Osaka is sometimes called the “water capital” because of its many rivers and canals, and the city has a long history of using these waterways for both public transportation and commerce. More recently these waterways are being used for sightseeing too, with cruise boats running leisurely tours through central Osaka. The Osaka Suijo Bus company (which is owned by Keihan Railway) operates a variety of “water bus” tours, but the most popular of these is the Aqua-Liner cruise. This service runs regular round-trip cruises on the Okawa River on a pleasant route that takes in the greenery of Osaka Castle Park, Nakanoshima island, Sakuranomiya Park, and some of Osaka’s most iconic buildings and bridges.
The Aqua-Liner is a specially designed cruise boat with a glass roof that gives unimpeded views of Osaka’s cityscape, and its roof can also be lowered by 30cms when passing under the lowest bridges on the tour route. There is an audio guide for the cruise that is available in four languages: Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean. The audio guide explains the city’s history and points out the various landmarks on the way, such as Osaka Castle, the red brick building of Osaka Mint Bureau which dates from 1911, and the Neo-Renaissance building of Osaka Central Public Hall which dates from 1918. During the spring the river banks are lined with cherry blossom and so in this season the Aqua-Liner is more popular and tickets are a little more expensive.
Drinks and snacks can be bought on board the Aqua-Liner, and there are restrooms on board too.
The normal price for the full 55 minute round-trip is 1,700 yen for adults and 850 yen for children (elementary school age). Between March 28th and April 15th there is a higher spring fare of 2,000 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for children.
If you don’t want to do the full cruise there are cheaper 20 minute and 40 minute section cruises between different piers.
The Aqua-Liner can be boarded at four different locations: Osakajo Pier, Yodoya-bashi Pier, Hachiken-yahama Pier, and the OAP Pier.
1. Osakajo Pier
There are 7 cruises departing from Osakajo Pier every hour between 10.00 and 16.00. Osakajo Pier is a 3 minute walk from Osakajokoen Station on the JR Osaka Loop Line, and 7 minutes from Osaka Business Park Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Subway Line. Here is a map of its location.
2. Yodoyabashi Pier
There are 6 cruises departing from Yodoyabashi Pier every hour between 10.20 and 15.20. Yodoyabashi Pier is a 2 minute walk from Yodoyabashi Station on the Keihan Main Line and the Midosuji Subway Line. Here is a map of its location.
3. Hachiken-yahama Pier
There are 6 cruises departing from Hachiken-yahama Pier every hour between 10.30 and 15.30. Hachiken-yahama Pier is 4 minutes from Temmabashi Station on the Keihan Main Line and the Tanimachi Subway Line. Here is a map of its location.
4. OAP Pier
Services from this pier are normally limited to weekends and holidays. However, in January there are usually no services from this pier, and between April 1st and 15th, services run from this pier every day. When cruises do run from this pier they depart every hour between 10.40 and 15.40. OAP Pier is a 9 minute walk from Sakuranomiya Station on the JR Osaka Loop Line. Here is a map of its location.
There are usually between 6 to 7 cruises per day and they depart every hour. However, there are no services from the OAP Pier between January 4th and February 1st, and there are some dates in January and February when the cruises are not running at all. If you plan to take the tour in these months it is a good idea to check the official schedule in advance. As this schedule is only available in Japanese, you can ask your hotel concierge, a Japanese travel agent, or a Japanese friend to check it for you. There are also no afternoon cruises on July 25th because of the boat parade of Tenjin Matsuri Festival. Cruises may also be cancelled if the weather conditions are bad.
Other Cruises in Osaka
In addition to the Aqua-Liner, the Osaka Suijo Bus company have other cruise services with different boats.
The Aqua Mini is a smaller boat than the Aqua-Liner which runs a regular 50 minute Osaka Castle and Dotombori cruise on the Okawa River. This service can be boarded at Osakajo Pier, Minatomachi Pier, or Tazaemonbashi Pier, and costs 1,200 yen for adults, and 600 yen for children.
The Himawari is a restaurant boat that runs on the Okawa River from Hachiken-yahama Pier and OAP Pier. This boat is currently only available for private charter cruises or special event cruises such as the Sakura Special Cruise in the spring, the summer Tanabata cruise, and the winter Xmas Dinner cruise. For charter cruises 50 minute, 100 minute and 120 minute cruise options and a variety of lunch and dinner menus are available. All event and charter cruises must be booked in advance. Further information (in Japanese) can be found on the Osaka Suijo Bus website.
The Santa Maria is a reconstruction of the ship Columbus used to sail to the Americas in 1492 (though the Osaka version is twice the original’s size). This ship runs daytime and twilight cruises around Osaka Harbor and can be boarded at Kaiyukan Aquarium West Wharf. Daytime cruises take 45 minutes and cost 1,600 yen for adults and 800 yen for children. Twilight cruises take 60 minutes and cost 2,100 yen for adults and 1,050 yen for children. It is also possible to buy a package ticket for 3,200 yen that includes a visit to the Kaiyukan Aquarium with a Santa Maria cruise. For details of the package ticket visit the Kaiyukan website.
At certain times of the year passengers with an Osaka Amazing Pass can take the Aqua-Liner cruise for free. Check the Osaka Amazing Pass website for current details.
Keihan Railway also have a range of Kyoto & Osaka Sightseeing Passes which come with discount coupons for a variety of sightseeing facilities in both cities. These include discounts on the Aqua-Liner cruise. For details check the Keihan Railway website.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.