Dec 1, 2017
Tourist Ferries in Japan
When I first came to Japan, I had never taken a ferry anywhere and thought ferries only came in the style of the commuter ferries I had heard of on some TV shows-- just another way to pass over a body of water and get to work. As I have discovered, many parts of Japan offer interesting, fun, and scenic ferry trips depending on your location.
The pretty Swan Ferry in Fukushima
If you're interested in taking a ferry, first research the name of the place you intend to go and then the location of the ferry port. In Shiogama, tickets to Matsushima are sold at a desk operated by fellow humans with ferries leaving every hour between 9AM and 3PM, but tickets out to the Urato Islands (a longer, wilder trip to be sure) require the use of a vending machine and the ferry for those only leaves a few times a day. Research is your friend. If you know the name of the place and the kanji, you can always ask for help and have a good chance of figuring it all out before you buy your ticket.
The desk for tickets to the Swan Ferry.
The Matsushima-Shiogama ferry is a favorite weekend activity for my daughter and this summer, we even took the longer and more turbulent ferry from Ishinomaki to Tashirojima Cat Island. On a recent family trip south to Fukushima, my husband arranged for us to take the swan-shaped bi-level ferry and we both expected our kid to be excited.
Always read the signs. If it only says toilet and a negative verb, pee before you go.
Perhaps this was too much the case as she forewent the recommended bathroom trip in order to hop on the ferry leaving shortly after our arrival. There were signs indicating that there were no facilities on the boat and unfortunately, we were so happy to bring the little one to something she seemed to want to do that we went with it and hopped on the boat, grabbing seats on the top level.
Because this was a lake voyage, it did seem somewhat less exciting than the Matsushima ferry, which stops by interesting sights between the two cities with a tour guided either by the driver of the boat or the pre-recorded tape in Japanese and English.
A dark lake on a gray day was somewhat less interesting than a selection of little islands in the sea, but did make for a few nice and slightly creepy pictures of the distant hills.
It was nice, and a little creepy.
In fact, the only indelible memory from this event was us sitting as a family on the lower deck, our daughter in full pee-pee dance just feet from the non-operational bathroom while I silently prayed for us to make it back to the dock in time. The view was nice enough, but not as nice as the view in Matsushima. I realize now that we are spoiled for that view of the ocean, which is recognized as the third best view in all of Japan. Of course a ferry on a lake would not be quite as nice.
The route map did not make false promises. Just a view of the lake.
That said the ferry itself was rather pretty. I like the elegance of the swan design, which was so iconic as to be found on postcards on sale at the gift shop desk, next to the non-working bathroom.
For your next ferry trip, remember to research where you want to go, remember the name and the kanji, and read the signs before you get on the boat. Even in ferries with working bathrooms, the toilet situation is usually less than optimal, so it is almost always a good choice to use the facilities on land beforehand.
What's your favorite ferry trip in Japan?
A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.