Central Trans-Equatorial Route from New Zealand to Japan


If heading for Japan from New Zealand or Australia, the majority of the small number of cruisers making this choice, tend to take a route via the Solomons, Palau, Philippines and Taiwan. Some, who spend more than one cruising season, may also take in parts of southeast Asia and Borneo. For those like us, who are not such keen tropical cruisers, the more direct route further east has some appeal, as well as allowing visits to relatively unfrequented islands. We chose to make several longer passages rather than make additional stops in Kiribati and the Marshalls. From a passage planning viewpoint heading to Wallis from Fiji against the trend of wind and current is not necessary. The rest of the route, via Funafuti, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Guam, was all pleasant trade wind sailing. The various equatorial currents were of relatively little consequence on this route. Once north of the equator it is certainly an advantage to be to the east of Japan when the trade winds take a more north-easterly slant. Those coming up from the Philippines along the island chain from Okinawa often have a long period of beating. However, as there are no Japanese ports of entry between Okinawa and the island of Kyushu, those cruisers coming north from Guam have the choice of joining the queue at Okinawa or sailing straight to Kyushu or Honshu. The latter passage is likely to involve an unpleasant transition from the trade wind belt to the temperate zone where there are often northerlies except during the summer rainy season.


We chose to arrive in Japan in November, partly because typhoons are rare so late in the year. However, this does mean wintering in Japan for those intending to continue on to the Aleutians and Alaska; for those used to European or northern North American winters, this is no particular hardship. Those who choose to arrive in Japan in the spring have the choice of moving rapidly through the country to leave by June or staying for the sweltering summer and risking typhoons.



Formalities and Bureaucracy


As a Japanese friend and former senior civil servant said to us, “Japan is a country of 100 million bureaucrats.” Most foreign cruisers would readily endorse this. There are very few foreign cruisers in Japan and for that matter relatively few domestic yachts. As a result, official arrangements for yachts are virtually identical to those for larger, commercial vessels. This is further complicated by the antiquated Japanese system of ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ ports. In order to cruise with any flexibility at all in Japanese waters, foreign cruisers must get permits for every closed port which they might wish to visit. In theory, this list must be accompanied by specific dates for the visit to each port. In practice, we found that the dates were not looked at, even though they must be present on the original applications. Applications for permits must be made through regional offices of the Ministry of Transport. The officials with whom we dealt were extremely helpful and sympathetic, but they did have to go through the full procedure. Considerable patience is required. If you are lucky and present your list in well worked out, clear form, it is sometimes possible to get permits for as many as five prefectures at a time, though two or three are more common. It is well worth while staying one set of permits ahead of those required for the next few legs of your cruise, so that you do not have to wait in a major port before you are able to proceed to the next group of closed ports. Having said all this we were never asked for our permit when visiting a closed port, though officials at a few open ports did want to see our permits for previous and future closed ports; in some cases they also had copies of our permits, which had clearly been forwarded to them.


All this sounds daunting in the extreme. However, what it comes down to is having a pretty clear cruise plan. Unfortunately, because there are no cruising guides for Japan, most cruisers who arrive in Japan have little idea of the smaller ports they might want to visit until they talk to locals and/or other cruisers who have been through Japan. For this reason, we will give as an appendix to these notes information given by Japanese yachting friends. Naturally, the latter type of information comes with the caution that we have not confirmed it. (This appendix will follow when we have returned to NZ and can have the material scanned.)



Clearance and Visas


Like many countries these days, Japan requires prior notice of arrival. This is best transmitted by fax from the last previous foreign port. The appropriate forms are available on the Internet, as are the phone/fax numbers of the Coastguard offices to which they should be sent. Unless you wish to be constantly in touch with the Coastguard it is best to avoid giving any telephone numbers or e-mail addresses if you have them.  Initial clearance at an official port of entry on arrival is similar to that in most countries, with visits from Quarantine, Customs and Immigration. However, in Japan the Coastguard also plays a part. All these will require the completion of very similar forms. It is well worthwhile acquiring clean copies of some forms, particularly the ‘General Declaration’, completing them partially and then keeping several copies ready for final completion with officials. We also kept numerous copies of our crew list and registration document. Japanese officials are delighted when you present them with these copies! For citizens of the vast majority of countries, no prior visa is required. However, visitor’s visas are only issued for 90 days. (It is no longer the case that UK nationals can get six months.) This may be too little for many cruisers. Experience in applying for extensions varies considerably. Some cruising friends were told in no uncertain terms that they had to leave the country and return in order to get a new visa for 90 days. Others including ourselves had no difficulty in getting a further extension of 90 days upon application and payment of a Y4,000 fee/person. It is very rare to get a third extension without leaving the country. So far as we can gather there are no formalities regarding temporary importation of the yacht, nor is there any limit on its stay in Japan. However, if you plan a long stay, it would be wise to check this. Outward clearance must be at an open port with Customs, Immigration and Coastguard.


