Spice up your time in Tokyo with a day at the races… the boat races, that is. Ota Ward is home to one of Japan’s few boat racing stadiums, where groups of six boats at a time compete in a watery arena in a sport not unlike horse racing.
The races in Ota Ward take place in a saltwater canal track, with grandstand seating provided for fans. On race day, the action begins around 10:00 and wraps up in the late afternoon. A typical event covers twelve daytime races, though on occasion, evening events are held as well.
A full race is three laps of the circuit, a distance the speedboats cover in just one minute! Yet with a penalty incurred for boats who either false-start or fail to get over the front line after the first second, tensions – and excitement – run high in the minutes before the race begins. Part of the challenge for the boat racers themselves is that each rider is assigned a boat and an engine by lottery on the day of the race; riders can only supply their own spark plugs. This system necessitates a great deal of skill on the part of the rider, to successfully captain a boat he may never have used before.
As boat racing is one of the few sports in Japan that allows legal betting, the crowd can get quite passionate about the outcome. Even first-time fans are able to place bets, as the system is both affordable and fairly easy to understand without Japanese language skills.
Entry to the Heiwajima stadium is only ¥100, though if race enthusiasts fancy a finer view, they can spring for a shaded seat or even a private box. The stadium can be reached via a free shuttle bus on race days from JR Omori Station.