In some places of the world where there are large bodies of water there are many people who sail their private boats between villages or islands. Often a traveller can befriend or pay these people to travel on their yachts on motorboats.

For instance I've joined in yacht races on Sydney Harbour, hung out with expats at Marinas in the Mexican Caribbean, and pondered sailing between Panama and Colombia with families who take travellers aboard for a fee.

Now Japan has many islands and I've ridden some ferries there. But I had never stopped to think whether either Japanese or foreigners sail pleasurecraft around the islands of Japan. It seems like a perfect place for it, but perhaps the seas are too difficult or it's just not yet part of the culture there.

So does such a thing exist and might a traveller be able to join some people in some island hopping?

  • what would you accept as an answer? Evidence that it happens at all?
    – Mark Mayo
    Jul 22, 2013 at 4:50
  • Evidence that it either happens or doesn't happen. Or of the degree to which it happens. It's a good question for anecdotal answers such as "I've done it" or "I've seen it" or "Here's some links to articles or marina websites". Jul 22, 2013 at 4:53
  • Do you speak Japanese? Otherwise I would assume you depend on foreigners doing this?
    – uncovery
    Jul 22, 2013 at 8:52
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    I only know a sprinkling of Japanese but I enjoy the language barrier and have lots of experience hitchhiking up and down Japan so this doesn't bother me at all. Obviously I don't know any sailing terminology though. Jul 22, 2013 at 9:02
  • I would assume other people might be bothered with you not speaking Japanese in this case though...
    – uncovery
    Jul 23, 2013 at 3:25

1 Answer 1


Take this view of Tokyo Harbor. Scan around the coastline. You will notice that a vast majority of the property on the ocean is occupied by things related to:

  • Manufacturing (Oil, Chemical, Petrochemical especially)
  • Shipping (Warehouses, Ports, Airports, etc.)

As you can tell by the coastline, a lot of land gets created artificially to increase the amount of land that has access to the ocean, as it is in great demand for a country that does a lot of international trade, especially by ship. From Chiba to Kanagawa, the coast is virtually 100% occupied.

You can see the same thing around Kansai's Coast from Wakayama to Himeji.

Because of the demand for oceanfront property by business, something like a marina for pleasure boats is prohibitively expensive for the average person. Unlike less dense countries, there just isn't some empty land near cities to put a boat on. For pleasure craft, you are better off visiting Lake Biwa or the Japan Sea coast of Japan (which is much less densely populated), but neither will do a good job island-hopping.

The only people I have met with pleasure boats around cities in Japan are incredibly wealthy, and are unlikely to invite someone island hopping.

If you go out in to the country, specifically around the Seto Inland Sea, there are a lot more fishing villages and people with boats, and many of the islands in the Inland Sea can only be reached by boat. The same goes true for the islands between Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures. Ferries can be infrequent, and the residents of each island can be pretty small (many have less than a thousand people).

The Seto Inland Sea is probably the best bet, as there are more islands and they are far closer together -- you are more likely to be able to find your way somewhere.

In any case, chances are you are going to need some good Japanese if you want to hitchhike on boats as you need to get outside the city. Some of these places are incredibly rural and rarely see non-residents at all, let alone non-Japanese.

If you mean sailing between major islands (like between Honshu and Kyushu, the distances tend to be greater and since there is regular ferry or train service across, it is less likely that people are going that way anyway.

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    It's normally the wealthy who own sailboats, not just in Japan. It's normal that marinas are scarce and expensive too. Yet the people that sail their own boats seem to be very friendly to foreigners and travellers, not the ones with mega yachts but often self made people whose small yacht might cost the price of a luxury car. Often retired couples or divorced men in their fifties and sixties. So I'm just saying you've come to some conclusions based on your assumptions that would make sense anywhere, yet in my experience there are plenty of friendly people sailing who don't fit this equation. Jul 25, 2013 at 2:53
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    Round the UK many individuals have boats - from small dinghies up to millionaire yachts. Of my friends, none of whom are that well off, I think more than thirty have boats.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 25, 2013 at 12:02
  • I guess I assume that you have to be at least upper middle class to have a yacht/sailboat capable of going between islands. But I don't usually talk about incomes (-; Jul 26, 2013 at 6:19
  • If you look around the Seto Inland Sea you can see that many islands are less than 2 miles apart. You could do them in a canoe in good weather -- serious sailboats are not necessary. This isn't true for the islands around Kagoshima/Okinawa (which are open ocean and slightly more distant). So upper middle class is only necessary around cities, but if your purpose is boating, rent a boat on the Seto Inland Sea and explore!
    – jmac
    Jul 26, 2013 at 7:02
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    I've just discovered that there are at least three marinas on the main island of Okinawa at least. The same website contains this tantalizing fact: "Theoretically, it’s free to keep a boat in a public harbor, although some ports might have a fisherman’s cooperative association that charges a fee." Mar 25, 2014 at 13:12

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