There are tons of options for getting between Japan and Korea without flying. Well, four anyway, which is four times more than from Russia to Japan.
Three different ferry companies ply the Hakata to Busan route at various speeds, and you can also get a longer overnight ferry from Osaka to Busan. (FYI: Hakata is the same place as Fukuoka, where we went to the sumo. They used to be separate places but they fused, so now both names are used.)
We nearly plumped for the ferry from Osaka, since we finished our trip in Kyoto, but with the Willer Express bus pass it worked out cheaper to head down to Fukuoka on the bus and get a Camellia Line day ferry from there. Partly it was cheaper because, wait for it, we got BIRTHDAY DISCOUNT. Hello Korea. The list price for a second class ticket is 9000¥ each, about £60, but we paid about £40 because we were sailing in the month of our respective births. Alas, this seems to have been a one year only offer. It was good while it lasted.
Getting the ferry was fairly easy, if a little labyrinthine. We booked online, and after one last Mister Donut breakfast, arrived at the port on a city bus directly from Hakata station. Easy peasy. They even had a big sign in the port with the timetable and price of the bus into the city, complete with ‘how to catch the bus’ instructions. Nothing left to chance.
We checked in at the Camellia Line counter, where we had to pay a fuel surcharge (I think this happens with all the ferry companies). Then, as if Japan wanted to wish us farewell in style, we were directed to one last vending machine.
We made the mistake of letting a Korean tour group get ahead of us in the queue to board the boat. Starvation might have set in during the wait, if it hadn’t been for the corn stick.
On board, we were directed to a rather flashy cabin, with a view out the front of the boat, and only two other inhabitants. They were very excited that we were from England (saying Britain or the UK generally provokes polite bewilderment), but the conversation sort of died after that, so we had a nap. The second class cabins are tatami mat rooms with roll out mattresses that accommodate about 12 people, most of them seemed a lot fuller than ours, and windowless. Perhaps it was the birthday cabin? Or maybe we got special treatment for being foreign, this definitely happened in Japan and Korea a bit.
We watched Japan disappearing from view in a Russian doll procession of islands, getting smaller and smaller until there was nothing but sea.
Trapped inside because of rough seas and wet decks, after our nap we had ample time to explore the boat. Unfortunately it didn’t take ample time, there being not all that much of it. We were tempted by the karaoke booths but they were a bit pricey, so instead we engaged in Asia’s second favourite pastime: taking selfies. Clearly we weren’t doing it properly though, because a lady intervened and moved us to a gaudier backdrop, while enthusiastically gesturing that we should make a heart with our arms. Her art direction was better than her photography.
I had a quick onsen, with several Korean ladies who all wanted to borrow my soap, then there was just time to watch the Korean news before we arrived. As would become a theme, this was quite similar to in Japan (the hosts bowed deeply to their viewers at the start and end), but shinier and brasher, and somehow a little more hard faced. Korea has all the politeness of Japan, but feels a little sterner.
Soon enough the bright lights of Busan twinkled into view, and we were there. Another country, and the start of another adventure, this time with more pickles than ever before…