For savvy travelers, the Japan Rail Pass has long been the holy grail of getting around Japan. But what if we told you that you could shift your journey from rail to sea? The Japan Long Course Ferry Service Association sells the Japan Ferry Pass 21, and the conditions, routes and cost are actually so good that it makes travel by ferry a feasible option.
The Japan Ferry Pass 21 is only available to short-term visitors. Read on to figure out how to plan your journey, and where the ferry pass can take you.
Ports and routes
The Japan Ferry Pass 21 (or JFP 21) covers 14 long course (meaning each route is 300km or more in length) ferry routes. Ports of call are located across the Japanese archipelago, from Kyushu all the way up to Hokkaido.
Some of the most popular ferry routes include:
· Tomakomai, Hokkaido to Akita (10 hours)
· Sendai to Nagoya (21 hours, 40 minutes)
· Tokyo to Tokushima on Shikoku, with the possibility to continue on to Kitakyushu (19 hours 20 minutes or 34 hours for the whole trip)
· Osaka to Beppu (12 hours)
· Kobe to Oita (12 hours)
· Miyazaki to Kobe (12 hours 20 minutes going north or 13 hours 30 minutes going south)
While many routes operate daily, e.g. the Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe routes, or even twice a day (Miyazaki to Kobe), some only operate every other day or once a week, so check the departure days carefully when planning your Japan Ferry Pass 21 adventure.
Cost and conditions of the Japan Ferry Pass 21
The Japan Ferry Pass 21 is valid for 21 days and costs ¥21,000, which is about a third of the cost of a 21-day JR Rail Pass. During this period, you can use the ferry pass up to six times. Bonus for families: children under 6 can travel for free.
As many of the ferry routes are overnight, you don’t have to book accommodation for those nights, which might save you a bit of money while traveling. The ferry pass is valid for second-class cabins, which offer comfortable and clean, if simple, lodging in shared rooms, often with curtains for privacy. The rooms might even have a porthole to the sea. Bathrooms are shared. If you prefer private accommodation, you can upgrade to a first-class cabin by paying in the difference between the first and second-class ticket for each route.
How to buy the Japan Ferry Pass 21
To book a ferry pass, you must show that you are not a Japanese national, and that you are a non-resident. Short-term travelers, and those on working holiday or short-term student visas are eligible. You can apply for the pass through the reservation page of the Japan Long Course Ferry Service Association.
On the website, everything is in English. Simply select the port of departure for your first trip and the route, then enter your personal details to complete the application for the Japan ferry pass and the reservation for your first route.
There is an option to bring cars, bicycles and motorbikes on the ferries, but there will be an additional charge. Note that the pass cannot be used during the peak seasons of Golden Week (end of April/beginning of May), the Obon period (in August) and the New Year’s period (New Year’s Eve until a few days into January).
Comfort on board Japanese ferries
The ferries that you can use with the JFP 21 are like mid-range cruise liners when it comes to facilities and comfort. Everything is generally modern, clean and comfortable. The common spaces might include an observation deck, game zone, kids’ zone and relaxation areas, plus shops and cafés. Onboard restaurants are usually proper sit-down places with ocean views, rather than just a shop that dishes out cup ramen.
Many ships seem to have a sento (public bath) that is free to use and some might even offer a rotemburo (outdoor bath) or sauna. Most ferries, we hear, even offer free nightly entertainment like shows, movie screenings and concerts in the lounge to make your mini cruise experience complete. Get an overview of the on-board facilities.
Is the Japan Ferry Pass 21 right for me?
The JFP 21 is worth it if you want to make two or more journeys that take you from Honshu to at least one of the other islands of Japan. It is best suited for travelers that have enough time to take the slower route, and and are interested in a unique experience in which the journey is as important as the destination. The added bonus of saving on overnight accommodation is a massive plus and can seriously reduce the overhead of your Japan trip.
If you only plan to take a single ferry journey, booking it individually might be cheaper.
In short: The Japan Ferry Pass 21 costs ¥21,000 for 21-day access to 14 long-course ferry routes across Japan. It allows you to combine accommodation and travel in one. Best for travelers (with sea legs) who are not in a rush, and who want to make multiple ferry journeys. Bon voyage!
While we do our best to ensure that it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in March, 2019. Last updated in July, 2020.