It might be cheaper to fly between Japan and Korea, but taking the scenic route is way more fun. Here’s Jun Kitayama’s in-depth article on how you can travel to Busan from Kyoto by ferry.
View from the ferry to Busan at night. – image © Jun Kitayama
While Seoul may be the first destination that comes to mind for South Korea, the port city of Busan (also spelled Pusan) makes an equally lovely weekend trip from Japan. With its beaches, temples, mountains and generally laid-back demeanour, Busan is the more relaxed alternative to the big city.
The advent of low-cost carriers means that it’s never been easier to travel between Japan and Korea. But, there are times when it’s just much more pleasant and romantic to take the scenic route. If you have time to spare and want to take the slow route, consider travelling to Busan by ferry. There’s nothing quite like an overnight cruise to lull you to sleep – it’s far more comfortable than a plane ride!
Notes Before You Go From Kyoto to Busan
- This article describes the journey from Kyoto to Busan by ferry, which involves two overnight ferries in addition to two train journeys from Kyoto to the port in Osaka. You’ll need to budget three days for slow travel. For comparison, flying to Busan from Kansai International Airport takes 1.5 hours.
- Most of the travel is done overnight, and you’ll have a day in Shimonoseki to explore the surrounding area.
- If you don’t want to make the whole journey by ferry, you can shorten your travel time by taking the train to Shimonoseki Port instead. You’ll take the bullet train from Kyoto Station to Kokura Station, and change here for the local train on the Kagoshima Line bound for Shimonoseki. The whole train journey is just under 3 hours.
- This might not be the best way to travel if you have many heavy suitcases, as it involves a number of transfers between modes of transportation. However, there are coin lockers at Shimonoseki Station, which are adequate for large backpacks and small to medium-sized suitcases.
How to Travel from Kyoto to Busan by Ferry
Here’s how you travel from Kyoto to Busan by ferry. We’ve included a Google map which has the whole route and all the places mentioned marked on it.
The line dividing Yamaguchi Prefecture and Fukuoka Prefecture. – image © Jun Kitayama
I travel back and forth between Busan many times every year, and up until a few years ago, I was a loyal user of Panstar Ferry – at least, until budget airlines made it more economical and faster to fly instead. As a boat enthusiast who wrote a guide to ferry trips from Kyoto, it’s a little embarrassing that I fly more often these days.
Several passenger routes operate between Japan and Korea. The oldest is the one connecting Shimonoseki – located at the western end of Honshu – to Busan in the southeastern part of South Korea. At present, Kampu Ferry and Pukwan Ferry operate two passenger ships, the Hamayuu and the Seong Hee respectively.
Kyoto and Shimonoseki aren’t exactly next door to each other, and the cumulative ferry fares don’t come cheap either, which is why I usually fly these days. Still, I’ve often seen the Hamayuu and Seong Hee ferries docked at Busan Port, and have always wanted to sail on them. In the summer of 2019, Kampu Ferry halved their fares in commemoration of their 50th anniversary – I couldn’t not take advantage of a 50% discount!
View a full-sized version of the map.
First, there’s the question of how to travel from Kyoto to Shimonoseki. The fastest way is to take the bullet train, but if there’s a boat available, I’ll take it. I made reservations for the following
- Meimon Taiyo Ferry, departing Osaka Nanko Port at 5:00pm and arriving at Shin Moji at 5:30am
- Kampu Ferry, departing Shimonoseki Port at 7:45pm and arriving at Busan Port at 8:00am
As you’ll see later in this article, Shin Moji and Shimonoseki might be in Kyushu and Honshu respectively, but they’re within walking distance of each other. This essentially gives you a whole day in these two areas for sightseeing.
Seats in the Premium Car. – image © Jun Kitayama
There aren’t any buses that go directly from Kyoto to the ferry terminal, so you’ll need to travel to the port in Osaka by train. There are many ways to get to Osaka from Kyoto, but my personal preference is to take the Keihan limited express train from Demachiyanagi Station. I often ride the Premium Car on the limited express. The train itself isn’t as fast as the JR or Hankyu trains, but it can’t be beat for the comfortable seating and the view from the window seat!
Each limited express train has just one Premium Car carriage, and it costs an additional JPY500 on top of the usual JPY470 fare. It’s a bit like flying first class or taking the green car on a JR train. The whole journey from Demachiyanagi Station to Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka takes 56 minutes.
The Premium Car carriage is clearly marked. – image © Jun Kitayama
Other points to consider in favour of the Premium Car experience:
- Dedicated luggage space for large suitcases. There’s also an attendant just for the Premium Car carriage, so you won’t have to worry about your luggage being stolen.
