Monday, June 16, 2008 Japan Japan

A ferry big adventure

With Sakurajima volcano behind. [IMG_4302]
Marix Line ferry to Okinawa [Enlarge]

Choosing our next country after Japan was simple. We don't want to fly if possible, and Japan being an island nation, that meant finding a boat off. There are ferries from Japan to four other countries: China, Korea, Russia, and Taiwan. We've kind of done China and Korea, and we don't want to head north, so that meant Taiwan was the only choice.

The international ferry to Taiwan leaves from Naha, capital of the Okinawa prefecture, and takes nearly a day to reach Taiwan. But just getting from the Japanese mainland to Naha without flying is in itself a big undertaking. It is over six hundred kilometres away, and involves a twenty-five and a half hour ferry ride with A-Line or Marix Line from Kagoshima. Although it's a long journey, the ferry has many pros:

  • It's an adventure
  • It's cheaper than flying and you save a night's accommodation costs
  • It's more comfortable than flying, and you can go outside
  • You don't have all the ridiculous "You can't take your toothpaste on board" security shenanigans
  • And on this particular route you can get off and back on again at no extra cost!

Yup, buy a one way ticket from Kagoshima to Naha and you can get off and back on at your choice of four interim Pacific island destinations: Amami Oshima, Tokunoshima, Okinoerabu-jima and Yoron-to, so long as you reach Naha within seven days of the start of your voyage. Both ferry companies honour the other's tickets, so in effect you have a sailing every day to choose from. The tickets cost us 14,800 yen (GBP 69.60 / USD 137.27) per person. We pre-reserved them by visiting the port two days before we wanted to travel, but it seems like you can easily just turn up a couple of hours before the 18:00 sailing, pay your money and go aboard. This may not be the case in peak season though.

Last time we took an overnight ferry was last year, from China to Korea. That time we treated ourselves to a private cabin because the difference in price wasn't huge. But on this ferry, private cabins are around three times the price of the basic accommodation. Also, the hop-on, hop-off facility is limited to basic class ticketholders. Anyway, we thought "How bad can it be sleeping in a room the size of a school gym, on a thin futon, two inches away from your snoring neighbour, with over two hundred other passengers?"

The answer is, not bad at all! The room had a very chilled out atmosphere. The older passengers lay down on their mats and immediately went to sleep, not stirring again until just before their destination. (How do they manage to do that?) Most people sat in their little groups chatting, drinking beer or quietly watching the TV.

Sleeping conditions aboard the Marix Line's Queen Coral. The passengers for Amami Oshima had just left. [IMG_4343]
I guess room service is out of the question? [Enlarge]

By 21:30, when the main lights were turned off, most people had already settled down for the night. The card games packed up at 22:45. By 23:00 all was silent. The bed was more comfortable than we'd expected. We discovered early on in our round the world trip that long journeys are much more comfortable when you're horizontal. The boat came back to life at 05:00 with a broadcast on the speakers announcing that we were about to dock in our first port, Amami Oshima. We were giving that island a miss so we dozed on, having quickly been outside for a look at what was going on.

We had decided to break our journey in the small island of Tokunoshima. We had no particular reason for picking Tokunoshima, other than it sounded like a good place, and a break from the big cities we've spent most of the last year in. As we arrived more or less on time at 09:40, we waited at the off ramp and watched the docking procedure. The boat sailed slowly into a sheltered manmade cove in the island's main town of Kametsu, then reversed carefully back into place on the dockside. Lines were thrown from the ferry and the ship winched itself in. We had arrived on a Pacific island paradise about two-thirds of the way to Okinawa, and we didn't quite know where we were going when we got off the ferry, or how long we would be here.

Map of Day 569

Day 569
Kagoshima to Kametsu (Tokunoshima)

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.


Anonymous said...

I am very much interested to have an adventurous journey. I am not so familiar with the locations. Anyway i will go for a trip.

ferry to france

martin_gk said...

Hi, I really enjoyed reading about your journey as I am planning to travel to Okinawa myself and am trying to find the best way. Really too bad the boat to Taiwan has ceased operating. I would have loved to take that.

I took a ferry/container ship once from Tokyo to Hachijojima. That trip was pretty much the same as yours to Kametsu.

I like your approach towards traveling as much as possible over land/water. After spending one year in Japan in 1999/2000 I wanted to travel back to Europe over land. I ended up flying to Singapore and making my way to Beijing via Sumatra (did you get to go to Lake Toba?) and Malaysia, Thailand, took the boat in Chiang Kong to LP (loved it and stayed much longer then I thought), then north towards Vietnam, got denied to pass the border there, went south to get to Vientian, then Hanoi, further north to China, crossed the border on foot and took a 180km taxi ride to Naning, spend some time in Honk Kong and had to admit that I really would not get a visa for Russia unless I bought a ticket trough the super expensive travel agencies and so gave up the idea of taking the Trans Siberian but instead spend the last three weeks of that 3 ½ months trip in China and flew back to Berlin with a nice stop-over in Moscow.

One thing though, maybe you should have taught English in Japan… Earning money there and spending it in Korea makes a lot more sense than the other way around.

Anyways… you have time, you can go back. I am curious to read more about your travels. The blog has a wonderful setup and I enjoyed it very much.

If you ever come to eastern Berlin, you are welcome at my place and get a free tour in exchange for more stories.

All the best

PS: Have you considered hitching on a container ship? I read about this and there is specialized travel agencies to book but I can imagine the easiest thing would be to show up at the port and ask around. They usually have free cabins and prices should be negotiable. Taiwan and Singapore should be good places to get a ride. Also Brisbane and Auckland. I once saw a map with the usual routs they take. They are quite quick too…

Glenn Livett said...

Hi Martin,
Thanks for your comment. Yeah we considered teaching in Japan but we were more interested in living in the less well understood Korea. Now though with the massive fall of the Won since we left it makes much less economic sense.
As for hitching on a container ship, we looked into it but it has become extremely expensive in the last few years - the shipping companies have realised that more people want to do this than they have accommodation for, so they are charging a lot. Maybe there are still opportunities to do it cheaply but we couldn't find any.
Happy travels!