The degree to which cruisers’ movements are monitored by officials varies markedly. In many open ports, foreign cruisers may be visited by any combination of Coastguard, Customs, Police and Immigration. In closed ports, particularly small ones, there may be no official visitors at all or perhaps only the Coastguard or Police. Some marina managers appear to have relationships of trust with local officials and are able to deal with virtually all formalities in their stead. Other managers merely call all the officials and let them have their way with you. Virtually all officials are punctiliously polite and professional, but they are thorough and their visits do take time.


Having said all this, many cruisers have spent a good deal of time in Japan moving between closed ports with no permits at all. We cannot speak from personal experience, but we understand that officials in closed ports are required to accept at least a short stay if a strong enough reason is given. The most common reason is the need to replenish drinking water or possibly fuel. Reasons of safety, perhaps including very strong winds would probably also be acceptable. Navigational convenience or contrary winds or just inclination are probably not acceptable excuses and we have heard of cruisers who have been sent away from closed ports on offering inadequate reasons. In the Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) officials took little or no interest in us except in two open ports. However, in Kyushu and the Japan Sea ports officials were much more active.



Berthing, Mooring and Anchoring


You can more or less forget about anchoring in Japan. Virtually any cove with any shelter at all has a small fishing harbour with concrete breakwaters. Those few which do not will be used for aquaculture. The only use for an anchor in Japan is to stop the boat to go fishing or as a stern anchor when lying bow to a dock. There are quite a number of marinas in Japan, but very few of them have the kind of facilities we associate with marinas in Europe or the USA. The better marinas are mostly in southern Japan. At one time it was common practice for Japanese marinas to give foreign cruisers several days, a week or even two weeks of free berthing. This practice is gradually dying out, though a few marinas are still generous in this way. Though the cost of monthly or annual berthing in many marinas is not exorbitant by international standards, daily visitors’ rates are generally quite high, often Y5,000 or more per day. On the other hand berthing in fishing harbours is generally free or charged at Y1/ton/night. Water and power are generally included in any marina charge, though there are a few exceptions. Occasionally water is available in fishing harbours, sometimes free and sometimes for a fee. There are very few facilities for alongside fuelling. Sometime it is possible to order larger quantities of fuel to be delivered by tanker to dockside, but mostly it is necessary to use jerry cans to the nearest petrol station. We were told that technically only metal cans are acceptable, though we personally had no trouble with our plastic ones. Duty-free fuel is sometimes available in major ports when delivered dockside in larger quantities and upon completion of appropriate paperwork with Customs.


The charts in the Japanese harbour guide booklets indicate harbour depths very accurately, including giving an indication of the least depths available alongside docks. Any cruiser in Japan is likely to spend most time berthed alongside concrete docks. Many of these docks have ledges and/or overhangs, which may make lying alongside difficult. Many docks have rubber fendering of some kind, but these are generally vertical, quite widely spaced and often end well above the low-tide spring mark. Most docks are well lined with barnacles. We found that the combination of normal fenders against the topsides with a plank outside them and large Japanese polystyrene fenders outside these gave adequate protection. Though we experienced it only once or twice, it is common practice in crowded fishing harbours to anchor by the stern and take bow lines to the dock or wall.




