Sado Island's Tarai Bune – Sado, Japan - Atlas Obscura
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Sado, Japan

Sado Island's Tarai Bune

These unconventional "tub boats" let locals row around the island's turbulent coast. 

When you step off the ferry at Ogi Port, you may be surprised to see folks floating around in what appear to be wooden bathtubs. Although almost completely un-boatlike in appearance, the tarai bune (tub boats) are intimately associated with this remote Japanese island.

Origin stories about the unusual vessels abound. Some say that centuries ago, some enterprising person cut a miso barrel in half to use as a boat, giving rise to the local nickname of hangiri (half barrel). Others say that it was a happy discovery, when someone’s tub floated away and appeared to glide stably along the wild coast. And of course, there are also local legends about a maiden using a tub to make her way to the mainland to see her beloved, later perishing in a storm.

Whichever story you choose to believe, tarai bune first appeared during the early Meiji period (1868 to 1912). Their unusual shape made them more stable than regular boats in the rough waters around this former “island of exiles.”

While fishermen and women originally used them to collect turban shells, abalone, and seaweed, now the tradition is kept alive by elderly ladies who shuttle visitors around and giggle at their attempt to maneuver the tricky craft. 

Know Before You Go

If you want to spend a few hundred yen on a tub boat ride, the booking counter is right near Ogi Port.

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