When thinking about travelling in Japan, most people immediately think of the Shinkansen or bullet train, that can get you most of the popular tourist destinations in Japan within a heartbeat. But have you ever imagined what it would be like to travel around Japan by ferry? Although ferry cruises are hardly chosen as the preferred means of transport among international tourists who visit Japan, there is a great number of ferry services across the country. Japan has over 6000 islands and some can only be reached by boat! Some of them allow you to reach hidden gems or lesser-known spots which are accessible only by ferry! You can also go on a luxury cruise which offers unforgettable experiences with high-quality services and comfortable cabins. On most of the major ferries you have the choice between three classes and can take your car on on board. Here you can find a helpful list of Japan’s best ferry services and their destinations!
1. Takamatsu – Naoshima ferry
If you are interested in contemporary art and tropical islands, head to Naoshima the famous art island located in the Seto Inland Sea! Regular ferry service known as Takamatsu – Naoshima Ferry is available from Takamatsu, the prefectural capital of Kagawa. It directly takes you to the scenic island full of impressive artworks and modern art museums in less than 50 min. Not only passengers, but vehicles including cars and bikes are also allowed, so you can explore the peaceful island on your own pace. They operate daily about 5 x from Takamatsu Port. Naoshima is one of the many beautiful scenic islands located in the Seto Inland Sea, many more are easily accessible from Takamatsu Port like Shodo Island and Teshima. From Takamatsu you can also board a ferry and discover the Shikoku Region.
2. Hiroshima – Miyajima ferry
Hiroshima is often featured in guide books as one of Japan’s most popular travel destinations among international tourists. It is home to a number of must-visit tourist attractions related to World War II, including Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome, and some breathtaking nature spots like Miyajima. JR West Miyajima Ferry conveniently takes you to Miyajima, a scenic island listed as one of the in total 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Japan. This small island is widely renowned for Itsukushima Shrine and the huge red torii gate that appear to be standing on the water during high tide. Try local specialties such as fresh oyster and Momiji Manju (maple-shape Japanese bun filled with sweet bean paste), or take cute pictures with wild deer roaming around the island freely. Also good to know; because the ferry is operated by JR West, this ferry ride is included in the Japan Rail Pass!
From Hiroshima you can easily do a day trip to Miyajima, but spending a night at one of the several ryokan located on the island is a fun experience. After the last ferry has departed, the island is much more quieter and it is the perfect way to explore more of the islands without the crowds. Next morning you can also decide to hike up Mount Misen, the highest peak of the island, and enjoy the view before the day trippers return to the island. Miyajima is super popular to visit in autumn when the leaves change colors.
3. Yakushima island
Yakushima is a beautiful remote island approximately 60 km southwest of Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu region. The nature lover’s paradise is home to countless numbers of scenic spots in nature, unique wildlife, and incredible hiking and trekking trails. Yakushima is also known as the movie location of the famous Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke. Tourist attractions include refreshing parks and gardens as well as beautiful sandy beaches and open-air onsen. Tackling challenging but epic hiking trails is a great way to explore hidden spots in nature such as Jomon Sugi, the symbolic Japanese cedar tree which is estimated to be 2,000 – 7,000 years old! For the experienced hikers it is also possible to do an overnight hiking tour.
While there are domestic flights to get to the remote island conveniently and easily, the easiest way is to go by ferry. There are different types of ferry services that depart from Kagoshima; a high speed ferry that will bring you to the island in 75 minutes or the car ferry that will take about 3-4 hrs.
▶ Kagoshima 1–Day Highlight Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
4. Tokyo Bay Ferry
If you are looking for a fun day trip from Tokyo and short cruise experience around Tokyo, Tokyo Bay Ferry is a perfect option for you! The ferry operates the approximately 11.5km cruise route between Kurihama in Kanagawa prefecture and Kanaya in Chiba prefecture across the Tokyo Bay in 40 minutes. The southern part of Chiba offers some great activities like hiking Mount Nokogiriyama, several beaches that are good for swimming and watersports like kite-surfing and the Kameiwa Cave. When you time it right, you can see the sunset behind Mount Fuji at the one side and the Tokyo skyline on the other side!
