OVERVIEW OF JAPANESE FERRIES
A brief history on
Japanese long haul car ferries
Shipping has been prosperous since olden times in Japan, which consists of four main islands - Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, and other small islands. Many ships have plied between the mainland and remote islands. In 1884, modern train ferries appeared in Japanese waters. The main routes of train ferries were the Chihaku route (Wakkanai - Otomari (now Korsakov), 167km); the Seikan route (Aomori - Hakodate, 113km); the Uko route (Uno - Takamatsu, 20.7km); and the Kampu route (Shimonoseki - Pusan, 226km). Especialy the Kampu route was the most important route for the then Imperial Japan.
|Kawasaki (Hiroshige Ando)||Kanagawa (Hiroshige Ando)|
Before WWII, there were several routes between the Continent and mainland Japan (most of them were the so-called "colonial routes"), and other ocean liners' routes - the North & South America routes, the Australia route, the Africa route and the Europe route. The N.Y.K. (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) Line, the Osaka Shosen Kaisha (now Mitsui O.S.K. Line), etc. operated these routes.
Hirafu Maru (Aomori-Hakodate, 113km)
After the war, all colonial routes and almost all ocean liners' routes were ceased. Only the Seikan route, the Uko route and other short routes of train ferries, and some remote island routes survived as Japanese ferry routes.
Yotei Maru (Aomori-Hakodate, 113km)
The first car ferries of Japan
were the 43gt Daihachi Wakato Maru (=Wakato Maru No.8) and Daiku
Wakato Maru (=Wakato Maru No.9), which were launched in March
1934. Their operator was the Wakato Tosen (=Wakato Ferry). The
double-ended ferries could carry 2 lorries and 4 tricars, and
plied between Wakato and Wakamatsu of northern Kyushu (only 600m).
In 1950, the Korean War broke out. Japan provided the U.S. Armed Forces with many commodities. The war led to the revival of the Japanese economy.
On April 11, 1954, the first regular car ferry route was opened between Hanshin area (Osaka & Kobe, Honshu) and Shikoku via Awaji Island. The route consisted of 2 routes, the Akashi Straits route (Akashi, Honshu - Iwaya, Awaji Island; 9.3km) and the Naruto Straits route (Fukura, Awaji Island - Naruto, Shikoku; 14.8km). The double-ended ferries, Asagiri Maru (229gt) and her sister Wakashio Maru were launched out. Local self-governing bodies, Hyogo Prefecture operated the Akashi Straits route, and Tokushima Prefecture operated the Naruto Straits route respectively. Later, JH (Japan Highway) operated the routes.
In Japan, car ferries which run on over 300km routes are discriminated as "Long Haul Car Ferries" from other ferries. This classification has no relation with ships themselves, but has much to do with history. However, most long haul car ferries are large ferries and have a unique character as "Bypasses of the Sea" for lorries. In this point, Japanese car ferries are quite different from European car ferries, which have developed as "Channel Ferries" for tourists. The shape and routes of Japanese car ferries reflect their character.
2. The birth of long
haul car ferries (1968-1975)
In 1960's, industries, such as automobile, shipbuilding, iron, electric engineering, etc. developed in Japan. And in 1968, Japan placed the largest next to the U.S. in GNP (gross national product) among capitalist countries. But the motorway system of Japan was underdeveloped in those days. Route 2, which linked the Hanshin area (Osaka & Kobe) with Kokura in the northern Kyushu, for example, was so crowded.
Under the circumstances, a man hit the idea of transporting lorries from Kobe to Kokura by ship. The man was Mr. Hoshu Iritani, the president of the Kanko Kisen. His idea was using car ferries as the "Bypasses of the Sea" for lorries. But in the then Japan, the general public regarded ferries as "Sea Bridges" between the mainland and remote islands. The idea that transporting lorries by ship running parallel to roads was quite creative or unique. Nobody except Iritani believed the idea would come off well.
On August 10, 1968, the Hankyu Ferry's new ship, Ferry Hankyu (4,979gt) made sail from the port of Kobe, and the history of Japanese long haul car ferries began. In November, the Dairoku Hankyu (=Hankyu No.6, 5,011gt) entered their service between Kobe (Honshu) and Kokura (Kyushu), and their daily service started. Contrary to many people's expectations, Iritani's new business was welcomed by lorry drivers and was a great success.