Navigation, Charting, Tides, Currents and Pilotage


For much of Japanese waters there are official charts from Admiralty, DMA and Japanese sources. Many of these are not to WGS84 datum. CMap coverage is patchy, most good, some excellent, some only very small scale. Unless one is limiting one’s cruising to major ports we found that the Japanese harbour guide booklets were essential. We had heard that some of these, particularly those for the Inland Sea, were published in English as well as Japanese. However, we were only able to obtain copies in Japanese. Nevertheless, the charts included are excellent and up-to-date. The booklets are reasonably priced, covering large areas for about the cost of a single Admiralty chart. Because the text is entirely in Japanese, the linguistically challenged – like ourselves – will miss a good deal of detail. However the essentials in figures and symbols are still clear. However, it is worth getting a Japanese friend to identify the ports you hope to visit and write the names in English on the appropriate pages.


Quite apart from the notes of Club member, Noel Marshall, we also had information from a number of other cruisers, much of which is included in the appendix to these notes.


Tidal heights in most of Japan are not extreme though they can reach 2+ metres in some areas at springs. However, there are strong tidal currents and other more established currents which affect navigation considerably.


The Kuro Shio, or Black Current, is a well-documented ocean current, which sets north along Japan’s southwestern island chain and the south coast of Honshu, after which it tends to set more eastward into the Pacific. This current can reach rates of 4-5 knots but is more usually 1 - 2.5. Not surprisingly, it can kick up quite heavy, steep seas, especially when setting against a northerly wind of any strength.


In the Sea of Japan there is a generally northerly set of the current. The affect of this current is strongest on the ebb, which also tends to set north-easterly. There is also a strong easterly current, which sets through Tsugaru Kaikyo, the strait between Honshu and Hokkaido, making any west-going passage through the strait tedious.


Tidal currents can be extremely strong in the various narrows of Seto Naikai, the Inland Sea. These currents can reach 6-7 knots at springs. It should be noted that technically the Japanese Coast Guard requires that any vessel attempting to pass through narrows with strong tides, particularly Kanmon Kaikyo (Shimonoseki Strait) must be able to maintain 3 knots over the ground whatever the tidal conditions. Only large yachts with extremely powerful engines would be able to satisfy this requirement in the latter strait against the tide.


In Seto Naikai there are bridges and overhead cables everywhere. Most of these are extremely high and would cause problems for only the very largest of super-yachts. However, some are around or even under the 20 metre mark and so might pose problems. It is essential to check all heights along a proposed route. There is generally excellent navigational marking in Japan and there are lights everywhere. However, buoyage is used relatively sparingly and many shoal areas are not marked if they are off generally used routes for commercial vessels. Caution Note: Japan’s buoyage is to IALA System B – ‘Red right returning’.


It is essential in Japanese waters to maintain a constant and vigilant lookout. In Seto Naikai and in all coastal waters there are numerous fishing boats, small and large, engaged in all types of fishing. Many of these boats are single-handed and therefore entirely taken up with fishing. Others may be pair trawling, a common practice in certain areas. There are also numerous fish farms and areas for set-nets. In general, these are all marked, at least for day-time pilotage. It is worth acquiring the guide for these markings, which we believe to be available from the Coastguard and from some marinas. Fishermen in Japan reign supreme. Yacht clubs cannot even run races without paying them off for the ‘interference ‘ with their work! If you damage a fishing boat or its gear you will be liable not only for damage, but for consequential costs and loss of earnings, which can be huge. There is also a remarkable quantity of commercial traffic in Japanese waters, from super-tankers to one-family inter-island tramps. In general, they maintain a good lookout and behave in a seaman-like manner, but often will not deviate from their courses more than absolutely necessary to stay clear of you. The potential for misunderstanding makes calling on VHF unwise.



Personal Contacts


If you don’t speak Japanese, and few cruisers do, then personal contacts are everything in Japan. Once you become friendly with a Japanese person, particularly a ‘yottoman’, you will be passed on to other friends and acquaintances along your route. Naturally, it is especially useful if they speak some English, but the Japanese tradition of hospitality and obligation will ensure that they will do everything possible to help you. This can become a bit wearing at times socially, but is worth every minute in terms of the help which you will be given, quite apart from the potential for greater contact with and understanding of Japanese culture. Having decided to adopt you, Japanese hosts may be somewhat dictatorial in carrying out their obligations. We were invited out for meals and car trips on many occasions, but often we had only a few minutes warning. It would be very rude to refuse and there is a clear complementary obligation on guests to comply.


