The main Korea – Japan ferry route (for those without vehicles) is the JR Beetle hydrofoil between Fukuoka (Hakata Port) and Busan, with several sailings per day in each direction. These boats are fast and get across in just a few hours; if you have wheels to transport you can take one of the slower car ferries.
Korea – Japan ferry route summary
1. Busan – Fukuoka (Hakata Port) (3 hours, JR Beetle, 2 or 3 per day; also once per day on Miraejet’s Kobee hydrofoil, 3.5 hours)
2. Busan – Fukuoka (Hakata Port) (6 or 12 hours, Camellia Line, daily)
3. Busan – Shimonoseki (12 hours overnight, Kampu Ferry, daily)
4. Busan – Osaka (18 hours overnight, Panstar Cruise, 3 per week each way)
5. Donghae – Sakaiminato (15 hours overnight, DBS Ferries, weekly; this is the same ship that continues on to Russia from Korea)
6. Busan – Tsushima Island (1-3 hours, multiple times daily with JR Beetle, Miraejet Kobee, and Daea Express Ocean Flower)
JR Beetle: Busan – Fukuoka (hydrofoil)
I’ve taken the Beetle many times; for my most recent update on this route (including port access info & charges, fuel surcharges, how to book, etc), see here. If you’re wondering about the possibility of doing Seoul – Osaka / Tokyo in one day by bullet train & Beetle, yes it does work but is a pretty long slog – see here for details.
A Korean company called Miraejet also runs one hydrofoil (Kobee) service per day on the round trip between Busan & Fukuoka; this calls at Tsushima Island (see below), so takes a bit longer than the JR Beetle. You can buy tickets at the ports, but if you want to reserve (or check the schedules) online the website is only in Korean; it’s going to be easier (as well as faster) for most travellers to use the Beetle, but if you do want to try using MiraeJet’s website here’s a key for their reservation box:
Basically they usually run two ferries a day between Busan and Tsushima (Daemado, 대마도, in Korean), with one of those also running to Fukuoka.
Camellia Line: Busan – Fukuoka (car ferry)
Korea Ferry operates the Camellia Line car ferry making one round trip per day between Japan and Korea, sailing from Fukuoka to Busan by day (6 hours), and from Busan to Fukuoka overnight (12 hours). They have an English website here where you can make online reservations, or you can book on Direct Ferries here.
The cheapest economy class fares are the ‘premium’ (カメリアプレミアム価格) and ‘special’ (カメリアスペシャル価格) options on the Camellia website, at 2500 and 4500 JPY respectively. If they’re sold out, the ‘standard’ (カメリアスタンダード価格) option is 7200 JPY – in which case it’ll probably be cheaper to book on Direct Ferries , which usually has it for around 57 USD. If you buy in person at the terminal you get the standard fare of 7200 yen in Japan or 72000 won in Korea. You can also go for first class options (starting from approx. 100 USD) in 2-berth or 4-berth cabins rather than the dormitory-style economy class.
(Also don’t forget about the port tax & fuel charges, see port info below)
Kampu Ferry: Busan – Shimonoseki (car ferry)
Kampu Ferry has a decent English website here; you can make a reservation by phone or email as per the instructions on their site, book online via Direct Ferries here, or just turn up and buy a ticket.
Online with Direct Ferries is the easiest option, and also marginally cheaper. However that wasn’t yet an option when I went from Shimonoseki to Busan on Kampu Ferry, so I went to the tour desk at Kokura Station (the main station in neighbouring Kita-Kyushu city) to ask where the Shimonoseki ferry terminal was located, and ended up paying them a small service fee to call Kampu and book the ferry for me (it was cheap and she’d printed a map out for me and generally been very helpful, so I figured why not. But it isn’t remotely necessary to use a travel agent).
Kita-Kyushu and Shimonoseki are located just across the Kanmon Strait from each other; if you arrive in the area by bullet train or night bus, it’ll probably be Kokura Station where you get off (there is also a Shin-Shimonoseki Station, but the faster trains (i.e. all Nozomi and most Hikari trains) skip it). The ferry terminal is a short walk from Shimonoseki Station, which in turn is 15 minutes (2 stops) from Kokura Station on the JR Sanyo Line (or 10 minutes from Shin-Shimonoseki Station). If you want to find it on Google Maps, search for 下関港国際ターミナル (which reads Shimonoseki-ko Kokusai Taaminaru, Shimonoseki Port International Terminal).
At time of last update (2018) the cheapest one-way fare from Shimonoseki is 9,000 JPY (second class), plus port & fuel charges totalling 910 JPY when leaving Japan (details here); sailing from Busan the cheapest fare is 95,000 KRW. Direct Ferries usually has it for 85 USD.
For port access in Busan (and port & fuel fees) see port info below.