Ferry Hankyu (Kobe-Kokura, 465km)
Soon after the success of the
Hankyu Ferry, he founded the Shin Nihonkai Ferry in June 1969. In
August 1970, he opened a new route between Otaru (Hokkaido) and
Tsuruga/Maizuru (Honshu), and introduced the 9,053gt Suzuran Maru
into the route. The Suzuran Maru had a unique dome on her bow in
order to stand against the rough waters of the Nihonkai (=Japan
Sea) in winter, and was called "Umi No Shinkansen (=bullet
train of the sea)." Although she was the largest ferry in
the then Japan, she had few public rooms for passengers, and was
specialized for the transport of lorries. Later, the Shin
Nihonkai Ferry has grown into the largest ferry operator in Japan.
At the same time, energetic Iritani also founded the Kampu Ferry in Shimonoseki in June 1969. In June 1970, the 3,875gt Ferry Kampu began to ply between Shimonoseki (Japan) and Pusan (South Korea). This ship was the first international ferry between Japan and other countries after WWII, and was operated together by the Kampu Ferry of Japan and the Pukwan Ferry of South Korea.
As a result, the SHK Line group was formed. The group takes the top seat of the Japanese ferry industry today, and now enters into even a cruise business (Japan Cruise Line).
After Iritani's success, many companies, most of them were not shipping companies, started a new business - car ferrry business. In the first half of 1970's, car ferries were booming in Japan. Many car ferry companies were founded, many routes were opened, and many car ferries were built.
Most companies imitated the Iritani's business model - "Bypasses of the Sea" for lorries. But some of them which failed to make the best use of advantage of "Bypasses of the Sea" were compelled to close down. These were such losers.
* Central Ferry, Kawasaki - Osaka - Kobe, 1971-1972
* Hiroshima Green Ferry, Hiroshima - Osaka, 1972-1982
* Fuji Ferry, Matsusaka - Tokyo, 1974-1979
Meanwhile, some companies operated luxury car ferries which concentrated on tourists. Various car ferries were built in 1970's. Most ferries which were built in those days are still working in Greece, Persian Gulf and the Philippines.
|Aug. 1968||Hankyu Ferry||Kobe-Kokura|
Shin Nihonkai Ferry
|Nihon Car Ferry
Miyazaki Car Ferry
Nihon Kosoku Ferry
Nihon Enkai Ferry
Meimon Car Ferry
Miyazaki Car Ferry
Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry
|Nihon Kosoku Ferry
Nishi Nihon Ferry
Meimon Car Ferry
Taiheiyo Enkai Ferry
Shin Higashi Nihon Ferry
Nihon Kosoku Ferry
Kyushu Kyuko Ferry
Shin Nihonkai Ferry
By 1975, the system of Japanese car ferry routes was almost completed. But Japanese ferry industry had to spend a long and dark winter because of the Oil Crises of 1973.
3. Long and dark winter
As mentioned above, Japanese long haul car ferries were born as "Bypasses of the Sea" for lorries. But some ferry companies operated luxury car ferries for tourists.
* Nippon Car Ferry (Kawasaki - Hyuga)
Phenix (5,954gt, 1971), Saint Paulia (5,960gt, 1971), Bougainvillea (5,964gt, 1971)
* Kansai Kisen (Osaka - Kobe - Imabari - Matsuyama - Beppu)
Yufu (3,360gt, 1971), Maya (3,229gt, 1971)
* Terukuni Yusen (Kagoshima - Amami Island - Tokunoshima Island - Okinoerabu Island - Yoron Island)
Queen Coral (6,430gt, 1972)
* Nihon Kosoku Ferry
Sun Flower sisters (as will be seen later)
But oil prices rose very high because of the Oil Crises of 1973, and what was worse, tourists decreased. The high coast and depression hit ferry companies which operated the so-called luxury car ferries. In 1976, the Kagoshima-based Kagoshima Shosen made planes for a luxury ferry between Kagoshima (Kyushu) and Kobe (Honshu), but failed to be realized. Luxury ships disappeared from Japanese waters one by one, and such ferries as freighters replaced them. For example, the Shin Nihonkai Ferry's New Suzuran (16,250gt, 1979) and New Yukari (16,239gt, 1979); the Hankyu Ferry's New Yamato (11,919gt, 1983), New Miyako (11,914gt, 1984), etc. were such ferries as freighters.