You are also likely to be showered with presents of all kinds. It is nice to be able to reciprocate, but pointless to try to match the presents you are given in monetary terms. Japanese friends and acquaintances will appreciate visiting your boat and hearing accounts of your travels. We did carry a stock of small, distinctive gifts. We also found it useful to have a lot of laminated A5 cards, which mapped our cruising route over the years on one side, with some photos of us and the boat on the other. It is also important to have a good stock of ‘name cards’ as these are exchanged as a matter of course with almost anyone you engage in conversation for more than a few minutes. The exchange is a 'formal process using two hands to give and receive the card. When we stayed at one marina for several months and were made welcome by a yacht club we gave a talk about our travels. Fortunately we had an interpreter available!



Cash, Food and Stores


Surprisingly for such a high-tech society, Japan runs almost entirely on cash. You cannot count on using a credit card for most transactions. In any case, foreign cards may not be accepted away from airports and major hotels. Most bank ATM’s in Japan will not accept foreign cards. However, those in post offices will and we were told that ATM’s in Seven-Eleven convenience stores also accepted foreign cards.


Though large supermarkets are often some distance from harbours and marinas, they are usually accessible by bike or bus or occasionally train. There are many smaller supermarkets and konbini, convenience stores, where basic supplies can be bought somewhat more expensively. With the general rise in food prices in most countries except possibly the USA, Japan no longer seems quite as expensive as it was. However, fresh fruit and vegetables are generally somewhat more expensive than elsewhere, though the quality is very high. Good quality fresh fish is expensive, but there is a very wide variety of fresh and preserved fish which is much less expensive. Chicken is relatively cheap. Much of the meat is very thinly sliced especially for use in Japanese nabe dishes and may not be particularly to western tastes. Except for poor quality ham, cold, cooked meats are relatively rare. There is a very limited range of cheese available, most of it highly processed. Occasionally in a lager city we found small blocks of hard cheese. Yogurt is available everywhere. Fresh milk was found in all food shops but only twice did we see UHT milk. Milk powder was in tiny packets. Surprisingly, rice is quite expensive in Japan. There are many varieties, but all are short grain, ‘sticky’ rice. Long grain rice is generally unavailable. A fair range of pasta is available in larger supermarkets. Spongy, white bread is generally available, but otherwise there is little variety of bread, except in specialist bakeries. Tinned food is very limited in variety and quality. There are very few tinned vegetables, a small range of tinned fruit, little or no tinned meat and a somewhat wider range of tinned fish. Japanese paper products leave a good deal to be desired, tissues, toilet paper and kitchen roll are all of generally poor quality. Beer and wine are somewhat more expensive than in other countries, but spirits are not expensive, nor is sake. Japanese food is served in small portions and this was how most of the goods were packaged in the shops.


The biggest problem related to cooking and eating aboard, as well as travelling to the next country after Japan, is that it is almost impossible to get gas bottles filled. Japanese regulations concerning LPG seem impenetrable even to the Japanese, Basically gas bottles of greater than 2kg capacity must be identifiably linked both to a person and an address in order to be refilled. Even if you buy a Japanese bottle, as we did, the only way it is likely to be filled is if a Japanese friend intercedes with a gas-filling agent who is willing to bend the rules.


********** Onsen ************




In Japan everyone uses mobile phones. As a result, pay phones are few and far between and most of these do not allow international calls. Those few that do, require the use of phone cards, available usually from convenience stores, and very expensive to use. To round off the difficulties, non-residents are not allowed to buy SIM cards in Japan, so even if you get a phone which works on the Japanese network, you will need to find a friendly Japanese who is willing to buy you a card for a pre-pay phone. The same applies to modems for mobile broad-band. There are very few Internet cafes in Japan, though there are free or pay-as-you-go wifi nets available in many places and most marinas have some arrangement for Internet use. We found that Sailmail did not function in ports, but did work once we got to sea, though the speed was usually slow. A satellite phone might be a good investment for any cruiser spending some time in Japan.





