While Japan is a whole country, it’s actually a conglomeration of many different islands that span from the coast of Korea out into the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, they have developed an entire intricate network of ferries for people to travel between the islands.
For foreigners and tourists, using this vast ferry system is a great way to take in much of Japan’s beauty in as little time as possible. The best way to do this is by signing on to the Japan Ferry Pass 21.
The Japan Ferry Pass 21, or JFP 21, is a new offering by the Japan Long Course Ferry Service Association (JLCFSA). Instituted in 2017, it allows people to take up to six ferry trips over the course of 21 days.
For this three-week journey, it costs ¥21,000 ($175). While this may seem pricey, it’s less than the price for a week-long railway pass, which costs ¥59,350 ($493).
The price is the same per passenger over the age of six. Children under six years old can ride for free.
Foreign Travelers Only
What makes it special is that only foreign travelers and tourists can get this, it’s not permissible to Japanese citizens or permanent residents.
Ship Amenities And Facilities
Each ship has different facilities and amenities. Longer routes have restaurants, bars, and onboard cafés. Some of these will have hot springs (onsen) and coin-operated laundry facilities.
There are certain ferries that offer a daiyokujo, or great bath, or rotemburo, an outdoor bath, that also accompany a sauna.
Smaller routes have a snack bar or convenience shop. Both small and large routes always have vending machines.
Sometimes they offer small movie theaters, a gym, music performances, and/or dances. However, ferry lounges and deck areas allow you to relax, read or enjoy the scenery.
There are also several room types, which you can upgrade upon arriving to board the ferry. For overnight stays, there are second-class berths and fully private rooms with beds or futons.
There are other options as well, such as suites and bathrooms specifically for handicapped travelers. Newer long-distance ferries offer the standard second-class berth or royal suites. This latter room type does have an upgrade fee.
But it’s important to note that not all ferries have different room types available. Older models will only have a shared area with a tatami mat for you to sleep on.
But, more luxurious and upscale ferries will give you the option of which style of room you’d like such as Japanese, Western, or a mix of both. They call these toku yoshitsu.
The following is a brief sample of some of the types of rooms you can get:
- Second-class (B Shindai or Tourist A): This is the standard with a JFP 21 pass. There’s a reading light and a curtain for privacy.
- First-class Western-style (itto yoshitsu): This is a standard private room with its own toilet and shower.
- First-class Japanese-style (itto washitsu): Comes with futons and tatami mats along with showers and toilets.
Booking a Ferry Pass
It’s easy to book a JFP 21 online. You start by selecting the desired route(s). There are several, so it’s a good idea to examine them individually. However, the following is an overview of the 15 routes available.
|Route Name||Summary||Distance||Total Time||Company ; Ship|
|Niigata-Otaru||Covers the immense distance of the ocean gateway from Niigata on Honshu to Otaru in Hokkaido||692 kilometers|
|18 hours||Shin Nihonkai Ferry 652 feet (199 meters) long Lavender Azalea|
|Maizuru-Otaru||Service between Kyoto Maizuru port-known as the town of redbrick and Otaru on Hokkaido||1,061 kilometers (659⅓ miles)||20 hours||Shin Nihonkai Ferry 734 feet (224 meters) long capable of 30.5 knots per hour Hamanasu Akasia|
