Well, I had been planning to take a trip this summer in which I would go by train from Kyoto to Fukuoka, visit a couple of friends there, then head down through Kyushu by train to Kagoshima, from where I would take a ferry to Okinawa, spend a few days, and then take another ferry to Taiwan. Unfortunately, it looks like the only ferry company servicing the Okinawa/Taiwan route has gone out of business. Arimura Sangyo, which had been making the run for decades, is apparently no more. Their website is gone, the phone number is out of service, and an unofficial mirror of their former web page has added a statement informing that they officially ceased service in June, and went into corporate liquidation just on July 11.
So, apparently there is not currently any sea route between Japan and Taiwan, which has probably killed my entire concept for the trip. I may still book a flight for a couple of weeks in Taiwan, and I will probably at some point do the boat trip to Okinawa, but without the ferry connecting Okinawa to Taiwan, there seems to be little point in linking it all into one trip- unless someone reading this has info on another ferry company which somehow doesn’t turn up with any amount of googling.
Although plenty of other ocean routes still seem to be pretty active, ship is certainly long past its prime as a method of passenger transport. But, as fuel prices continue to climb and air travel becomes increasingly expensive after a long period of relative affordability, might we see a resurgence of medium distance (by which I mean a day or two, say between Pacific Islands, but not trans-Atlantic or Pacific) as an affordable alternative?
On a related note, while looking for currently active ferries, I found this rather neat web page on the history of long distance ferries in Japan.
Someone posted the following report on Arimura to the Lonely Planet message board.
Arimura Industries, a ferry operator, that is based in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, plying between Japan and Taiwan, intends to liquidate sometime soon mainly because of the current drastic fuel cost hike. The service has been completely suspended since 6th June. When the operations will resume is uncertain at the moment.
Arimura has been petitioning the Okinawa Prefectural Government to establish a new entity to continuously run the business only to have got an evasive answer. The company will keep on hiring the 120 employees. Its three vessels have been moored idly at Naha Sea Port.
It has been under reconstruction since 1999 based on the Corporate Rehabilitation Law.