Much of what you want to see in Japan is away from the coast. The Japanese rail network is excellent. Trains are frequent and run on time. Though they are not cheap, they are generally good value. Multiple-day passes can be bought which are very good value. If you are planning some longer trips and want to use the Shinkansen (Bullet trains) it is a good idea to buy JR Rail passes before you arrive in Japan; they are not available once you’re in the country. In areas not serviced by train lines there are usually buses, but these may be infrequent in non-urban areas. The larger cities have excellent tube/subway services. The cost of renting cars is comparable to other industrialised countries. However, you must have an international drivers license issued by the country of your normal license. Speed limits in Japan are very low, so travel by road is generally slow.




Caution: All positions given in our notes are WGS 84 unless otherwise stated. We give them in good faith and believe them to be accurate, but they are for guidance only, we cannot guarantee their accuracy. Any use of them should be with seaman-like caution and checking. All positions indicate where we berthed, not entrances to harbours. Information was current at the time of our cruise in 2010/11.






Seto Naikai (Inland Sea)



Kanmon Kaikyo


It is essential to catch the fair tide when transiting the Kaikyo. We were told that the tide is generally weaker on the Kyushu side and it seemed that way when we came through east to west. If you have Totaltide on your computer, it seemed accurate enough for the timing of the current.



Shinmoji Marina


We did not use this stop, though it is the most convenient after Kanmon Kaikyo. The marina is very expensive for visitors and there are no consessions.



Ube - 33:56.74/131:14.73


This port is also quite convenient. It has a very industrial waterfront which is off-putting. In fact the town wasn’t bad at all once you get a couple of streets in. If you arrive during the week rather than at weekends you may find a spot at The Ube Marina pontoon in the position given (depth at springs only 1.4 m). Talk nicely to Amiya San, the manager. At the weekends the dock is busy with boats going in and out by crane. There is another not very nice, but adequate pontoon, in the same harbour to which Amiya San may direct you. The alternative is to go to the next sub-harbour to the east and tie up alongside the motorboats in the southwest corner. The Coastguard station is just across the way in the first harbour, so they will come to see you in force, perhaps Customs as well. Amiya San let us connect to his Lan for Internet.



Himejima – 33:43.29/131:38.82


This is a delightful little island. The harbour is pretty well protected, though there is a bit of wash when the ferry docks or leaves. If you wanted to stay a while you might even find a spot further inside the fishing harbour. There is a Wifi connection available if you sit on the bench outside the hospital. No officials, no charges.





Kaminoseki or Yanai


We did not stop here, but we were given them as a possible overnight stops in order to get the tide right at the narrows going up toward Miyajima and Hiroshima.



Miyajima – 34:17.82/132:18.70


A very famous spot and therefore over-run with tourists. There is constant ferry traffic. The pontoon at the position indicated looks a bit ropey and intimidating, but it was OK and reasonably clear of the ferry wash. When the large vessel that moors next door is in place the pontoon is nicely protected from westerlies, but it would be a bit exposed otherwise. You can go either side if there is room. There is a good, but demanding hike up to the top of the mountain, Mount Misen, though most tourists take the cable car. This is the location of the famous and much photographed torii in the water (at high tide!). No officials, no charges.



Hiroshima – Kanon Marina - 34:21.56/132:24.95 (Visitors’ dock)


After the entrance turn to starboard and follow all the way round. Moor alongside the long dock. Someone will probably meet you and help you tie up. When arranging payment, ask for any concessions for foreign visitors. They probably won’t give you anything free, but may give you the next lower rate (they did for us). There is Wifi at the marina; ask for the password. Good shower facilities.


Our visit here was a highlight of Seto Naikai for us. It is quite a distance into the centre. Having bikes helped, but there are also buses. The Peace Park, Memorial and Museum are excellent. The city is very pleasant. Supermarkets are a little difficult to find and are quite a way in. The marina will call officials. We saw Customs only.



Miyaura, Omishima  – 34:17.82/132:59.66


This was an overnight stop only. The pontoon is in the southeast corner of the harbour. Depth no problem, protection fine except from northwest. There was a harbour charge – 1 Yen/ton/day! The island is supposed to be quite pleasant if you wanted to stay a day or two. No officials other than the one to collect the fee and he did the General Declaration.



Onomichi- 34:24.46/133:12.18


There is a new, small marina in the centre of town. It hadn’t opened yet when we were there and so we berthed on the inside of the disused ferry dock for nothing. We don’t know what the marina charges will be. There appeared to be power and water. There is a lot of wash from passing vessels and you will be thrown around somewhat. It looked like the berths near shore were worst. Wifi near the little marina. This is a larger city with huge shipyards nearby. We saw no officials, but that may change with the new marina.