|Tsuruga-Niigata-Akita-Tomakomai||Several routes from Tsuruga to Niigata to Akita to East Tomakomai. This links the main harbor cities along the west coast of the Japan Sea.||1,074 kilometers (667¼ miles)||31 hours Tsuruga-Niigata 12 hours Niigata-Akita 6 hours Akita-Tomakomai 10 hours||Shin Nihonkai Ferry Lilac Yuukari|
|Oarai-Tomakomai||Route from Orai to Tomakomai with two services each day: one late afternoon and another at midnight. This links to Hokkaido and the Tokyo metro area.||754 kilometers (468½ miles)||19 hours (Sapporo/Furano) 18 hours (Daisetsu/ Shiretoko)||MOL Ferry Sunflower Sapporo Sunflower Furano Sunflower Daisetsu Sunflower Shiretoko|
|Tsuruga-Tomakomai||From Tsuruga to east Tomakomai||948 kilometers (589 miles)||20 hours||Shin Nihonkai Ferry 734 feet (224 meters) Suzuran Suisen|
|Hokkaido (Tomakomai) – Sendai-Nagoya||Route from Nagoya to Sendai to Tomakomai on Hokkaido||Hokkaido (Tomakomai)-Stopover at Sendai-Nagoya 1,330 kilometers (826¼ miles) Hokkaido (Tomakomai)-Sendai 560 kilometers|
(348 miles) Sendai-Nagoya 770 kilometers (478½ miles)
|Hokkaido (Tomakomai)-Stopover at Sendai- Nagoya 40 hrs Hokkaido (Tomakomai) – Sendai 15 hrs 20 min Sendai-Nagoya 21 hrs 40 min||Taiheiyo Ferry Ishikari Kiso Kitakami|
|Tokyo-Tokushima-Kitakyushu||Service between Tokyo on Honshu, Tokushima on Shikoku, and Kitakyushu on Kyushu islands||1,151 kilometers (715 miles)||34 hours||Ocean Trans Ferry Bizan Ferry Shimanto Ferry Dougo Ferry Ritsurin|
|Yokosuka-Shinmoji||Travel between Kanto and Kyushu islands||976 kilometers (606½ miles)||21 hours||Tokyo Kyusyu Ferry 28.3 knots traveling at 52.4 km/h (32½ mph) Hamayu Soleil|
|Osaka-Shinmoji||Daily service available with a breathtaking view of the Japan Sea and Akashi Kaikyo Bridges||455 kilometers|
|Kyoto II/Fukuoka II – 12 hours 30 minutes Osaka II/Kitakyushu II – 12 hours 40 minutes||Mejmon Taiyo Ferry Ferry Kyoto II Ferry Fukuoka II Ferry Osaka II Ferry Kitakyushu II|
|Shinmoji-Izumiotsu||High tech ferries that travel between Izumiotsu and Shinmoji||458 kilometers (284½ miles)||12 hours 30 minutes||Hankyu Ferry Izumi Hibiki|
|Shinmoji-Kobe||Convenient travel to and from the ports of Kobe and Shinmoji||454 kilometers|
|12 hours 30 minutes||Hankyu Ferry Yamato Settsu|
|Osaka-Beppu||Starting at Osaka of the Kansai district to Beppu||418 kilometers|
|12 hours||Ferry Sunflower Sunflower Ivory Sunflower Cobalt|
|Oita-Kobe||Travel from Kobe to Oita||411 kilometers (255¼ miles)||12 hours||Ferry Sunflower Sunflower Gold Sunflower Pearl|
|Osaka-Shibushi||Route connecting Kagoshima Prefecture with Osaka||583 kilometers (362⅓ miles)||14 hours 40 minutes||Ferry Sunflower Sunflower Satsuma Sunflower Krishima|
|Kobe-Miyazaki||Several routes; express ferry between Kobe on Honshu and Miyazaki on Kyushu||495 Kilometers to Kobe (307½ miles) 494 kilometers to Miyazaki|
|12 hours 20 minutes (to Kobe) 13 hours 30 minutes (to Miyazaki) 14 hours 40 minutes (Sundays to Miyazaki)||Miyazaki Car Ferry Miyazaki Express Kobe Express|
Once you’ve finished selecting your routes, you then select the days and times you want to travel. The JLCFSA will send you a confirmation email. Afterward, you’ll get a confirmation email from the actual ferry company.
Day of Arrival
On the day you plan to board the ferry, you must present your passport, reservation number and pay the fee in cash. Then, they’ll hand you a ferry pass for your entire trip.
When you board additional ferries, you must also present your pass along with your passport.
Only when you check-in can you upgrade your accommodations. You can get a private cabin or other spaces with sleeping arrangements.