While in Hokkaido I decided to go to the Sakhalin Island just North of Japan.  This island has had a long history of passing between Russian and Japanese control for centuries.  In the closing days of WWII Russian forces took the entire island although no treaty was made to officially declare their ownership.

As a Japanese person it stung a little to need a visa to visit this Sakhalin but the dispute over this island has been quieted recently.  A Japanese Consulate was established there and businesses in Japanese frequently make the trip thanks to warming ties between the two countries.

And so I decide to make the most of this journey by taking a ship rather than a plane.  Ultimately it was full of surprises – good and bad.

The Fare

My first shock came when I went to buy a ticket. A round-trip ticket on the cheapest possible class (2nd Class) worked out to 40,000 yen (US$512).  A 2nd class ticket lands you in rather cramped quarters with other travelers. In another twist of fate, this turned out to be a good thing as it lets you get to know lots of people.

A Five and a Half Hour Tour

The distance from Wakkani, Hokkaido to the harbor town of Korsakov is 159km (99mi).  Cruising on this ship, it took us about 5 1/2 hours each way.  Luckily they served some food on the voyage.  Each trip was a different type of bento (packed lunch), on the way there we got a hot/cold lunch box and the way back was a bread themed set.  As you might expect, they weren’t all that great.  The good stuff was probably saved for the higher class passengers.

Beer is Cheaper than Water

Probably the highlight of the trip was the vending machine selling 350mL (12oz) cans of Sapporo beer for 100 yen (US$1.28) a pop!  It took a moment to get that this boat was in international waters and hence, no taxes.  I never thought I’d see beer priced cheaper than water which was priced at 150 yen (US$1.92).  Naturally, I… I mean some people took advantage of this by stocking up from the machine.

Smokers Rejoice

As a smoker I was also pleased to learn that, on this ship, smoking is allowed on the decks.  Considering the less-than-breakneck speed we were going this was a blessing that any smoker who’s travelled can appreciate.

It must be our smoke-friendly Russian brother who are responsible, because on a similar boat I took from Fukuoka to Busan (Korea), lighting up was verboten.

There are Shops

There are various shops on board selling booze, tobacco, snacks, etc. but aside from the alcohol and cigarettes everything else was overpriced – especially after the 40,000 yen ticket.


In the end, I’m happy I took a boat instead of a plane. In spite of the shoebox I stayed in with several people eating 2nd class food, I really enjoyed the company.  Among the people I met was someone who was born on Sakhalinsk and was one their way back to see how the Island has changed since they left.

While roaming the boat I saw a newspaper from the Taisho Era (1912-1926).  I wondered what Japan was like during that time.  I knew there was someone on board I could talk to about it, but I decided not to.  That kind of history might be best left in the past.  My new acquaintance probably feels that way too.  I couldn’t see a hint of anger or bitterness inside them.

Photos & Video: RocketNews24