How to get to Japan without flying? This guide explains how you can cross the ocean to Japan without taking to the skies.
After China and Thailand, Japan is the third most visited country in Asia. It is possible to visit Japan without flying. However, reaching the island country in the northwest Pacific is part of the adventure.
This guide is divided into three sections. First, we’ll explore ways of traveling from Asia to Japan without flying. After that, we’ll investigate crossing the Pacific from America to Japan. And in the end, we’ll investigate departures from Europe and the rest of the world.
How to Get from Asia to Japan without Flying
Traveling to Japan via South Korea
The most common way of reaching Japan without flying is by taking a ferry from South Korea. The shortest and most popular ferry route goes from Busan in South Korea to Fukuoka in Japan in three hours. In 2023, this ferry departs once per day. The 4corners7seas website lists all the ferries between South Korea and Japan.
In the past, it was also possible to take a ferry from Vladivostok in Russia to Sakaiminato in Japan via Korea, but this route is no longer active.
The best way to reach South Korea without flying is by taking a ferry from China. These ferries suspended operations during the COVID pandemic, but luckily there is some good news for flightless travelers. In August 2023, these ferries resumed passenger transport after a hiatus of over three years.
Traveling to Japan from the rest of Asia
If you wish to get to Japan without flying without passing through South Korea, you may want to consider freighter travel. Unlike cruises – that may produce more CO2 emissions than flights – freighter travel is considered nearly CO2 neutral.
You can book a freighter voyage easily with a specialized travel agency. I used Freighter Travel (NZ) on my 18-day transpacific journey from New Zealand to California, but other companies such as Cargo Ship Voyages, Maris Freighter Cruises, and Voyages en Cargo work just as well. On average, freighter travel costs $100-150 per day, including meals.
For example, Maris Freighter Cruises offers a freighter voyage from Shanghai to Tokyo in 5 days for roughly $650. If you embark in Asia, it is easier to find cargo ships that take you to South Korea instead of Japan.
How to Get to Japan without Flying from America
Can you sail from Japan to America?
It is possible to sail from America to Japan. According to one guide, sailing from California, USA, to Japan takes around 30-60 days.
If you don’t own a sailboat, you can try to find a passage on websites such as FindaCrew.net and CrewSeekers.net. These services connect captains with crewmates willing to work for their passage. At the time of writing in late 2023, though, I couldn’t find any captains heading to Japan.
Reaching Japan on a Ship from America
The distance from the US West Coast to Japan is roughly 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers). Needless to say, there are no regular ferries across the Pacific. Some cruise ships may head towards Japan, but their large environmental impact makes them a conflicting choice for flightless travelers.
However, it is possible to travel on a cargo ship from America to Japan. As I wrote earlier in this guide, you can book a cargo ship voyage with the help of a freighter travel agency. The COVID pandemic has restricted the amount of freighter voyages available, but it is still possible to catch a ride across the Pacific.
At the time of writing, I was able to find one regular cargo ship route between Japan and America. The ACSA 1 route from freighter from shipping company CMA CGM connects Japan and Far East Asia with Mexico and South America. For example, you can take the freighter from Manzanillo in Mexico to Yokohama in Japan in 18 days for roughly $1900.
Flightless Routes from the Rest of the World
Finally, we’ll explore ways of reaching Japan from the other continents of the world: Africa, Australia, and Europe.
Heading from Africa to Asia without flying is not easy. There are not many cargo ship routes available for travelers departing Africa. Starting from Africa, I’d recommend heading to Europe first before continuing the journey through Asia. My guide “How to Get to Europe without Flying” can help you with this part.
When it comes to flightless routes to Japan, the Australians are slightly better off. The CMA CGF Georgia freighter travels from Australia to Japan every few weeks. For example, you can take the freighter from Brisbane to Yokohama in 12 days for around $1400.
If you start your journey from Europe, it might be best to head to America or Asia first. Fortunately, I have written guides for both of these journeys:
- How to Travel from Europe to America by Ship
- How to Take a Train from Europe to Asia (+ More Flightless Routes)
How to Get to Japan without Flying
In this guide, we’ve explored various flightless routes from different corners of the world.
Starting in Asia, the ferry from South Korea to Japan, specifically from Busan to Fukuoka, remains a popular and efficient choice. However, the Russian route through Vladivostok is no longer available. For those seeking alternatives in Asia, freighter travel is an eco-friendly option.
Heading across the Pacific from America presents a challenge, but sailing from California to Japan is possible with patience and a connection via websites like FindaCrew.net and CrewSeekers.net. Cargo ships also offer a chance, with the ACSA 1 route from CMA CGM being one such option.
For travelers from Africa and Europe, the journey to Japan without flying can be more complex, often involving a detour through other continents. Australians have a more direct option via the CMA CGF Georgia freighter.
In your quest to explore the land of the rising sun without taking flight, remember that the journey itself is an integral part of the adventure. Bon voyage!