Taking the Panstar ferry from Japan to Korea wasn’t our first choice, but flights can be surprisingly expensive between these neighboring countries. We found flights from Seoul to Osaka for 99,000 won each with budget airline Eastar Jet, but the return journey was almost three times as much—not happening.
Booking tickets for the ferry from Japan to Korea
The 18-hour overnight Panstar Ferry from Osaka to Busan came to our rescue. The website was in Korean, but we were able to come up with a phone number that offered English services. Fortunately, the English version of Panstar’s website seems more robust these days. According to Google, aferry is a third-party option that facilitates online booking, but I haven’t used them so can’t vouch for them.
If you want to call, try one of the following:
Panstar Busan: +82 051-465-4500
Panstar Osaka: +81-6-6267-9778
It took several tries to get through to someone—apparently the English line isn’t always staffed—but we booked. It was a disappointing surprise when the total came to 13,100 yen (at the time, $166USD or 188,000 won), when the price on the website had been listed as 129,000 won (closer to $115USD). As with airline tickets, budget for hidden extras like port taxes and departure fees.
The woman explained that we’d have to pay at the ferry terminal in Osaka, but everything was all booked. We asked for an email confirmation, just in case. If we couldn’t catch the ferry from Japan to Korea, we were stranded.
Boarding the Panstar ferry from Osaka to Busan
We arrived with some nerves, but paying in person was easy and the total was exactly as we’d been quoted. We added on meal tickets, which were 1400 yen each (about $18USD) and included breakfast and dinner.
This turned out to be a great move, because otherwise the main options on the ship were ramen noodles or vending machine fried rice. Tempting, but I was happy to pass.
Our first clue that we were headed back to Korea was the organized chaos among the passengers in the terminal. Hours before the departure gate opened, several ajummas began claiming their place in line by putting their luggage in front of the barrier. Half an hour before departure, it was madness. People were lining up all the way into the bathroom.
Seriously, into the hallway of the bathroom, stopping just short of the women’s entrance. Being first on the ferry from Japan to Korea is serious business.
I’ve never understood this phenomenon of waiting in a line when you don’t have to; the same thing happens when boarding planes. My general strategy is to sit comfortably until the line is down to a few people, then get up.
We cleared immigration and made it onto the boat, where we picked up our separate room keys.
That’s right, separate. Unless you book a family suite, you’re divided into male and female dorms. At the time of booking, you have the option of a traditional Korean room (mats lined up bumper-to-bumper on the floor) or a western-style room with 4 berths.
I stuck to my comfort zone and chose the bunks. Each had curtains and individual reading lamps, so I was pretty happy.
The ship had a GS25 convenience store, beer in vending machines, and a café where there was allegedly wifi. My iPad never connected, though I saw plenty of other people successfully getting online.
Cruising with Panstar
Dinner was a buffet affair, with plenty of rice and kimchi. There was also marinated pork and mini dessert puffs. I was satisfied, as I usually am at all-you-can-eat buffets.
The ferry from Japan to Korea passes beneath Akashi-Kaikyo, the world’s largest suspension bridge. This six-lane bridge is spectacular, spanning four kilometers to connect the mainland city of Kobe to Awaji Island.
So you can sort of pretend you’re on a proper cruise, except there are none of those bottomless frozen yogurt machines I hear so much about. And believe me, the Panstar is worse off for it.
On my way to my room after brushing my teeth, I was caught off guard by the evening entertainment. The stage in the dining area was lit up to showcase a woman in spandex, who I remembered as the Russian from the buffet line.
She used a ribbon to perform risqué rhythmic gymnastics while “Roxanne” by The Police blared from the speakers: truly the last thing I expected on the ferry from Japan to Korea. Eventually I gave in and went to bed. Through the walls I heard Celine Dion followed by Diana Ross; part of me wishes I’d stayed up for that.
Breakfast was served at 7:00 a.m. According to the on-ship brochure, this was a ‘Western breakfast,’ which meant that rice and kimchi were complemented by scrambled eggs, watermelon, and cornflakes.
Three hours later, we docked in Busan. What had started as a budget-friendly option turned into a cruise-like adventure. It was wacky and wild, but I’d recommend the ferry from Japan to Korea to anyone, at least once.
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