Hop on board the amphibious kappa (mythical Japanese duck-like creature) bus to explore both land and water without having to change vehicles! Being able to do both land and river at once is double the fun, and you can enjoy the local pastime of cruising on the water.
It makes total sense that the amphibious bus is named after the also amphibious kappa creature, but why is the tour named the Duck Tour? Apparently, it’s just another term given to the buses—ducks don’t seem to have any particular relationship to the tour itself. The buses depart from the first floor of Osaka’s Hotel New Hankyu, easily accessible from nearby JR Osaka Station. Prior to departure, each participating group takes a picture with a kappa mascot (this appears to be compulsory!). Two pictures can be purchased for ¥1,000 (US$9.30).
After you’ve taken your picture, be sure to get a look at the back of the bus. You can tell it was constructed to be an amphibious vehicle. It’s an interesting sight to behold. The propeller is so small that it’s a wonder how it even moves the boat. There’s a pipe running up high to release the exhaust, and the bus is decorated with dancing kappa.
The entrance to the bus is much higher up than normal buses. As you enter, you pass by the driver’s seat, which looks the same as one you’d see in a normal vehicle. However, if you look really close, you can see the kappa bus’ amphibious controls. The steering wheel in the middle is normal, but off to the right side is the steering wheel for driving in the water, along with a bunch of buttons. Aside from the driver’s area, the bus has no windows! It’s a really open space.
However, the real reason for the windowless design is to reduce weight, as it’s illegal for a small-sized tour boat to weigh over five tons. There was also talk of incorporating bamboo screens into the design, but it was abandoned due to the danger of things flying out of the bus. Once the bus starts moving, the wind blows right through. This feels nice and cool in the summer, but would probably necessitate warm clothing in the winter. And remember: there are no windows on a rainy day, and you’re not exactly able to use an umbrella in there, so don’t forget your poncho. Just in case, though, they’re selling them on the bus. They only cost ¥100 if you buy them off the street, but they’re ¥300 on the bus. Gotta make money somehow!
When the flashy kappa bus cuts through Osaka’s main street Midosuji, you can hear the tour guide inside talking to the guests in heavy Osaka dialect, which sounds really different from normal Japanese. Check that one off the list!
You’ll also notice people pointing cameras all over the place. You never know whose photo you’ll end up in, so be sure to take the tour with a smile!
As you head towards Osaka Castle on Midosuji Street, you’ll pass by lots of modern architecture. Once you pass the NHK building (shaped like a yacht’s sail), the castle will come into view. If you’re sitting on the right side of the bus, get your camera ready once you pass the government headquarters and the office for the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper.
Between the buildings, you’ll be able to see the beautiful Osaka castle! If you’re lucky, you may stop at a stoplight. If not, be sure to change your camera settings to prevent blurry pictures. You can get a great shot of the castle similar to the one above.
Before going into the river, the driver will change out with the boat’s captain. The driver has a license for both automobile and boat operation, but changes out with a captain in order to perform a safety check.
Driving into the river is undeniably awesome! It’s definitely the main highlight of the Duck Tour. Warning to riders at the front and sides: you WILL get wet! The bus drives into the river pretty forcefully as the captain yells (in Japanese-sounding English) “SPLASH INNNNNN!” over the mic. It only takes a second, but it feels like you’re on a fun ride at a theme park. The boat ride is much slower than the bus ride. You’ll be able to see Osaka Castle, the currency mint and some famous cherry blossom locations in what could be a relaxing boat ride were it not for the guide constantly talking and joking over the microphone. During cherry blossom season, the driver will make jokes like, “Oh look, the blossoms are beautiful, just like me! And they’re waving at me!” The guides are great at getting along with guests.
The boat will make a U-turn at the halfway point, Nakanoshima Park. If you’re lucky and the timing is right, you’ll be able to catch a view of it from underneath the fountain at the water’s edge.
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