Each ferry connecting Tokyo to Chiba has a capacity of 680 passengers at the maximum, and vehicles such as cars and sightseeing buses are also admitted. Make sure to get seats by the windows or on the deck which offer a great view of the Tokyo bay where you occasionally encounter other giant ships and vessels passing by.
▶ Climb Mt. Nokogiriyama with a local guide
5. Sunflower (さんふらわあ) [Oarai – Tomakomai]
If you want to go on a long, memorable cruise in Japan, board the Sunflower for an exceptional cruise journey between Oarai city in Ibaraki and Tomakomai City in Hokkaido! Your journey starts from Oarai, a peaceful seaside city in Ibaraki prefecture, about 120 min away from Tokyo by train. Before getting on the cruise ship, it is worth it to spend a couple of hours exploring Oarai’s famous tourist attractions such as beautiful beaches and historic spots.
There are two types of ferries, the evening ferry and night ferry from which you can choose depending on the departing time and your itinerary. The evening ferry features a wide range of convenient facilities, including a restaurant, bath facility, dog run and play area for kids. The night ferry is more casual and suitable for those who prefer an overnight voyage. Once you arrive in Tomakomai, it is about a 1.5-hour train ride to Sapporo, prefectural capital of Hokkaido, which is home to a range of tourist attractions and fresh seafood and the host city of the popular Sapporo Snow Festival!
▶ Hokkaido 1–Day Highlight Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
6. Taiheiyo Ferry (太平洋フェリー)
If you are looking to spend some time on the water, the Taiheiyo Ferry is a great option. This regular ferry line makes a stop at three major cities, Nagoya in Aichi, Sendai in Miyagi, and Tomakomai in Hokkaido in Japan, an route that covers approximately 1,330 km in 40 hrs. Passengers can enjoy a luxury ocean cruise while exploring famous tourist attractions of each site during stopover. In Nagoya, visit famous historic sites such as Nagoya castle and Atsuta Jingu Shrine, or enjoy shopping at Takashimaya before heading to Sendai. Sendai is also known as a city of trees, with plants and trees seen everywhere in the city. If you have a little extra time; Matsushima Bay, one of Japan’s most scenic spots, is a must-visit. Tomakomai is a great gateway to other popular tourist destinations such as Sapporo and Hakodate in Hokkaido!
▶ Sendai & Matsushima 1–Day Highlight Private Walking Tour (7 Hours)
7. Tokai Kisen (東海汽船)
From Tokyo or Atami, taking the Tokai Kisen ferry service allows you to get to Izu Islands, a cluster of a number of volcanic remote islands in the Pacific Ocean administered by Tokyo. They are widely renowned for beautiful sandy beaches, unique wildlife that can be found only there, diverse marine ecosystem, great hiking trails, and incredible surfing, snorkeling and diving spots. Enjoy a refreshing trek at Mt. Mihara in Oshima, or soak in the crystal-clear water at Tomari Beach in Shikinejima. Visit Mikurajima which boasts natural habitats of wild dolphins where you can enjoy swimming with them!
Japan consists of 6,852 islands, of which some 430 are inhabited, so you can imagine the options of travelling by ferry are endless. Compared to other public transport such as domestic flights and bullet trains, taking a ferry is generally (much) cheaper and easier to book even during peak season. It also allows you to reach your destination without getting bothered by crowds. There are some major ferry routes connecting all the main islands of Japan. It can be a super relaxing experience to travel (long distance) by boat and discover the coastline of Japan from a different perspective! There are all kinds of different boats and routes, some make for a nice day trip whereas others require a few days. Here we have listed just a few of the options you have, of course there are many more like the ferries in Okinawa, Sado Island or ferry services connecting Honshu with Kyushu.
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Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. Also love to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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