Now, here is a detailed history of the historic Sun Flower sisters which became a synonym for car ferries in the then Japan.
The "Sanfurawaa (=Sun Flower)" were luxury ferries which were realized dreams of Mr. Kijiro Nakagawa, the shipping king in Kyushu and the president of the Terukuni group. From 1972 to 1974, five ships were built. Their operator was the Nihon Kosoku Ferry.
The first ship, Sun Flower (11,312gt) was completed on January 18, 1972 at Kawasaki Heavy Industries Kobe shipyard, and entered into their service between Nagoya (Honshu), Kochi (Shikoku) and Kagoshima (Kyushu) on February 1. And her sister, Sun Flower 2 (11,314gt) entered service in May. Length: 185m, Beam: 24m, Draft: 6.4m, Passengers: 1,124, Lorries (10tons): 84, Cars: 208. They were the largest car ferries in the then Japan, which had restaurants, grillrooms, lounges, dancing halls, bars, discotheque, swimming pools, beerhouses, etc. Especially the images of red "Sun Flower" which were painted on their hulls were very impressive. The word "Sun Flower" became a synonym for car ferries at once. The second ship was built as the "Sanraizu (=Sun Rise)" at first, but she entered service as the Sun Flower 2 eventually.
On March 3, 1973, the third ship, Sun Flower 5 (12,711gt) was completed at Kurushima Dock Onishi shipyard, and entered into their service between Tokyo (Honshu), Nachikatsuura (Honshu) and Kochi (Shikoku). On June 25, the forth ship, Sun Flower 8 (12,759gt) was also completed and entered into the same route. These sisters boasted of their more luxury facilities.
And on September 9, 1974, the most luxury Sun Flower 11 (13,599gt) was completed at Kurushima Dock Onishi shipyard at last, and began to ply between Osaka (Honshu) and Kagoshima (Kyushu). The ship was a unique car ferry with two funnels in a line, and was too luxury ship at the coast of six billion yen.
The Oil Crises of 1973, however, hit five Sun Flower sisters. On September 2, 1975, the Terukuni Kaiun, the parent company went bankrupt. The Nihon Kosoku Ferry was in a critical situation immediately because of the lost of their parent company. Now the distressing history of the Sun Flower Family began.
In September 1974, the Sun Flower was laid up and sold out. In September 1975, the "11" was sold to the Kurushima Dock and the Nihon Kosoku Ferry chartered her back in order to operate the route. In October 1976, the "2" was laid up. In December 1976, the Sun Flower and "2" were sold to the Taiyo Ferry at last and entered into the Osaka (Honshu) - Kanda (Kyushu) route. Under these circumstances, the "5" plied between Nagoya, Kochi and Kagoshima, the "8" plied between Tokyo, Nachikatsuura and Kochi, and the "11" plied between Osaka and Kagoshima. Their operation systems became the smallest.
But their hardships continued. In April 1978, the "5" was laid up, and the Nagoya - Kochi - Kagoshima route was closed. The "5" started to run on the Osaka - (Shibushi) - Kagoshima route in December 1979, but the Nihon Kosoku Ferry sold the "5" and "8" to the Kurushima Dock in February 1984 and chartered them back in order to continue operating.
Meanwhile, the Taiyo Ferry exchanged from their Sun Flower and "2" into the Ferry Kogane Maru (ex-Argo) and Ferry Nishiki Maru (ex-Orion) with Kansai Kisen in 1984. The Kansai Kisen sold the Sun Flower and "2" to the Kurushima Dock and chartered them back to operate their service between Osaka, kobe and Beppu. Cosequently, all Sun Flowers belonged to the Kurushima Dock.