Sailing time is 11 or 12 hours, depending on direction (details here)
You pass these small islands off the Fukuoka coast (snapped with my old camera phone hence the poor resolution), a nice final (or initial) view of Japan:
Panstar Cruise: Busan – Osaka (car ferry)
The Panstar Dream runs between Osaka & Busan several times per week, taking about 18 hours. Their website is unfortunately only available in Korean and Japanese, but thankfully you can book this ferry on Direct Ferries here which is usually cheaper anyway.
At time of writing the cheapest one-way fares when purchased in person at the terminals are 14,000 JPY from Osaka or 140000 KRW from Busan, plus (when leaving Osaka) the port charge of 620 JPY and the fuel surcharge of 1,400 JPY (subject to change); see below for Busan port & fuel charges. Direct Ferries usually has it for around 110 USD.
Journey time is 18.5 to 19.5 hours, depending on direction & day of travel. You can check the schedule here, using the following characters in the first two columns:
大阪 = Osaka
釜山 = Busan
出発曜日 = Departure Day
月 = Monday
火 = Tuesday
水 = Wednesday
木 = Thursday
金 = Friday
日 = Sunday
The third and fourth columns give departure and arrival times, respectively.
The Osaka terminal is the Osaka Kokusai Ferry Terminal, 大阪国際フェリーターミナル (Osaka International Ferry Terminal), a 10-minute walk from Cosmosquare Station on the Chuo Line.
For port access in Busan, see below.
DBS Ferry: Vladivostok – Donghae – Sakaiminato (car ferry)
DBS Ferry operates the Eastern Dream between Japan (Sakaiminato) and Russia (Vladivostok), via Donghae (Korea). It’s a weekly service, and the Donghae – Sakaiminato leg takes about 15 hours. They do have a website in English, but it isn’t updated frequently; this Tottori Prefecture Daisen region tourism website is actually more informative than the official DBS site.
At time of writing, the one-way fare is listed as 8,500 JPY from Sakaiminato, 100,000 KRW from Donghae; journey time is 14 or 15 hours, depending on direction. If you want to book this one online, it only appears to be possible using Direct Ferries but unfortunately their cheapest price is usually over 200 USD. Otherwise, to book in advance you’ll have to try calling DBS directly or one of the tourist info centres listed here.
A free shuttle bus runs passengers between JR Sakaiminato Station and the ferry terminal on Friday mornings (when the Eastern Dream arrives) and Saturday afternoons (when it departs again), details on the Daisen website. The distance is around 3km, so you could also take a quick taxi ride or walk it (see map on the Daisen site).
In Donghae, the port is at Mukho, a few hundred metres from Mukho train station. Trains run from Mukho to Cheongyangni Station in Seoul, but they’re the slowest class of train and take around 5 hours; it’s faster to take a highway bus running between Donghae Express Bus Terminal and Dong Seoul Terminal (East Seoul Terminal, located next to Gangbyeon Station on Seoul Metro Line 2).
It’s a few kilometres between Donghae Express Bus Terminal and Mukho Port, so you’ll probably want to jump in a taxi:
Daea Express Ocean Flower: Busan – Tsushima (hydrofoil)
The island of Tsushima, 対馬, (Daemado, 대마도, in Korean) is the sizeable island lying between Korea and Japan which the Busan – Fukuoka ferries pass, and is part of Japan’s Nagasaki Prefecture. Various domestic ferry services run from Tsushima to mainland Japan, and there are three companies running hydrofoils internationally between Busan and Tsushima; it’s therefore possible to travel between Busan and mainland Japan via Tsushima. This is unlikely to be of much interest to the majority of travellers from the rest of the world, but Tsushima is a popular spot for both Korean tourists and Japanese domestic tourists.
The JR Beetle (see above) runs some Busan – Tsushima services in addition to its Busan – Fukuoka services; the Miraejet Kobee has a couple of services a day between Busan and Tsushima, with one of those also calling at Fukuoka. You can see their (Korean only) website here, and see above for help with deciphering it.
In addition to those two, a third hydrofoil service exists between Busan and Tsushima; the Ocean Flower is run by Daea Express, you can check their website out here but it’s also entirely in Korean. These Tsushima options are listed up on this Tsushima tourism page.
Port Information for Busan and Fukuoka
Busan International Ferry Terminal
The shiny new Busan International Passenger Terminal is located a short walk (10 minutes or so) from Busan Station, the southern terminus of the KTX (bullet train) line from Seoul. It’s on the east side of the station; leaving the station by exit 9, go down the stairs/elevator, turn left (north) on the main road and take the next right (cross over at the pedestrian crossing) and then go straight along that side road in front of you and follow it round to the terminal:
If it’s raining, just jump in a taxi and show him 부산국제여객터미널 or ask for “Busan Gugje Yeogaeg Teomineol”.