- Each seat has an electrical outlet where you can charge smartphones and other devices. They’ll even lend you a charger if you don’t have one.
- Free and stable WiFi.
- All seats are reserved, meaning that you’re guaranteed a seat – not just from the departing station (Demachiyanagi) but from other stops between (e.g. Sanjo, Gion-Shijo, and Shichijo Stations).
After arriving at Yodoyabashi Station, transfer to the subway to head to the ferry terminal. You won’t transfer to Yodoyabashi Station from the Keihan to the Osaka Metro. Instead, head above ground to Exit 4. Walk along with the Tosabori River on your right for about 5 minutes, and you’ll see Exit 1-A of Higobashi Station on the Osaka Metro.
If you have large bags or suitcases, it’s best to take the subway from this station. While you can take the Midosuji line from Yodoyabashi Station, this is usually more crowded than the Yotsubashi Line.
Ride the Yotsubashi Line from Higobashi Station to the last stop, Suminokoen Station. Do not exit the ticket gates. Instead, take the long escalator to the third floor. Here, you’ll transfer to the Nanko Port Town line. Incidentally, there are three ferry terminals along the Nanko Port Town line.
Board the small, unmanned train, and alight at the 4th station, Ferry Terminal Station. Walk along the covered pedestrian deck for about 3 minutes to arrive at Osaka Nanko Ferry Terminal.
- Take the Limited Express train from Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto to Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka.
- Transfer to Higobashi Station on the Yotsubashi Osaka Metro line.
- Ride the train to Suminokoen Station.
- Transfer to the Nanko Port Town line and alight at Ferry Terminal Station.
- The journey takes approximately 1 hour 40 minutes and costs JPY1290.
View from the Ferry Kyoto II on a cloudy day. – image © Jun Kitayama
The Meimon Taiyo Ferry bound for Shin Moji operates two boats daily, departing at 5:00pm and 7:50pm respectively. I boarded the Ferry Kyoto II departing at 5:00pm.
While it doesn’t make much difference what time you depart, booking a 5:00pm departure online gives you a 30% discount. I booked a second-class Western-style room – which is a little like a capsule hotel – which cost JPY5300.
Boarding starts at 4:00pm. Though there were 20 beds in this cabin, I was one of just two passengers – it was almost like I had a private room for this journey.
My bed for the night. – image © Jun Kitayama
After this, it’s all about enjoying the ride itself. Soak in the small public bath, take in the scenery on the passenger deck, explore the ship, have a cold beer with dinner at the buffet restaurant – it’s up to you.
The Ferry Kyoto II sails from the east end to the west end of the Seto Inland Sea between Honshu and Shikoku through three large bridges, circumnavigating the small islands. It’s never too far from shore, and you’ll see many other boats sailing alongside.
One could scarcely grow tired of this scene, but I retired to my bed in preparation for an early start the next morning. Strangely enough, I slept deeply and comfortably on the boat. Upon waking up, the ship had already entered Shin Moji Port.
An evening view across the Seto Inland Sea. – image © Jun Kitayama
The ship arrives at Shin Moji Port at 5:30am. Typically, passengers will disembark immediately. But, there’s a “Leisure Stay” service only available on this boat that allows you to disembark at a later hour. As the name implied, I slept in a little and had a more leisurely breakfast. Incidentally, breakfast is also free for those who had a buffet dinner the night before.
After disembarking at 7:00am, board the free shuttle bus along with everyone else who used the “Leisure Stay” option. 20 minutes on the bus took us across the mountain from Shin Moji Port to Moji Station.
Board the train at Moji Station. No sooner than it departs, you’ll enter a tunnel – this is the Kanmon Tunnel connecting Kyushu and Honshu. It runs along the seabed, carrying commuter passengers between the two islands without a hitch many times a day. 7 minutes on the train takes you to Shimonoseki Station.
I left my rucksack in a coin locker at Shimonoseki Station after alighting. Even after the long ferry journey, a good night’s sleep meant that I had plenty of energy to spare for the day ahead.
While in the area, I wanted to see the Kanmon Straits. This is the long, narrow sea separating the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and the narrowest part of this winding strait is approximately 650 meters. While I’d passed through this strait many times on the PanStar Ferry, it was always at night, and I’d never seen this strait from land.
I hopped on a bus aiming for the narrowest part of the strait. Having made a mistake during one of the transfers, I alighted halfway and walked over a kilometer the rest of the way. This turned out just fine: Shimonoseki has a number of attractions, and it’s fun walking along the sea while watching the ships sail past. You should head in the direction of Kanmon Bridge, a 1068 meter-long white suspension bridge. It’s something special to see it in daylight.
