Ferry arriving on Rishiri Island

Consisting of several thousand islands, Japan is naturally home to an extensive network of ferry routes. Japan's four main islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku) are connected with each other by bridges and tunnels, but many smaller islands can only be reached by ship. But even between the main islands, ferries can be an interesting, if not particularly fast alternative to trains, buses and planes.

Most ferries transport people, vehicles and cargo. While shorter routes are served by small ships, able to carry a couple of cars and a few dozens of passengers, large liners are employed on longer routes. Large ferries can carry hundreds of vehicles and passengers and are usually equipped with a range of amenities such as public baths and a restaurant. Some come close to being luxury liners.

Lounge and restaurant on board of a larger ferry

On most long-distance ferries, passengers have the choice between three classes, 2nd class, 1st class and special class:

  • 2nd class without bed
    the cheapest option
    Common space with a carpet or tatami mats to rest on.
  • 2nd class with bed
    typically 20%-40% more expensive than 2nd class w/o bed
    Dormitory with about 4-12 beds.
  • 1st class
    typically twice the cost of 2nd class w/o bed
    Room with about 2-4 beds.
  • Special class
    typically 2.5 to three times the cost of 2nd class w/o bed
    Room with about 2 beds.
2nd class dormitory on board of an overnight ferry

The cost for taking a car onto a ferry usually depends on the length of the car and includes the fare for the driver but not for additional passengers. Advance reservations are possible and recommended on some routes, but are not needed on routes with relatively frequent departures.

Bicycles can also be taken onto most ferries. As a rule of thumb, the cost for bringing a bicycle is about 100 yen for each hour of travel. So, on a 9 hour trip, for example, a bicycle will cost around 900 yen.

Cars being loaded onto a ferry

Ferry tickets can be purchased through the ferry companies directly (by phone, online or at the ferry terminal) or through travel agencies. The availability of English speaking staff cannot be counted on. In addition, some ferry routes can be booked through aferry.com, an English online reservation site.

Below are maps showing major domestic ferry routes. Click here or on a route name below for more details about ferry routes and access information to major ports:

Long Distance Routes

Aomori and Hokkaido

Seto Inland Sea (Seto Naikai)

Okinawa and Kagoshima

Page last updated: November 6, 2016