But their hardships still continued. The Kurushima Dock collapsed. In January 1990, the Nihon Enkai Ferry bought the "8" and the Tokyo - Nachikatsuura - Kochi route from the Nihon Kosoku Ferry. In November, the Nihon Enkai Ferry bought the "5" , "11" and the Osaka - Kagoshima route. The Nihon Kosoku Ferry dissolved at last. The Nihon Enkai Ferry changed their tradename into Blue Highway Line, also changed their ships' names into "Sun Flower + place name." The "5" became "Sun Flower Osaka", the "8" became "Sun Flower Tosa" and the "11" became "Sun Flower Satsuma" respectively. The "Tosa" is an old name of Kochi (Shikoku). Meanwhile, the Kansai Kisen bought the Sun Flower and "2" back from the Kurushima Kosan.
In 1993, the Blue Highway Line sold the "5" and "11" overseas. In 1997, they also sold the "8". The Kansai Kisen sold the "2" in 1997. In 1998, they sold the oldest Sun Flower at last and all Sun Flowers left Japan.
After that, the Blue Highway Line was divided into the Shosen Mitsui Ferry and Blue Highway Line Nishi Nihon. The two companies and the Kansai Kisen named their all ferries "Sun Flower + something". Luxury Sun Flowers disappeared, but only the name "Sun Flower" remains.
4. The bubble
After the Plaza Accord of September 1985, the exchange rate of Japanese yen rose rapidly on the one hand, oil prices were on the decline on the other hand. These movements hit Japanese shipbuilding industry which was the largest in the world in those days. Meanwhile, these circumstances became a turning point for Japanese ferry industry which had been struggling for a long time. In other words, it came to be easy for ferry companies to build replacement ships because ship prices dropped as the shipbuilding industry was in a depression, and low oil prices made shipping business be improving. Also in 1989, Japan enjoyed an epoch-making prosperity, cruise ships were built (e.g., Fuji Maru, Oceanic Grace, etc.) and leisure industries have developed (e.g., resorts, golf courses, theme parks, etc.). Under such social background, the so-called cruiseferries were built in Japan, too. And many old car ferries which were built in 1970's were sold out and went to the Philippines or the Mediterranean.
The first cruiseferry was the Sanpo Kaiun's White Sanpo 2 (10,182gt, 1981), which ran on the short distance route between Matsuyama, Imabari (Shikoku) and Kobe (Honshu). She had luxury public rooms for a car ferry in the Seto Naikai(=Inland Sea).
As for long haul car ferries, new ships of the Shin Nihonkai Ferry and Taiheiyo Ferry were noticed. Any ships were cruiseferries which tried to attract tourists with their luxury cabins and public rooms. They were quite different from former ferries like freighters.
* Shin Nihonkai Ferry
New Hamanasu (17,261gt, 1987), New Shirayuri (17,261gt, 1987), New Akashia (19,750gt, 1988), Ferry Lavender (19,904gt, 1992), Ferry Azalea (20,558gt, 1994), Ferry Shirakaba (20,552gt, 1994)
* Taiheiyo Ferry
Kiso (13,691gt, 1987), Kitakami (13,937gt, 1989), Ishikari (14,257gt, 1991)
The Taiheiyo Ferry's three sisters were typical Japanese cruiseferries. Especially the Ishikari of 1991 has captured the public fancy with her luxury interior and excellent services. It is not too much to say that the Taiheiyo Ferry is the "Silja Line" in Japan. In fact the managing staffs of Japanese ferry companies used to make an inspection of the Baltic cruiseferry operators.
Other luxury cruiseferries were the Kinkai Yusen's Sabrina (12,521gt, 1990) & Blue Zephyr (12,500gt, 1990), and the Okinawa-based Arimura Sangyo's Cruise Ferry Hiryu (16,494gt, 1995) & Cruise Ferry Hiryu 21 (14,700gt, 1996). All these ships were car ferries which focused on passengers or tourists.
Ferry Lavender (Otaru-Maizuru, 1,061km)
The Japanese, who had been working hard like ants in order to reconstruct Japan which was devastated by WWII, finally reached the level of living to enjoy cruising. But the prosperity did not keep long. Because prices of shares and land declined heavily in 1991 (Collapse of Bubbles). The ferry industry was forced to struggle again.
