TAKAMATSU, KAGAWA PREF. – A ferry connecting Uno Port in Okayama Prefecture and Takamatsu Port in Kagawa Prefecture has ceased services after 109 years.
The ferry completed its last trip across the Seto Inland Sea on Sunday night after a long-term decrease in passengers led to the deterioration of business conditions.
Operated by a company based in Takamatsu, the capital of Kagawa Prefecture, the Uko route went into service in 1910 as a train ferry for the now-defunct Japanese National Railways.
At its peak in 1987, multiple private companies operated a total of some 150 trips a day on the ferry route, which extends for some 21 kilometers. Some 4 million people used the services that year.
The opening of the Seto Ohashi bridge in 1988, however, caused a steep decline in the number of ferry passengers, and private-sector firms pulled out of the route in turn.
Although the Takamatsu-based operator tried to cut costs through various measures including revising its fares and reducing the number of trips, it posted a loss of around ¥100 million in fiscal 2018.
On Nov. 11, the company submitted an application to suspend the ferry service, which was accepted by the Shikoku District Transport Bureau under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
According to the company, the number of passengers increased between two- and threefold from a year earlier after the suspension was announced. “We will be able to restart (the ferry service) if the business environment improves, but it will be difficult (to reopen the route) under current circumstances,” a company official said.
People formed a line in front of a store located aboard the ferry that is renowned for its udon noodles, as the vessel departed Takamatsu Port on its last run.
Hiroshi Inohara, a 59-year-old caretaker from the city of Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, said that he thought of the ferry and udon “as a set,” just like ekiben boxed meals for train passengers and trains.
“I’m sad that (the ferry service) will no longer be operated,” said Mayumi Komoto from the city of Okayama.
Komoto, 46, said that she used to ride the ferry on visits to an aquarium with her family when she was a child.