Yuge, Yuge Island – 34:15.48/133:12.20


Another very nice island and a very cruiser friendly municipal administration. The pontoon is very good, with both water and power. It is pretty well protected. There is fuel just across the road and a reasonable supermarket a short walk away. There was an unsecured Wifi net accessible if sitting on the inshore dock. The locals were helpful and friendly. Good for biking. Check in with the helpful officials at the town hall. No other officials. Charge 1 Yen/ton/night!



Oura, Kitagi Shima – 34:22.69/133:32.82


The berth is alongside Colin Ferrell’s fishing boat. He is a Canadian with a Japanese wife, Mika. They live on the island and run a marine supply business. E-mail Colin at colin@yuukoumarine.jp They were very welcoming and helpful. There are some nice hikes on the island. Colin will clear you with the local officials.



Miyanoura Ko, Naoshima – 34:27.36/133:58.45


The berth is in the fishing harbour alongside the wall. There is significant rise and fall. Check the depth if it’s springs. Good protection. The island is very interesting. They’ve made art a focus of their tourist trade – very successfully. There are bits of unconventional modern art everywhere and a proper museum at the hotel. The onsen is also a work of art in itself. Nice hikes and bike riding and some older buildings on the other side of the island. Some cruisers have managed to get berthing at the hotel’s pontoon, others have not. Some Wifi around the ferry terminal. No officials, no charges.



Takamatsu, Shikoku Island – 34:21.00/134:03.21


We berthed alongside a dive boat in the long fishing harbour. Berthing alongside the wall might be a problem because of the overhang. The dive boat did not seem to move much, but we were responding to an offer to stay alongside. We put lines to the shore in addition. There seemed to be a kind of dock caretaker in the building on the west side of the dock. He was helpful to us. Talk to him. We felt safe enough leaving the boat for a couple of days to drive into rural Shikoku to explore. We did have a look at the marina, but gathered that it would be quite expensive for a poor and exposed berth.


The city is very pleasant, great for biking. The famous Ritsurin Gardens are very nice. Internet access is available at the foreign exchange centre in town. Even though this is an open port we were visited by no officials and paid no charges.



Shodo Shima, Tonosho Higashi – 34:28.59/134:10.94


Berthing is alongside a pontoon, on the offshore side; the inside looked rocky. Pretty protected except from the E to S. Supermarket and petrol station close by. The tourist office near the ferry terminal on the other side of the town let us connect to their Lan for Internet.



Kiba – 34:46.21/134:43.39


This a convenient overnight stop for getting the tide right at the narrows heading eastwards toward Osaka. The marina was not expensive, but there are few facilities. The marina manager handled formalities, no other officials. There was a small supermarket a short walk away.



Tannowa – 34:20.18/135:10.41


We spent the winter here. It was a great spot for that purpose. The Marina Manager, Takeda San, who speaks some English, is extremely helpful and also seems to be well connected with all the local officials. Like most Japanese marinas the daily visitor’s rates are quite high, but the longer-term rates were reasonable. In any case, the first week is free. There are haul-out facilities, but we don’t know the cost. It is possible to plug in to the LAN at the marina office for internet.


The Tannowa Osaka Bay Yacht Club is exceptionally welcoming to visiting foreign cruisers. There are three people who will almost certainly make contact with you if you stay for more than a day or two. Kakihara San is a long-standing and influential member of the Club. He has lots of information about cruising destinations in Japan and speaks reasonable though not fluent English. Yoshida San is a former Commodore of the Club and is also very welcoming and helpful. He speaks some English. Kondo San is another member who was very kind to us. He has a car and is willing to help you get to things you need if they are at a distance. He speaks reasonable English.


Tannowa is a very convenient spot from which to explore the ‘cultural areas' of Kyoto and Nara. There is a good train service to Osaka and Wakayama. Takeda San can arrange most yachting services and can order marine supplies and charts. There is a small local supermarket and large laundrette in the town and other much larger supermarkets a short train ride or 30 minute bike ride away.