5. Two trends in the
Japan's economy experienced long days of depression during 1990's. The ferry industry panted under a decline of cargos and passengers. The Japanese Government eased economic restrictions in order to overcome the depresstion and as a result, the ferry industry which was protected by licences faced the real free competition for the first time. At the same time, the so-called low cost airlines were born in Japan, too (1996), but thankfully they did not become menaces for ferry companies because of a severe competition with major airlines. Today, the real competitors for passenger ferries are rather ro-ro vessels (freight ferries) or other cargo ships. We can see two interesting movements in the Japanese ferry industry.
The one movement is giving up recapturing passengers from railways or airlines. The Ocean Tokyu Ferry, which operates the Tokyo - Tokushima - Kita Kyushu route (1,173km) introduced the so-called 'Casual Ferries,' the Ocean North (11,114gt, 1996) & Ocean South (11,114gt, 1996). Both passengers and crew were reduced sharply in order to cut cost (Passengers: 148, Crew: 22). These ferries have only vending machines instead of restaurants, and are no-frilled high-tech service stations on the sea. Also, the Kinkai Yusen (now Kinkai Yusen Butsuryu), which operates the Tokyo - Kushiro route (1,120km) ceased passenger services and changed luxury cruiseferries into ro-ro vessels in 1999.
Ocean South (Tokyo-Kita Kyushu, 1,163km)
The other movement is
introducing luxury cruiseferries. From 2002 to 2004, the Shin
Nihonkai Ferry introduced four car ferries, Lilac (18,225gt、2002),
Yuukari (18,225gt、2003), Hamanasu (16,810gt、2004) and Akashia
(16,810gt、2004). All ferries are cruiseferries which boast of
luxury cabins with private balcony. However, they are not the
same as luxury passenger ferries of 1970's. Their feature is that
they earn from cargos mainly. Especially, the 32 knots fast
cruiseferries, Hamanasu & Akashia can ply between Maizuru and
Otaru (1,061km) everyday at only 20 hours (it took 29 hours for
former three sisters), and can cut cost against fast ro-ro
vessels. In addition to that, they try to attract many tourists
with thier fine accommodation. In January 2005, the Taiheiyo
Ferry's luxury ferry, Kiso (15,795gt) was launched.
Today, the Japanese Government intends to convert transportation by lorries into by railways or ferries to push the "Modal Shift" project in order to prevent the earth warming. Japanese long haul car ferries were born in order to ease traffic congestion about 40 years ago. Now they are revalued as protectors for the global environment. The function of ferries as "Bypasses of the Sea" draws the public attention again.
Tsuyoshi Ishiyama, Fähren in Japan, FERRIES Das Fährschiffahrtsmagazin, September 2005 （Duetscher Fährschiffahrtsverein e. V, 2005)
Today's Japanese Ferries
There are several ferry routes between Japan and Russia, Korea, China & Taiwan. Most Japanese people go to these countries by air. A few people go by ship.
Meanwhile, there are many ferry routes in Japan. Large luxury ferries run between Hokkaido and Honshu. Many former Japanese ferries were purchased by Philippine, Greek or Middle Eastern ferry operators. You can see many former Japanese ferries in these countries.
Athina I (Ex-Ferry Hankyu)
When you go on board a Japanese ferry, you must have a reservation in advance generally. You phone a ferry operator's office and declare the date of departure, the class of cabin, the number of persons, your name, your age, your telephone number, your address, etc., you will be told the reservation number.
You go to a ferry terminal at least 2 hours ahead of the departure time, fill up an application form and pay a passenger fare, you will receive a boarding pass. You can go on board 1hour ahead of the departure time.
If you don't speak Japanese at all, I recommend you to ask travel agency. Have a nice trip!
Dae-A Express Shipping (KOR)
Korea Marin Express (KOR)
Pan Star Line (KOR)
Pukwan Ferry (KOR)
Tsushima Kokusai Line
2. Domestic Lines (Long distance Lines)
(Seto Naikai: Inland Sea)
3. Cruise Lines
Japan Cruise Line Inc. (Venus Cruise)
Nippon Charter Cruise, Ltd
NYK Cruises Co., Ltd
Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, Ltd.
Kisen: Steamship, Steamer, Liner
Nihon (Nippon): Japan
Nihonkai: Japan sea
Shosen: Merchant Ship
Taiheiyo: Pacific Ocean
Unyu: Transportation, Traffic