Kanmon Bridge on a rainy day. – image © Jun Kitayama
Kanmon Bridge is a highway bridge connecting Honshu and Kyushu, and while it can’t be crossed on foot, there’s another route for pedestrians. There’s a tunnel crossing under the sea that people can walk through.
The underground passage connecting Honshu and Kyushu. – image © Jun Kitayama
Head to the building near the bridge. Take the elevator down to the basement, and you’ll find a 780 meter-long passage. This is the Kanmon Roadway Tunnel. The road is right above the pedestrian tunnel, and you can hear cars driving above you! It’s about 10 minutes on foot from Shimonoseki in Honshu to Moji Ward in Kitakyushu City.
When I emerged above ground at the other end of the tunnel, I could see Honshu across the ocean, from where I’d just walked. The promenade along the seafront also made for a wonderful walk, and truly unique views of the strait.
Moji is an old port town, and in recent years, it’s become “Mojiko Retro,” a tourist spot attracting those in search of a touch of old-world, retro cityscapes. There’s much to see here when the weather is good. It started raining while I was there, but this afforded another opportunity for a boat ride.
Boarding the small passenger boat. – image © Jun Kitayama
Head over to the boarding point for the Kanmon Line, located near Moji Port. Purchase a JPY400 ticket and board a small passenger boat – mine was called “Ganryu.” In just 5 minutes, you’ll be across the Kanmon Straits and back in Shimonoseki. This was my second time in Honshu on the same day!
My pufferfish set lunch. – image © Jun Kitayama
After a surprisingly affordable set lunch of pufferfish – which is the local Shimonoseki specialty – at a canteen in Karato Market, I set about exploring Shimonoseki Town. The Sea Mall Shopping Center is also a decent place for a spot of shopping. As boarding for the 7:45pm ferry opens at 6:30pm, you’ll have plenty of time before the next leg of your journey.
The Shimonoseki International Terminal, where you’ll board the ferry to Busan, is located near Shimonoseki Station. It’s clearly signposted and connected by a pedestrian walkway, and the walk takes less than 10 minutes.
The Shimonoseki International Terminal. – image © Jun Kitayama
Boarding opens at 6:30pm. It’s an international route, so you will have to go through immigration, but it’s far more relaxed than boarding an airplane. You won’t have to separate liquids into checked baggage or electronic items into carry-ons, or worry about overweight baggage – just bring it all in.
There weren’t many passengers on the day I boarded the Hamayuu ferry. Most were part of a Korean tour group. For this trip, I’d booked the “first class Western-style room” for two. This was an ordinary but comfortable room with two bunk beds, a shower, and a toilet. Though this would usually cost JPY12,500, because of the half-price sale it was JPY6250. Including an additional JPY2000 for a 2-person room and use of the ship facilities, I paid a total of JPY10,460.
My bunk bed for the night – a private room. – image © Jun Kitayama
The Hamayuu is elegant rather than flashy, and feels similar to the Shin Nihonkai Ferry on the domestic route. This makes sense, since the Kampu Ferry and Shin-Nihonkai Ferry belong to the same group of companies.
As the Hamayuu departs Shimonoseki Port and sails along the Kanmon Straits, you’ll see Honshu on the right, and Kyushu on the left. It’s a wonderful, unmissable night view – though I was the only one on the passenger deck that night.
Shimonoseki and Busan are 230km apart, and the maximum speed of the Hamayuu is 33km per hour. This doesn’t mean you’ll arrive at Busan at 3:00am. The Hamayuu stops at sea twice – once at 10:00pm and again at midnight – to make adjustments for time, and ensure that you arrive at 8:00am. This arrival time makes for a more logical arrangement for both the Busan Port immigration staff and the ferry passengers!
After a good night’s rest, I woke up to the ship entering Busan Port. I got out of bed in a hurry and went to the front deck of the ship. There are very few boats that have this area open to ordinary passengers. I wanted to see how the boat entered the port, from a vantage point almost at the same angle as the control room.
Decelerating all the while, the Hamayuu passed through Busan Harbour Bridge and proceeded straight to the Busan Port International Passenger Terminal located in front of the port, and then docked in the harbour. I alighted from the ship at 8:00am sharp.
Arriving in Busan on a beautiful morning. – image © Jun Kitayama
I was now in Korea. Busan Station is a 10-minute walk from the terminal. From here, you can travel to Seoul in 2 hours 40 minutes by riding the KTX (Korean bullet train), but if you don’t have any particular reason to go, you don’t have to go there. After all, there’s plenty to see and do in Busan!
You can book accommodation in Busan and Seoul prior to your arrival via Booking.com.
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's my explanation of why it's worth it
- A prepaid Icoca card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world