Fukuoka, Kyushu – 33:35.524/130:18.737


Odo Marina has adequate, but simple facilities. The current marina manager speaks some English and is helpful and welcoming. He will arrange visits by officials. Charges are not excessive and there seemed to be some room for negotiation. There is no power on the docks and there is an extra charge for water. The marina is somewhat exposed to swell from the northwest and locals do not recommend it for weathering a typhoon. Shops are conveniently close by, as is a laundrette, but the city itself is some distance away, either by bus or train. There are a number of friendly local Japanese yachties who enjoy contacting and helping foreign cruisers. Of particular help are Jaap and Marijke on ‘Alishan’ berthed in a nearby fishing harbour. They are Dutch cruisers who have been based in Japan for many years and speak the language well.




Hirado – 33:22.283/129:33.280


Hirado is a pleasant, historically important town on the island of Hirado at the northwest corner of Kyushu. It was the site of the first trading posts in Japan, for first the Dutch and then the English, in the early 17th century. The mooring is alongside a disused ferry dock. Protection is good though there is some wash from passing vessels. There is a small pontoon further up the harbour where it might also be possible to lie alongside. There are no facilities ashore. There are many small shops nearby and an onsen. A large Castle dominates the hill overlooking the harbour. Hirado is the site of the grave of the Anjin San, on whom James Clavell based his central character in the novel, ‘Shogun’. A visit from the Coastguard is likely.



Sasebo – Huistenbosch, Kyushu


Huistenbosch is a kind of Dutch theme park, a replica Dutch town, for Japanese tourists. It also has a marina and in the past a number of foreign cruisers have found it a useful spot at which to winter. However, locals told us that the management has changed recently and is no longer particularly welcoming to foreign cruisers. We did not stop here.



Nagasaki – Dejima, Kyushu – 32:44.604/129:52.211


Nagasaki Dejima Marina is inexpensive and very conveniently placed right in the centre of Nagasaki. Power and water are available at no extra charge. However, the marina is right next to the ferry terminal and at times the wash from ferries and other passing traffic is vicious, throwing boats about badly. This marina is operated in conjunction with Sunset Marina further out of town. Though we did not visit the latter, it would be worth investigating for any extended stay in Nagasaki. There are no marina facilities ashore. The officials in Nagasaki were particularly officious and we had visits from Quarantine, Immigration, Customs and the Police. We understood that there have been some problems with drug-running and this may be the reason.



Thakeshiki Kou, Tsushima Island - 34:17.091/129:18913


Tsushima is in the middle of the Korea Strait, actually slightly closer to Korea than Japan. It makes a convenient stop for cruisers going to or from Korea in order to renew their visas, though it is then necessary to go to Izuhara, the main port to clear in or out. The latter port is strictly commercial and has no room or facilities for yachts.


Tsushima is cut in half by a network of waterways and one artificial cut which allows small craft traffic to pass from one side of the island to the other. The cut is spanned by a 19m bridge. Thakesiki Kou is part of this network. The berth above is at Nagasakaura. Access is through a very narrow, but short channel to a modern, well-secured pontoon in a small pool behind a dock. There is very little room to manoeuvre and it is essential to have lines and fenders ready to stop the boat and warp around. Depth in the approaches is about 4m, but there is 9m inside. The berth is extremely well protected and we would be happy to ride out a typhoon here if space was available. The setting is also delightful and, unusually for Japan, quite rural. There is no power or water on the pontoon. There are toilet facilities ashore as part of a park and recreation area, as well as a community facility up the hill, where there is also a public onsen. It was about a 20 minute cycle ride to the nearest shops. No officials.




West Coast of Honshu



Hagi – 34:25.592/131:24.724


Hagi is a culturally and historically important town with some very attractive older buildings in the old samurai quarter, adjacent to the site of the castle ruins. There is a marina, but we were told charges were high for very moderate facilities. There are two possible berths in the main fishing harbour. The berth above has only about 2m depth and it was necessary to use a stern anchor with bow to the dock. It is also possible if there is room to berth alongside the end of the main pier in the northeast of the harbour. This is the more usual mooring, but less convenient for access to the town. There is water on this dock, but none at the position above. This is a major fishing port and care should be taken to negotiate a berth with the local fishermen. Officials visited the boat. There is free Wifi at the Hagi Library and good shopping in town, 10 minutes by bike or 30 minutes on foot.



