So much for that idea

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.

9 thoughts on “So much for that idea”

  1. That really blows.

    That said, I don’t really know how the economics would work out here. Three points come to mind:

    (1) Most ships are burning diesel or another petroleum byproduct, so they are affected by the fuel costs too.

    (2) For planes, fuel costs mainly affect long transoceanic routes. Shorter routes are not affected quite as much. In fact, I think it’s actually *cheaper* to fly within Japan today than it was ten years ago, even though there was more competition (3 domestic airlines) ten years ago. Flights to Asia are being affected quite a bit but not as disastrously as longer flights (it’s like $2,000 for a coach ticket between Japan and the East Coast this summer… ouch!)

    (3) Arimura has been in insolvency for the past nine years. Unless their management is completely incompetent (which could be the case), it must just not be profitable to run ferry service from Japan to Taiwan. I would like to know how the China and Korea ferries are doing, though…

  2. One more thought: What they really need to do is come up with a material sort of like the transparent aluminum in Star Trek IV, and then use it to build a undersea tunnel from Kagoshima to Taipei with transparent walls. That would be the coolest train ride ever (think 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Disney World).

  3. More ferries would be good, but I think airfares need to get a lot more expensive first. From Taiwan there is big potential for ferry routes to China, but everyone seems obsessed with the “direct flights” at the moment.

  4. I`ve done a trip similar to the one that you described. Taiwan thing aside, it might be nice to take a ferry from Osaka to Beppu, do Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki and go to Kagoshima, then go up the other coast to Nagasaki, cut over to Fukuoka and fly to Okinawa from there. The ferry trip to Okinawa from Kagoshima is decent, but the Inland Sea voyage should be nicer in some ways. If you want to get a Pacific ferry fix, going from the Okinawan mainland to one of the outer islands would be a good idea. Lots of options.

  5. Transparent aluminum was actually invented fairly recently- but it seems to be a coating, and not a structural material.

    Not sure if that’s an inherent property of the compound though, or just based on how expensive it is to make by weight.

    As for the economics of ferries, I don’t know very well either, but certainly the Korea ones do a lot better due to higher demand and lower distance. If it’s close enough for an overnight trip or a same day return, the economics are completely transformed.

  6. Well, direct ferries between Taiwan and China would be a no-brainer if the political situation were different (there are ferries between Taiwan island itself and the various islands they control in the Strait, such as Pengu, Matsu and Kinmen) but I imagine that a ferry would be more of a security risk than an airplane.

  7. Ferries in that area are now an Australian export market:

    Japanese tourism operators have taken ownership of their own slice of Tasmania – a custom built ferry. The “Premium Dream” is destined for Ishigaki, east of Taiwan, an area marked by its coral reefs and beaches. Hobart-based boat builder, Toby Richardson, believes the ferry will be a big hit in the tourist hot spot. “We haven’t done this just to do it once,” Mr Richardson said. “We’ve done this to promote and to get into the Japanese market, which as you can imagine is a huge market,” he said. The $5 million ferry is 32 metres long and can carry about 250 passengers.

  8. Yonaguni launches new ferry service to Taiwan

    Date Posted: 2008-11-14
    Yonaguni Town in Okinawa and sister city Karen in Taiwan have inked an agreement to initiate ferry service between the two municipalities starting next month.

    Service is set to begin December 12th and 14th with the 399-passenger vessel owned by Taipei City’s Karen International Shipping company carrying a combination of freight and passengers on the new route. The new service marks a first for joint passenger-cargo service between Yonaguni and Karen.

    Passengers will travel free at the beginning, while a travel agency established by contract with Yonaguni Town will begin accepting reservations soon. The service will operate as a quasi-charter service initially, but officials say they anticipate the route becoming a permanent, regularly scheduled service. Officials from the two municipalities are working the details on operating costs, and how to set reasonable passenger fares.

    “Our target is to navigate this route as regular business,: says Yonaguni Town’s special promotion board director, Chiyo Tasato. “We want to promote the economy and tourism.” Yonaguni Town has received ¥50million in subsidy money from the Japanese government for promotion and reclamation work. The town anticipates operating with a ¥14 million budget.

    (From Japan Update dot com)

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