Off the Beaten Path: Tokyo Aqua Line

On a brilliant morning in early December, I joined a leaf-viewing party which went by chartered bus to the Boso Peninsula in Chiba.  After departing Tokyo Station, the bus swooped southward on the elevated Shuto Expressway till it reached Kawasaki, at the edge of Tokyo Bay.  Here it entered a tunnel that took us down under the Bay, emerging about halfway across and about 10 minutes later onto an artificially constructed island called  Umi Hotaru (Firefly of the Sea).  Whether coming or going, whether in a private car or chartered bus, you stop and park here at the “island” to refresh yourself and admire the view.

How to describe this thoroughly functional structure which in every way belies its charming name?  The closest thing I can think of is the South Station bus terminal in Boston, with its curving, rising exit ramps and row after row of parking slots for the buses.
Our bus pulled into its slot, and we got off and made our way across the busy lot to an enormous structure resembling a multi-level parking garage.  Inside this, besides hordes of people including tons of children running around, were enormous public restrooms, the largest I have ever seen in Japan, the long rows of stalls replicating the rows of parking slots for the buses waiting outside.
After using the restrooms, we ascended by escalator five stories to the roof, passing on our way layers and layers of souvenir shops, game centers, Starbucks, and noodle restaurants.  Out on the roof we found the bay busy with ships all around us and the sky busy with air traffic overhead.
In one direction was Chiba, shrouded in haze from the smokestacks of the steel factories that line its Tokyo Bay shore.

In the other direction was the Tokyo from which we had just come, and beyond it Mt. Fuji’s white cone rising above the bank of smog.

On the return trip to Tokyo, we again stopped to rest at Firefly of the Sea, but this time the sun had just set behind Mt. Fuji, and the lights of Tokyo were twinkling like Christmas decorations on the far shore.

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