Oki Shoto – Nishinoshima – 36:05.604/133:00.642


Through our growing network of Japanese friends we gained access to a private – rather rickety – pontoon at the Oki Seaside Hotel. We had a wonderful welcome and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The people of the island live fairly isolated lives and so are delighted to have visitors. There are some nice, if moderately demanding hikes on the hilly terrain of the island and some spectacular cliff views on the westward side. Apart from the berth above there are a number of fishing harbours at the town of Urago, where it would be possible to find a berth.



Ine – 35:40.473/135:17.321


Ine is a traditional fishing village with some very interesting older buildings in a distinctive style, built over the water, with boat houses underneath. Berthing at the position above is reasonable in settled conditions. However, despite the apparently good protection of the harbour, in stronger southerly to westerly winds the berth is very exposed to surge and chop. We had to bail out in these conditions. There are no facilities ashore and only very small shops. It is possible to bike or bus to the popular tourist spot, Amanohashidate, where there are also larger shops. No charges, but we were visited by the Coastguard, Customs and the Police.  Considerable care is required in the approaches to the harbour, where there is an extensive pattern of set  nets.



Wajima – 37:24.165/136:54.021


Wajima is a major fishing port and there is very little space for visitors to berth. The berth above was adjacent to the fish processing plant, which was shut for the Golden Week holiday when we were there. The berth might not be available on other occasions and if it is, it might be extremely noisy at all hours. The town is famous for its lacquer-work crafts. Shops are some distance away in the town. No officials, no charges.



Akita – 39:47.291/140:02.246


Akita Marina is modern and welcoming, with good facilities including Wifi. Though the official charges were high, we were given a very reasonable concession, having looked shocked at the initial quote. As we found when our gearbox needed repair, there is an excellent marine engineering service from Snipe Marine. Unfortunately the marina is a long way from town, shops and laundrette and the entrance is quite shallow. In strong west to northwest winds there would also be a good deal of surge in the marina and it might be difficult to get out of the entrance. Enoki San, a local yachtsman, is very helpful to foreign cruisers and will often loan you a vehicle, if you have an international driving permit.







Hakodate – 41:46.018/140:42.980


As the southern-most major port in Hokkaido, Hakodate is a logical first stop in that island. It is a pleasant if somewhat sleepy city with a number of interesting sightseeing opportunities. This is a historic city and another major trading centre in the 19th century. The berth is in a ‘notch’ at the southern end of the harbour, where it is necessary to tie up fore and aft inside the 'Blue Moon' tour boat dock. There is water available from the corner of the converted brick warehouse arcade on the dock. Mizuno San owns a jewellery shop in this arcade and is most helpful to foreign cruisers. He speaks excellent English. He will also contact the authorities for you, though you will have to visit them for formalities. Officials in Hokkaido were pleasant but even more obsessed with form-filling than further south. Through personal contacts it might be possible to get a berth in the small marina for local yachts if planning a longer stay.


Though it is not ideally situated for inland touring of Hokkaido, we chose it for that purpose rather than Muroran, further north, as the marina at the latter was expensive and the port reputed to be dirty. The Toyota dealership a short walk away, in Hakodate, had reasonable deals for rental cars. There is free Wifi at the community centre 10 minutes walk away, close to the nearest medium-sized supermarket. There is a petrol station one block in from the dock. The laundrette was a 15 minute bike ride and unusually for Japan, very small.



Kushiro – 42:58.891/144:23.001


Kushiro is the furthest north major open port on the east coast of Hokkaido and therefore the natural point of departure for cruisers heading to Alaska. Visitors berth up the river alongside the dock, on the west side, next to a shopping centre just below the bridge. There can be considerable wash from passing vessels as well as surge when there is a big swell outside; heavy fenders are essential. There are toilets in the centre and water available from a point behind the semi-permanent marquee. There is free Wifi on the upper floor of the centre, which is open from 1000-1800. The large supermarket is about 20 minutes walk away. There is an onsen 5 minutes walk from the dock and small laundrette 15 minutes walk away the other side of the river. Cruisers are expected to visit all officials for clearance into and out of the port. Fortunately these are all in one building about 10 minutes walk from the berth. No charges.