There are also shuttle buses between the terminal and the station:
If you’re coming from the Busan subway system, it’s actually closer to get off at Choryang Station rather than Busan Station. Coming out of exit 6 follow the signs to turn left and then through the tunnel under the railway tracks, then cross the main road and the terminal’s straight ahead:
The ferry terminal has good food and drink options available, as does Busan Station, so you can easily make a pit stop as you pass through. Checkin opens one hour before departure and closes 30 minutes before; you have to go through immigration so (if coming from Seoul) to avoid any stress I’d suggest timing your KTX to arrive at Busan Station around 90 minutes before departure, which leaves plenty of time to stroll over, perhaps grab a bite on the go, check in, and clear immigration; if you want to sit and eat some lunch, obviously allow longer accordingly.
Port tax from Busan is 4,300 won (approx $4 US) payable at checkin only, so make sure you keep enough won on hand, and there’s an oil surcharge of 14,000 won ($14 US) which is tacked on to the ticket fare if you buy at the terminal (but if you already have your reservation paid online, you’ll have to pay this at checkin too); also be aware that when you arrive at Hakata you may have cash issues (the terminal has no international ATM and is a bus ride from the downtown area), so it’s best to get hold of some Japanese yen before leaving Busan (there are money changers in the ferry terminal). Alternatively if you have at least a few thousand won to change to yen on arrival it’ll cover the bus fare to get downtown (see Hakata Port, below). The fuel surcharge changes frequently, between 5,000 won and 14,000 won in my experience; the rate given here is correct as of late 2018. If you keep 20,000 won per person that should cover the departure tax & fuel surcharge in Busan.
Hakata Port Access and Information
Access to Hakata Port from Fukuoka is well explained here; I’ve done both bus and taxi, the bus is straightforward enough but taxis are obviously easiest. The passenger terminal is a 20-minute or so bus ride from either Tenjin (central Fukuoka) or Hakata Station; the bus costs 230 yen, and you can take bus number 88 from Hakata Station (bus stand F, over the main road outside the west exit) or bus number 80 from the Tenjin area (bus stop 2A, located in front of the Solaria Stage department store on the west side of the main north/south road (Watanabe Dori, 渡辺通り) outside Tenjin station). Allow plenty of time if you need to locate these as you go, as it’s a pretty busy area and may take some working out / help from a friendly local. If you’re pressed for time, taxis are plentiful and should get you there in 10 minutes or so for around 1,500 yen – just show or tell the driver 博多港国際ターミナル “Hakata-ko Kokusai Taaminaru”. If you fancy it you can also walk it from Hakata Station in about 40 minutes, or from the nearest metro station (Gofukumachi) in about 20 minutes (just use Google Maps for the route).
The food and drink options at the terminal aren’t so great, so it’s advisable to get that sorted before taking the bus (or just make do with the snacks and drink available on the ferry, which are basic but reasonable).
Departure tax from Hakata is 500 yen (approx $5 US) payable in cash only from vending machines next to the checkin desk, and the oil surcharge is 1700 yen ($17 US, which is payable by cash or card) so make sure to keep enough cash in hand – especially given that the nearest international ATM is at the 7-Eleven store some 15 minutes away on foot. When arriving at Hakata, this can make things a little tricky – you’ll need 230 yen for the bus, but unless you have a Japanese account there’s no ATM you can use. Best solution is to get hold of some Japanese yen before boarding in Busan, or at least hang on to a few thousand Korean won which you can change at the money changer in the Hakata terminal (if you arrive in the evening the money changer will already be closed, but you can change it at the information desk); otherwise, you’ll have to walk to 7-Eleven, or take a taxi and have him stop at 7-Eleven on the way. Update: the information desk stopped changing money some time in early 2018, so if you’re arriving in the evening and don’t have Japanese cash or bank card you’ll have no option but to head to the 7-Eleven – ask the info desk for a map. If you have won to change there’s a money changer at Hakata Station (in the main concourse, terrible rates) once you manage to get there!
The bus numbers when going from the terminal to Hakata Station or Tenjin are different than when going the other way, for some reason; for Hakata Station you can take numbers 11, 19, and 50; for Tenjin you can take numbers 55, 151, 152, and 80. Of course, things can change so double check on the website and/or at the information counter.
Also, when arriving at Hakata Port be prepared for the likelihood of a tedious bag search and questioning session; they’ve searched me almost every single time, very thoroughly on a couple of occasions including swabs for ‘drug check’ (though they don’t actually appear to run those swabs through any machine, so I’m not convinced they’re genuine).
The fuel surcharge changes frequently; rate given above is correct as of late 2018.
Have you travelled between Japan and Korea by ferry? Any updates or changes future overlanders should be aware of? Do you have any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you.
The links to Direct Ferries on this page are affiliate links. If you use these links, 4corners7seas gets commission from Direct Ferries (at no extra cost to you) and it’s usually the cheapest way for you to book, so it’s a win-win. Thanks in advance should you choose to support the site using these links. (Booking this way also avoids potential cockups like the time I made a mess of reserving online in Japanese)