Japan has great trains. Coming from Canada, where we have basically none, I have really enjoyed the convenience of the trains in Japan. That being said, there is always a point when the trains are no longer fun or convenient. Mostly, any route that’s over 45 minutes long, constantly busy, and that you take frequently enough (or is very urban) that it’s not interesting to look out the window. I’m sure many of you have routes like this that you dread taking. Mine personally is the trip to get to Kansai International Airport.
With Golden Week fast approaching, many of you may be making the trek to Kansai International to start off your vacation. Depending on where you live in the prefecture, it might simply involve taking the train from Osaka, but for those of you not living in Amagasaki, you might have just as long a trip to Osaka as you do on the train from there to the airport. But did you know there is another way to get to the airport? And if it’s faster and easier for you to get to Kobe than Osaka, then this tidbit of information is for you.
At Sannomiya Station, there is a separate line called the Portliner, which takes you down to Port Island. It’s quite a nice line with fancy driverless trains. The very last stop, 8 stops and 25 minutes from Sannomiya, is Kobe Airport. So now you’re thinking I’ve taken you to the wrong airport, but wait, because there’s a handy-dandy shuttle ferry that goes across the bay to Kansai International. For 1850 yen you can get to the airport in just 30 minutes, and there is a shuttle on the Kansai International side that will take you to Terminal 1 and 2! Plus, instead of being on a crowded train after dragging your luggage through Osaka station, you can relax in the spacious cabin with plenty of seating and special places for your luggage as you speed across the water. And the view is really pleasant when the weather is nice. However, as with anything in life, there are a few drawbacks. The ferry runs less frequently than the trains at only about once per hour.
You buy your ticket at the ferry terminal, at which point you can choose one-way or two-way if you would like to return by ferry. One-way tickets bought at Kansai International also include your Portliner fare for the same price. Also, starting April 1st and going until the end of March next year, two-way tickets will be on sale for 3000 yen.
Using my location as an example of the time it saves, from Kakogawa (between Himeji and Akashi) to the airport for 10am by train only, I would have to catch the train at 7:30am, it would cost me 2920 yen, and take 2 hours and 8 minutes. To go by ferry, I would have to leave at 7:56am, it would cost me 2940 yen, but only take 1 hour and 30 minutes. So for the same price I can get there half an hour faster, meaning I can sleep in for half an hour longer. It really depends on how much you value your time, or hate being on trains.
I took the ferry for the first time when I was catching a flight to Sapporo. The way the ferry schedule was, it was either going to get me to Terminal 2 ridiculously early or cut it way too close. However, I really didn’t want to take the train all the way round, so early it was. I knew as soon as I got on the packed morning rush train bound for Osaka via Sannomiya that this was a good decision. The Portliner was very peaceful after the first train. They plan the ferry departure times to coincide with the Portliner arrival times, but I felt like it wasn’t quite enough time since I speed-walked from the platform to the ferry terminal and they opened up the doors to let us on the ferry just as I finished buying my ticket. So next time I’ll probably catch a slightly earlier train. It was fairly clear that day so from the ferry you could see across the bay, and Akashi Bridge could be seen in the distance. There basically was no rocking at all, for those concerned with possible sea-sickness (Disclaimer: it was a nice day with no wind. I don’t know about rougher weather). I was curious whether or not you could stand outside on the deck, but I didn’t see anyone else doing it, and I couldn’t read the signs by the doors. Upon arriving at Kansai International, the crew herded us on to two different buses, one going to Terminal 1, and one going to both Terminal 1 and 2. There wasn’t a lot of room at first, but I basically had the bus to myself after we dropped people off at Terminal 1. They also list the times for arriving at either Terminal on their timetable which is quite convenient when planning your timing.
I really enjoyed using this ferry. It was fun being on a boat, having something new to look at out the window, and less congested than the usual trains. This alternative route obviously won’t be quicker for everyone, but even so if you are traveling and want a change of scenery, I recommend trying the shuttle ferry.
For more information, including ticket prices and timetables, you can check out their website here: http://www.kobe-access.jp/en/index.php