Photo:そらみみ on Wikimedia Commons

Beat the Blues with a Japanese Cruise

Visitors to Japan seldom spend all of their time in one place. Whether its city-hopping with one of the many low-cost airlines, or effortlessly gliding from one urban hub to another on the luxurious shinkansen bullet train, most newcomers to Japan want to take in as much of the country as they can during their limited time here.

Photo: Ted McGrath on Flickr

However, like a great many things where holidays are concerned, in our haste and our relentless cramming of as many destinations as possible into our 2 week vacation, we can often miss the bigger picture. Taking time out to relax and really soak up the atmosphere of what it means to be in Japan is just as important as ticking off as many tourist hotspots as you can. To this end, an ever increasing number of visitors to Japan are now opting for cruise ships to make the most of their journey around Japan’s 4 main islands.

I’ll be honest, I am hardly what naval types would deem seaworthy. Indeed, prior to coming to Japan I had only ever graced a cruise ship once in my life. As a 5 year old I accompanied my parents on an ill-fated trip from our then home, the English seaside town of Torquay, to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands between France and England.

On the way there I was sick 3 times, my “sea legs” seemed to totally desert me. On the way back my father also felt sick, not because of the rough seas, but because upon entering a local pub on Guernsey he discovered he had missed out on the chance to share a pint with his acting hero, the notorious Oliver Reed, by a mere 5 minutes.

Overall, not a particularly successful trip. The memories of which quickly resurfaced again recently when a Japanese friend of mine suggested: “Why don’t we go on a cruise?”

Photo: Gino Mempin on Flickr

Luckily she wasn’t talking about anything too drastic. In this case, the cruise was just a reasonably short 3 hour affair. We would leave from Kobe, enjoy a buffet lunch aboard the ship and take in some sights, before returning to the Kobe Port from whence we came.

In all honesty, I was dreading it, but the poor girl had put so much effort into organizing this little event, as is often the case when Japanese people extend you their hospitality, I really couldn’t bring myself to let her down. Reluctantly I headed for Kobe.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised. This turned out to be a memorable experience for all the right reasons. The ship was elegant, the seas were steady and the food was excellent. All of my “Deadliest Catch” inspired nightmares had finally faded away. I could get used to this whole cruising thing.

Photo: Paul Freeborn on Flickr

With that in mind I decided it was time to “level up”. My next trip would be an overnight cruise from Osaka down to Kyushu.

If you’re looking for Titanic style glitz and glamour then this probably isn’t the right place for you. However the ferries that shepherd you from Osaka down to Kyushu are comfortable, relaxing and surprisingly spacious. As someone who has never been on a fully-fledged cruise ship I found the accommodations perfectly fine. In truth they were actually quite a bit better than I expected. I opted for a standard single occupancy room, costing just under 17,000 yen one way. This may sound expensive, but bear in mind that the facilities are easily comparable to a good three or four star hotel. As well as a television, you can enjoy your own yukata robe and various toiletries. If you decide to make it a round trip, you can get a 20% discount on your return fare. In my case I opted to take a cruise there and get a shinkansen back.

For your cruise there are 3 different optional routes you can take. You can go from Osaka Port (Cosmosquare) to either Beppu, Oita Prefecture, on Kyushu’s northeastern coast, or if you want to take it a bit further, you can head south further to Kagoshima.

If you prefer to depart from Kobe, there is also the option of a ferry from Kobe Port to Oita, just south of Beppu.

Photo by 663highland on Wikimedia Commons.

The trip to Kagoshima does come in a little bit more expensive than Beppu at 19,800 but considering the trip is about 3 hours longer this seems reasonable.

The cheapest option of the lot is Kobe to Oita, with a standard single room coming in at 15,700. If you are traveling on a budget and don’t mind sharing a room with 4 other travelers then the price for a bunk can drop as low as 10,000 yen. However, I personally prefer a bit of privacy and comfort when I’m on a trip.

The beauty of the overnight ferry is that you arrive very early the next day at your destination, ready to make the most out of your trip.

From Sunday to Thursday, the ferry to Beppu from Osaka departs at five past seven in the evening, getting you into Beppu just before 7am the next morning. On Friday and Saturday, the ship departs at 7.55pm, getting you into Beppu Port a little later at 7.45am the next morning.

For Osaka to Kagoshima, you’re looking at a similar timeline, albeit with a slightly longer trip. From Monday to Friday, departing Osaka at 5.55pm will see you arrive in Kagoshima’s Shibushi Port at 8.55am the next morning. The Saturday Ferry departs at the same time, 5.55, but with a slightly later arrival time of 9.45am on Sunday morning.

Photo: digicacy on Flickr

Sunday’s ferry departs a little earlier, at 5pm. But will get you into Kagoshima at the same time as the Monday to Friday ferry, 8.55am.

Finally, the Kobe to Oita service leaves at 7pm from Sunday to Thursday, arriving at 6.20am the next day. On Friday and Saturday it leaves at 7.50pm with a 7.20 arrival the next morning in Oita.

I certainly enjoyed my cruise, here’s hoping I can go again soon.

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