Taking the Panstar Ferry from Japan to Korea

Blue sign taped to a window reads 'Panstar ferry !' with a hand pointing to the right.

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

Two people stand at a ticket window to purchase ferry tickets from Japan to Korea.

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.

Hands hold a hot dog bun filled with brown, thin noodles. It is half-wrapped in saran wrap with a sticker labeled in Japanese.
Jared’s strategy is to eat a suspicious-looking noodle sandwich while waiting for the line to subside.

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.

A vending machine on a ferry dispenses large cans of Kirin Ichiban beer.
It’s rare that I stumble upon class and convenience all in one.
A sign over a bar in a Japanese ferry reads BEER ROMANCE.
Is there any other kind of romance?

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.

At least fifteen tables with white tablecloths are cordoned off by a red barrier. The carpet is dark with brown circular designs on it, and the chairs are covered in gaudy white fabric.
VIPs only, apparently.

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.

Akashi-Kaikyo bridge spans 4 kilometers from mainland Japan to Awaji Island. It is the world's largest suspension bridge.

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.

Man in a brown t-shirt and shorts stands on a yellow helicopter pad, arms raised. He is on the roof of the Panstar ferry from Japan and a city is visible in the background.
But you do get to hang out on this big yellow dot.
Man and woman take a selfie from the roof of a ferry as the sun sets behind them. Her face is surprised, he is smiling and bearded.
And take selfies.
Firey sun setting over the Eastern sea, casting everything in red. A single small boat cuts a wake in the middle.
But best of all – this sunset, which almost makes up for the lack of fro-yo. Almost.

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.

Want to take your own cruise across the East Sea? Pin it for later!

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  1. Oh, ajummas! Organised chaos IS correct. When I took the ferry from Jeju to Wando, you should have SEEN the death-glares I got when I was ushered into a special foreigner queue as the ONLY non-Korean on the ferry. I mean, why should I get special treatment? THEY HAD THEIR BAGS THERE FIRST.

    Seriously though, I’ve always wondered about the ferries between Korea and Japan and this sounds pretty fun! You’re right about the prices too – the budget airlines in Korea piss me off so much, there’s always a great fare one way, and then the return is MONSTROUS (looking at you, Eastar and Air Busan!)

    1. I was so relaxed after an ajumma-free week in Japan, so it came as a real ddong chim when we were surrounded by them in the ferry terminal. I bet they were SEETHING when you outfoxed them, and worse, did it purely on your status as a foreigner!
      The ferry was a good experience – the scenery was beautiful and the time went really quickly. I’d definitely do it again.

  2. Thanks for your great explanation of the ferry adventure. I am thinking of taking the ferry from Osaka to Korea with my dance team. Was the price round trip? Do you happen to know if there is an on or off season? Love your blog and happy you follow your heart ~ Aloha

    1. The price we paid was one way – I think the cheapest round trip is quoted at around 199,000 won, plus taxes and fees. As far as I can tell, there aren’t seasonal prices. I’d definitely recommend it. Obviously, it’s longer than a flight but it’s comfortable and you get to see some nice scenery. Good luck and if you have any questions let me know!

  3. i am planning to do the opposite way to return back to japan, hope that everything will work out with booking. did you have to get a special permission for luggage, or can you bring ss much as you want? because internet sources have different opinions but i’d like to get sure to avoid surprises. also, did you have some locker, or do you just trust the people in the dorm room not to steal your stuff?

    1. Hi Natalie – We had carryon backpacks, so didn’t have any problems with luggage. I kept mine on my bunk in my dorm room and felt pretty safe, but I always keep my passport on me. I felt the same way – did tons of online research but couldn’t come up with any conclusive information. In the end it was pretty easy, just a little chaotic at the ferry terminal! Good luck. It’s a nice journey.

  4. Hi, I’ve been scouring the web for info on this service in English and have not found much. I found a place that will book our family of 5 at 308,000 KRW round trip each (for the 4 oldest) and 50,000 for our 2 year old. This is in a family room, and includes taxes fees and the meals both ways. I want to make sure I’m not paying too much, and it sounds like based on your experience, the cost of 308,000 per person round trip in a family cabin is a decent deal right? I read somewhere else that there is a shuttle bus from the Busan train station to the ferry terminal? do you know anything about it? Thanks!

    1. Hi Andre,

      Based on what I paid for a one-way ticket in 2012, that seems like a reasonable rate, especially with meals. My guess would be that the family cabins are Korean-style bedding, but it should still be comfortable. I don’t know about the shuttle bus in Busan – we stayed at a hotel within walking distance of the ferry terminal so didn’t need it. But I would imagine that there is a reasonable connection between the two points. Good luck and enjoy the scenery – it is a beautiful boat ride!

  5. Hi Lauren, preparing my trip to Japan and Korea with the family (4) I read your experience and it confirmed my impression that this ferry trip could be a lot of fun. Many thanks for sharing this.
    So I tried to plan this Tokyo-Osaka rail trip to reach-the-ferry-in-time-expedition to the smallest detail, and could’t find anywhere THE information on the tube station for the Panstar ferry terminal in Osaka. Probably hidden on their website in the Kanji letters somewhere. Google maps gives me 3 terminal ferries, one being ‘International’. … I am puzzled.
    Can you help?

    1. Hi Pierre – the station you want is for the International terminal, which is Cosmosquare Station. You can take a taxi from the station to the actual terminal, but we walked – it’s about 15 minutes by foot and there are a couple of signs in the station pointing you in the right direction. This is the map we looked at, which I would think is still accurate, though the information in the text might be outdated. Hope that helps – I remember that it felt very confusing when we were figuring it out, but things went pretty smoothly in the end. Hope you & your family have fun!

  6. Hello. I’m here to find the information about the ferry from Busan to Osaka. And it’s the same “Panstar Cruise”, but I don’t have any clue about this. I tried to booking via an agency, but it turns out the agency didn’t send us the confirmation email. Fortunately, the credit card didn’t charge yet, it’s just pre-authorization. I want to cancel it but can’t find a way to contact them. I’ve already suspended the credit card.

    Here, I came to ask because it seems like I can’t book via the main website, due to the Korean webpage. I’ve gone to the websites you’ve posted. But ended up call to the limousine bus, instead of ticket buying office.

    Can you still remember about this trip? Or have any clue how to reach the port’s staff? Very sorry to bother you at this time.

    1. Som! I’m so sorry, all the information I have is what’s in the post – I’m not surprised if some of the information has changed since then.

      I know that when we booked, we only got an email confirmation because we asked for one – it wasn’t a normal part of the process. No payment was taken when we booked and we had to make our payment at the terminal.

      I hope you have had some luck and have a smooth journey!

  7. it’s 2023 March- and the website still doesn’t work in English. LOL
    I took the same ferry from Osaka to busan in January 2010.
    How i ended up paying for the tickets was because a korean friend paid for it in Seoul and then I got issued the ticket.
    I ended up taking a bus from Busan to Seoul (which was a bad idea, coz of traffic congestion) and my friend told me off. LOL
    I don’t know why they don’t fix the website still after 14 years. What weird customer service.

  8. Hii,
    I would like to book the ferry from busan to osaka (pan star ferry) but i still have some questions. Would you be able to help me with those?
    -Did you pay any port taxes?
    -Did the boat have towels included?
    -Was the tap water clean or are there any options to buy water?

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