The Tokyo Yakatabune Association invited us last month to experience being a ninja for a day while cruising Sumida River in Asakusa. Since I was already 8 months pregnant by the time I got the invitation, my husband and I booked an AirBnB room around Asakusa so that after the cruise, we would only need to travel 6 minutes to our rented apartment and rest.
We arrived late at Azumabashi Pier; for which I blame my faulty email address. Jason, the coordinator, informed me that he kept receiving bounce-back errors every time he sends me emails. So we didn’t have the map and didn’t know which way to go. Good thing they waited 5 more minutes at the pier. As soon as we saw the yakatabune that was about to take off on the other side of the bridge where we were, my husband ran to catch the boat, while I waddled behind him.
Yakatabune Ninja Cruise
Yakatabune are basically small ships which serve as venues for dinner services, small gatherings and parties. More colloquially known as “pleasure boats,” yakatabunes were first recognized during Japan’s Edo period.
Originally, these ornately decorated ships – with red lanterns lining the exterior and tatami mats and low tables on the interior exclusively caters to the country’s imperial families, feudal lords, wealthy businessmen, and merchants while indulging in cultural activities such as cherry blossom watching or haiku recitations.
Though the traditional yakatabune exudes sophistication, refinement and class, new forms of the Japanese cultural immersion has evolved to keep up with the changing times and the newest trend is the ninja cruise. The host, together with the rest of the staff are decked head to toe in ninja outfits. The goal of this two and a half hour voyage is to have interactive ninja-related fun from food, games, art and, of course, weapons. With all you can drink alcohol and a carpe diem attitude, you will surely have tons of fun while being treated to the marvelous Tokyo cityscape.
First Part: Ninja Food
When we were given a bento box full of food. I was amazed at how huge the bento box was! It contained different munchies of all shapes and sized beautifully segregated by cute canisters that fit perfectly into the box. My favorite are of course, the yummy ninja stars! Look closely as you might even see a tiny ninja hiding inside the food. I noticed that a lot of the food in our bento box were black. The explanation to this is that the ninjas believed eating black or blackened things make one powerful and imbue them with strength and vigor. Also, just like a Japanese bento, the food prepared were well balanced and nutritious, with different source of protein, fiber and carbohydrates perfect for me and my baby. It is a complete and delicious meal presented no less than the art that it truly is.
During our dinner, lights were reduced by the staff so we got a better view of the scenic spots in the city. From time to time, lights were dimmed for us to be able to appreciate the view while enjoying the food and the company. During this time, I truly appreciate how the hosts perfectly timed the control of the lights for us to be able to soak in the full experience. I believe it’s the little things that count! This, together with the all you can drink alcohol (my husband’s favorite part), or soft drinks of choice, made the dining experience worth while.
Second Part: Dress Up Like a Ninja
In the middle of the dinner, ninja staff began distributing black clothing which happens to be a ninja mask. The emcee, Jason, then proceeds to explain to us guests how to properly put the mask on and demonstrate the process step by step. It was a small addition to the cruise, but it everyone on the boat really seemed to enjoy it. And don’t worry, they will explain how to wear it properly in both English and Japanese.
After learning how to wear the mask properly, I took it off as I was still enjoying my deliciously prepared bento box. If you are wondering where else can you use the mask especially when you are on a day off on your ninja work (*wink*), you can use your mask as lunch box cloth for your daily office bentos or perhaps a regular hand towel. Your imagination is your limit!
Third Part: Tokyo Cityscape Yakatabune’s Upper Deck
Before getting moving on to some of the games in the cruise, we were ushered into the upper deck for a fifteen minute break to check out the spectacular views of the Sumida River and of course, the Tokyo Skytree. On the upper deck, we were free to take as many photos as we wanted with our very accommodating ninja hosts. I felt that this was worth mentioning, due to the amount of themed places in Japan which restrict photography, which has always seems baffling to me.
So, better master those ninja poses, it will be as authentic as it gets! A word for the wise, have patience in capturing those stunning views as at the end of the night, trust me, it will all be worth it. Also, don’t forget to bundle up if it’s cold.
