Boat and Ferry Travel
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Boat and Ferry Travel
Ferries from Honshu connecting to Tomakomai, Hakodate, and Otaru offer a leisurely way to arrive, while in Hokkaido boats connect the islands of Rebun and Rishiri to the northern tip of Japan. In the far east, ferries offer the best bear-viewing off the Shiretoko Peninsula.
The ferries are the cheapest way to travel to Hokkaido on paper, but for only a few thousand yen more you can fly there within two hours from the mainland. If slow travel is your style, there are ferries from Niigata into Otaru, and services on the Pacific side (Nagoya, Oarai, Sendai, and Aomori) connect to Hakodate and Tomakomai. Other routes include Shin Nihon-kai Ferry's Niigata to Otaru (¥6,200); Taiheiyo Ferry's Sendai to Tomakomai (14-hour service for ¥8,000), and the mammoth 39-hour Nagoya-Sendai-Tomakomai (¥10,500); Kawasaki Kinkai Kisen's Hachinohe to Tomakomai (nine hours; ¥5,000); and Seikan Ferry's service that crosses between Aomori and Hakodate (four hours; ¥1,800).
First-class is usually double the second-class price, but the extra buys you privacy and comfort, as most regular passengers stretch out on communal carpeted areas with no beds. Outside the summer holiday season, the ferries are mostly used by long-distance truck drivers and the occasional budget backpacker and motorcyclist.
The most budget-conscious, if you don't mind a 24-hour journey, can book Shosen Mitsui's Pacific Story package. This is a bus/ferry/bus service which connects Tokyo to Sapporo for only ¥9,900 (excluding July 18 to August 31), departing Tokyo mid-afternoon and reaching Sapporo the following afternoon. Check the English Web site, and reserve tickets at the Tokyo or Shinjuku Highway bus terminals. Tickets can also be bought for the Oarai-to-Tomakomai section only (¥8,500–¥14,000 depending on the season).
Boat and Ferry Contacts
Kawasaki Kinkai Kisen Ferry (03/3502–4838. www.kawakin.co.jp.)
Seikan Ferry (017/782–3671 Aomori; 0138/42–5561 Hakodate. www.seikan-ferry.co.jp.)
Shin Nihon-kai Ferry (06/6345–2921. www.snf.jp/pdf/english.pdf.)
Shosen Mitsui Ferry. offers service between O-arai (the closest north-bound ferry port to Tokyo) and Tomakomai, Hokkaido. Takes about 18 hours and is dirt cheap (with decent restaurant food) if you have the time. 0144/34–3121 Tomakomai; 029/267–4133 O-arai Port; 0120/489-850 free dial (domestic). www.sunflower.co.jp/english/. 9-6.
Taiheiyo Ferry (03/3564–4161 Tokyo; 011/281–3311 Sapporo. www.taiheiyo-ferry.co.jp/english.)
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