto & Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Continues from Day 19: Oku-Iya Valley and Tokushima

Unfortunately today is our last full day in Japan!

We had a full day and night planned though, so we didn’t have to languish on that thought for too long.

First up is a boat cruise around the famous Naruto Whirlpools and then in the evening we’ll be visiting the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka.

We stayed in a Toyoko Inn last night in Tokushima, which meant we enjoyed a free included basic breakfast this morning.

The Uzushio Kankosen boat terminal
After breakfast we then got ready and caught a 09:00 bus from the Tokushima bus terminal.

After about an hour and 710 yen, we arrived at the Naruto Kankousen (鳴門観光船) bus stop located right next to the Uzushio Kankosen boat terminal.

The bus did a U-Turn before it arrives at the stop, which caused a bit of alarm among the non-Japanese speaking people on the bus, especially someone who I had just assured that the boat terminal was the next stop.

Naruto is located on the Shikoku side of the Naruto Strait which is the narrow 1.3km wide body of water between Shikoku and Awaji Island.

Four times a day the flooding and ebbing tides cause fast currents to flow in this area as water is exchanged between the Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

These currents can exceed 20km/h (10 knots) which, together with the bathymetry of the strait, cause vortices and eddies up to 20m in diameter.

These maelstroms vary intensity depending on height difference between the high and low tides and are best during the spring tides when the differences are largest, this occurs when the moon is new or full.

During slack water there isn’t much to see at all so it’s very important to check the tides before visiting to avoid disappointment.

You can check the times of maximum current on the Uzushio website- times listed in red are the best!

We were very lucky to have our trip planned right on one of the biggest spring tides of the year!

First class!
There are actually two boat companies offering sightseeing cruises out to the whirlpools, but we had chosen Uzushio Kankosen as the best views are apparently possible from the top floor of their Wonder Naruto boat.

Cruises on this boat also leave every 30-40 minutes and do not require reservations unlike their other boat the Aqua Eddy.

The Aqua Eddy does have underwater windows though.

Upon arrival we stashed our bags in some lockers then headed to the ticket reservation desk and paid 2,530 yen for a first class, top floor seat.

We’ve never paid for first class before but wanted to this time for the views and because of the good timing.

It also helped us avoid the crowd and was really nice with comfy seats.

The Wonder Naruto left on time and travelled out to where all the action was happening under the Ōnaruto Bridge.

Despite fictional accounts of maelstroms dragging boats to a watery grave, these whirlpools are not dangerous to boats and we were able to freely cruise into and through the vortexes.

It was very interesting and lots of fun watching the swirling water!

Rather than one big maelstrom there were actually lots of little eddies and waves all dynamically interacting with each other. It was mesmerising to watch!

As well as the water we also got great views of the islands and the Ōnaruto Bridge.

In addition to the Wonder Naruto there were a few other boats, including a pirate ship which we fended off!

It was lots of fun!

After about twenty minutes it was time to go back and the boat turned around and retuned to shore.

It was tricky to get good photos.
Once we docked we retrieved our luggage, went outside to the bus stop, waited, then caught a bus headed back to Naruto and got off near the Kousoku Naruto (高速鳴門) bus stop.

From there we walked a short distance to the highway bus stop located under the Ōnaruto Bridge on-ramp.

The stop is actually located up on the bridge, but we waited in the little waiting room attached to the reservation counter.

It was quite new inside and also air-conditioned which was great!

We’d already bought tickets on an earlier day, I think way back in Takamatsu, because the Tenjin Matsuri was on tonight and we wanted to make sure we got seats.

While waiting I went and got some donuts from Mr Donuts and Kate got some snacks from a nearby convenience store.

When it was nearly time for our bus arrive we rode this really cool mini monorail elevator up to the bridge level and caught the 12:25 bus.

Cool mini monorail elevator
A few hours later we arrived into Osaka, though a bit later than the scheduled 15:00 arrival time due to some gnarly traffic.

On the way over one of the bridges I glimpsed the newly built Harry Potter world in Universal Studios.

The Tenjin Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan’s three best festivals along with Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo.

It first started in the 10 century and is held every year on July 24 and 25 with the main activities on the second day.

The highlight starts at 15:30 with a land procession of floats, costumed characters, lion dances, umbrella dancers etc, which later becomes a river procession after everyone boards boats to travel up and down the Okawa River with accompanying fireworks.

This guy. He kept being told to keep
outside the rope, but kept sneaking back 
across. Silly thing as I doubt it would have
made a difference to his photos no matter
what side he was on!
After arriving in Osaka we caught a train down to Kitahama station and then checked into our hotel the Daiwa Roynet Hotel Osaka Kitahama.

After a very short rest we then went back out at around 16:30 to enjoy the festival.

I was feeling pretty hungry so I bought some festival food, karaage I think.

Like the Gion Matsuri Festival, it was very hot and humid this afternoon!

After eating my food we wandered around a bit at first, saw some boats full of people moored in a river.

We then found a spot to watch the procession and unlike Kyoto didn’t have to wait too long, though where we stopped was very crowded.

Just like Kyoto everyone looked very hot!

After watching the dances, floats and people we then went to have a look at the festival stalls!

Kate got a pizza thing for dinner and a toffee strawberry for desert!

Next it was time to find somewhere to watch the fireworks!

Competition for firework viewing locations is very fierce and we had a lot of trouble!

Eventually we managed to stop on the side of a bridge where we were also able to see the boats sailing past in the river, which made it quite a good spot.

Downside was the huge crowd and the fact that we had to stand the whole time.

Speaking of the boats and observation locations…

Along with the festival boats there were also open air barges that had food and live entertainment on board such as stand-up comedy and music.

Some had advertising for companies on them, such as the chicken ramen boat.

The passengers on these boats just looked like regular people, and had probably just booked a seat.

If so I reckon that would be the best way to enjoy the festival!

The boats looks like fun!

Thanks to the sun setting the heat wasn’t too bad and we enjoyed watching the fireworks and boats go past.

In terms of instantaneous quantity and intensity the fireworks were reasonably subdued, however the duration was massive- continuing for nearly two hours between 7pm and 9pm.

We stood and watched most of it and then had a look at a few more stalls in a big area full of them next to the bridge.

After that we walked back to our hotel, which took a while as everyone else was headed back as well, clogging the streets! 

Eventually we arrived back at Kitahama and collapsed into bed after an exhausting day!

Tomorrow we just had a little look around Osaka planned for our last day, nothing too touristy, as we we’re flying out that evening!