Fourth Part: Ninja Master Show
When we got back from the upper deck, the ninja master show began. What I enjoyed most was the showcase of perhaps one of the most popular ninja weapon of all time – the fukiya or the blow gun. A ninja threw a balloon in the air, and while in mid air, the ninja host shot the balloon with the fukiya. As it was our first time seeing it in action, we were all flabbergasted and broke into applause when the exhibition ended.
Don’t worry, the ninja hosts are well trained and nobody from our group or their team got hurt. I am sure that these were all done following the rules and in accordance to safety regulations.
Fourth Part: Ninja Battle Games
On to the real thing! This was actually the most awaited part of the yakatabune ninja cruise. We were teamed up by table and competed against other guests throughout a series of ninja battle games. One of my favorites games was where they gave us ninja shuriken (of course not the real thing) to hit several Japanese lanterns stuck up in a tatami wall. The team who manages to obliterate the most number of stuck lanterns wins! As a prize, they gave away this cute and colorful kimono that you can hang up in your homes or room as decoration. In the kimono was Japanese characters that read along the lines of “family safety”; on the other side contains the name of the yakatabune you were in.
The game that I enjoyed the most, hands down, was of course the game with the blow gun or fukiya. I wished I had played the game but my husband and I were generous and gave our tablemates a chance. I enjoyed cheering and watching other guests do it though. Unlike the ninja demonstration, the balloons that you got to pop were stuck in a wall, thus no motion and movement was involved. Whew! By this time, some guests were far from sober and the room starts to get rowdy. But I guess that the more we drink, the more fun we were having. At the end of the games, I bet those guests who got to play ninja games felt like a skilled ninja!
Fifth Part: How To Make a Shuriken
What’s the use of being a temporary ninja without a temporary weapon to use? After the fun games, we sat down and were given different colored square papers. It is origami time or the Japanese art of folding paper and we are making shuriken or more popularly known as ninja stars. For those of you who are still unaware, shuriken are those black sharp star shaped weapons ninjas throw for offense or defense. This time, the competition is to make the best made shuriken.
The process of making is demonstrated by a ninja staff who goes to guest tables. With proper guidance, you will be able to produce a good one. Believe me, this origami shuriken activity was actually very challenging. My husband couldn’t figure out the step by step instructions from the paper (although, he was on his 4th pint of beer by this point), so you also have to pay attention to the ninja staff demonstrating it. At the end of the folding process, the host will choose the best shuriken. This time, our team decided to be competitive against other teams. We were very serious and and we won this artsy game! So, better sharpen your folding skills and give this your best shot!
Finale: Ninja Style Rock Scissors Paper
In case of settling an argument, or perhaps making a choice between too many people, playing a game of rock, scissors ninja style is the best and most diplomatic choice. The rules of the basic game applies in the ninja style. However, just like ninjas, this game is done with speed, strength and agility.
Playing against each other’s teams, the goal is to eliminate as many members as possible. The person who remains unbeaten is declared the rock, scissors, paper ninja style winner, and ultimately wins a cute prize.
It was actually a very unique experience for me. I have been to other night cruise in Tokyo, the noryosen to be specific, a multi-leveled cruising ship, and I would say that I prefer the decent setting and intimate atmosphere of yakatabune. The accommodating services provided by the staff was top notch and perhaps the most valuable aspect of this ninja cruise. I already had a big belly at 8 months and they were very kind and attentive to my needs and made sure that I am sitting comfortably on the tatami.
The food was good however contains raw fish which I can’t consume yet. I also wish it was warmer, but considering the time of the year we went, it wasn’t too cold. The fun ninja games and shuriken activity were the highlight of the Tokyo Yakatabune Ninja Cruise. Lastly, people who will enjoy this cruise the most are those who love unlimited amount alcohol, it’s the Japanese way!
Tokyo Yakatabune Association
We’d like to thank Tokyo Yakatabune Association for this unique experience. We were invited along with other famous Youtube vloggers and bloggers in Japan. They are now accepting reservations for Ninja Themed Cruise at 10,800 yen. For the next cruise schedule, proceed to their website and fill out the form for reservation.