YOKOHAMA - Japanese ports have been bustling with foreign cruise ships and passengers amid robust demand that has prompted the development of new tour services combining ocean voyages with rail or air travel.
In 2016, 1.99 million tourists arrived by cruise ship, up 78.5 percent from the previous year. The government is aiming to boost that figure to 5 million in 2020, according to the transport ministry.
Kyushu is the most popular stop-off point for ships from abroad. In 2016, cruise ships made 715 port calls there, a sixfold increase from 2013, according to the local transport ministry bureau.
Around 1.94 million tourists entered Japan through Kyushu ports in the year, surpassing arrivals at airports, the Kyushu Regional Development Bureau said.
The majority of cruise passengers were from China, thanks to the region’s geographical proximity.
A bureau official expressed bewilderment at the surge, wondering: “How come there was such a sharp rise?”
To accommodate the soaring number of cruise ships, Kyushu ports have made such efforts as expanding quays and building new terminals.
Another popular destination is Yokohama, which was ranked as the top destination for port calls in Japan for more than a decade through 2014. The port of Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture rose to the top of the list in 2015 and 2016, but Yokohama bounced back with a new record in 2017.
The municipal government attributed the port’s popularity to a service dubbed “Fly & Cruise,” where tourists fly to nearby Haneda airport and then board a cruise ship from Yokohama.
The port in the city, which opened in 1859 as Japan’s first modern international trading port, boasts the most port calls by domestic ships.
“The port has a long history and is a cruise destination representing Japan,” a municipal official said.
A new service in 2016 featuring “inter-porting,” which offers a regular cruise to ports along the Sea of Japan coast, is also popular. The tour connects the ports of Hakata, Maizuru in Kyoto and Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture with South Korea’s Busan, and allows passengers to board and disembark at each port.
At the port in Kanazawa, a service dubbed “rail and cruise” — a combination of travel on the Hokuriku Shinkansen that links Tokyo with areas on the Sea of Japan coast, and a ship voyage — has attracted foreign and domestic tourists alike.