Business Intour Service has the monopoly on ferry services from Vladivostok, Russia, to Fushiki, Japan.
Tickets for the 36-hour crossing start from $440 one-way ($600 return) in a 4-berth cabin in a lower deck.. All meals are included, although you’ll need to take some bottled water. For a fourth class cabin it was pretty good, with ensuite bathroom (including shower) and a television. Towels and sheets are provided.
To book a place on the boat you need to go to the Business Intour Service office (third floor of Vladivostok’s marine terminal) in person. Internet booking doesn’t seem to guarantee passage. It is worth arriving and booking a few days in advance as on-the-day sales are unpopular - the agency staff are unfriendly and declared the ferry full even though there was plenty of room and each four berth cabin only had two people in it.
Upon booking you are given a booking slip, but no ticket. You have to pay for the journey on board and you can only pay in U.S. dollars cash. In addition, the agency take 400 roubles for port tax, which you pay when making the booking.
Ferries ‘depart’ Vladivostok at about 10pm every Sunday and arrive in Fushiki, near Toyama, in Japan on the Tuesday at 10am (local time). However, the actual departure was closer to 1am as they only opened customs and immigration control at 9.30pm. This takes place in the basement of Vladivostok’s marine terminal. There is a bewildering lack of information in the ferry terminal. There are no signs or announcements telling you where boats are going or when and no one to ask. So just sit tight in the waiting room in the basement. Eventually we went through customs and then immigration control. Be prepared to have ready your migration card, visa registration forms and details of your route through Russia. Finding the actual ferry is amusing - after wandering passed darkened offices in the ferry terminal you find yourself on the dockside amongst Korean-imported vehicles. We just kept pointing and asking ’Nipponya?’
On board we were greeted by a line of smiling hostesses, who quickly whipped our passports off us, and showed us to our room. You then have 36 glorious hours to sit back and enjoy the ’80s ambience: Russian ladies in dressing gowns and stilettos adorn leather sofas, entertainers warm up their Casio keyboards and the fug of cigarette smoke is omnipresent.
Upon docking in Japan, customs officers come to your cabin to rifle through your luggage. Then you go to immigration control set up in the music saloon on the ferry where passports are returned. British citizens are given a 90-day tourist visa upon arrival in Japan in exchange for fingerprints.
Fushiki is a small port village, that has a post office with an ATM that accepts foreign bank cards and a train station that connects to the rest of Japan. There aren’t many people around to help so it is worth befriending a local on the boat.