Entering from the South: 15-month Plan
In my opinion, the standard three-month Alaska-bound passage (see Part One) is too rushed to give the cruiser a full appreciation of the wonders of cruising Japan. For those coming from the south, therefore, I recommend a 15-month cruising plan that starts with three months of leisurely island-hopping through the Ryukyu Islands and exploring the beautiful and interesting Kyushu west coast.
Leaving their boat in Fukuoka, they make a quick ferry or plane trip to Korea to get a new three-month Japanese visa and then head into the Seto Inland Sea, with its many lovely islands, interesting historical sights, short passages, and calm weather (and good typhoon protection). At the end of the three months, they leave their boat at one of several excellent and reasonably priced marinas in the Seto Inland Sea or in Fukuoka and then go home or to some place warm for the winter.
Returning in the spring, they do a slow-paced trip up the Sea of Japan coast to Hokkaido and beyond. Alternatively, if they are not planning on going to North America, they explore more of the Seto Inland Sea, Shikoku, Kyushu, and the Ryukyu Islands before heading to Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.
This 15-month plan allows the cruiser to explore and experience the tremendous depth of Japanese history and culture. In addition to places mentioned in other parts of this Japan Cruising Route series, here are some of the highlights of this route.
The Goto Islands
The Goto Islands, off the west coast of Kyushu, are a beautiful area with an interesting history. Here one can find the abandoned lairs of 14th-16th century Wako pirates and stunning churches built in the late 19th century by Hidden Christians who emerged after 250 years of avoiding persecution. Wonderful anchorages and a marina at the northern end of the island chain make it a good place to explore for a week or two or more.
The Seto Inland Sea
The Seto Inland Sea has literally hundreds of interesting and beautiful places to visit. To mention just one, the island of Ohmishima features Japan's longest floating dock (with visitor moorage for less than ¥50/night), a 1,500-year old Shinto shrine dedicated to the god of soldiers and sailors, a museum that houses 80% of the samurai armor and swords designated as National Treasures, and a statue in the ocean of Tsuruhime, a 16th century female samurai.
Hagi, near the western end of the main island of Honshu, played an important role in the 1868 Meiji Restoration that ended Japan's self-imposed isolation and put it on the path to modernization. A small school operated by a lower-ranking samurai, who was eventually executed for treason, educated young men who went on to become leaders in Japanese politics (including Japan's first prime minister), the military, and industry.
Sado Island, half way up the Sea of Japan coast, is a popular stop for cruisers heading to Hokkaido and beyond. The small port of Ogi on Sado’s southwest corner has excellent and free visitor moorage ... and a chance to take a ride in a taraibune tub boat.