Within Japan, there are many different forms of transportation. However, among the lesser known ones are the ferries. They are quite pleasant to ride on and are very, very slow.
Ferries are the slowest form of public transportation available in Japan. However, there are many cases it is the only way to get to certain locations like attractions that are on islands off the mainland. These ferries do their job well, but aren’t much different than trains in that they take tickets, run regularly, and only provide seating. These ferries are simple, usually cover short distances, and some are run by Japan Rail (JR), and are covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
Then there are the overnight ferries. These ferries are usually privately owned like the Ferry Sunflower. I used these ferries extensively on its route from Osaka to Beppu. On the overnight ferries, rather than seating, there are sleeping areas, and depending on how much you’re willing to pay, it will determine if you are sleeping on a carpeted floor with a thin mat and a hard pillow with potentially dozens of other people (there are female-only rooms available), on a bed in a dorm-room like setting with a few other people, or a single room by yourself. Of course, each of these different options comes with a steeper and steeper price tag. When I took the ferry, the cheapest sleeping accommodations available (which is what I took) was ¥9,800, while the most expensive was ¥17,000. However, you may be eligible for a discount if you are a student studying abroad.
In addition to a place to sleep, the ferries also have an on-board restaurant (which can be expensive), vending machines (they even have instant ramen vending machines!), Japanese communal baths, and even a gift shop with souvenirs. I distinctly remember them selling ship captain Hello Kitty gear. There is also a lounge areas with seats that has large windows and a few outlets. And if you have a laptop, the ships sometimes provide wi-fi. However, be aware that overnight ferries are much more geared towards domestic, Japanese users rather than international tourists. So don’t expect many signs in English or even any English speaking staff.
So why should you take the ferry? Well, if you want to get anywhere quickly, you shouldn’t. Use the trains or airplanes. However, if you are moving at a relatively leisurely pace, the ferries, can be a pleasant ride, and even a bit of a money saver. I know that ¥9,800 may seem like quite a bit, but for an equivalent train ride from Beppu and Osaka and a night at a hotel, can easily be over ¥12,000. And the entire day will be killed with the train ride (since most trains don’t run late at night). By using the ferry instead, you travel during the night and assuming you sleep well, can arrive fresh in the morning, ready to face the day! I used the overnight ferries a lot while studying abroad, and for the most part, it was good, and I recommend it if you want to experience a very unique form of travel!