Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2023

open-air bath, a sauna, a planetarium, and a cinema. The restaurant is very popular, offering a variety of seasonal menus with local ingredients from Kanto and Kyushu. Soleil and Hamayu now operate on the ‘Pacific side’ of Honshu and Kyushu. “We have experienced increased passenger demand during the winter season and lower demand during the summer months on this route,” says Iritani. “It’s just the other way around on the ‘Sea of Japan side’, which is the very reason for the tonnage swap.” Generally, ferry operations in Japan are entirely different from those in Europe, with food and beverage vending machines often replacing expensive catering staff. “To a certain extent, the Japanese ferry market follows the European model with utilitarian ro-pax ferries on the one hand and those that aim to offer a cruise ferry-like product on the other,” says Iritani. “Admittedly, Japan’s cruise ferry culture is a far cry from Europe’s and although SHK Line Group has a high penetration in the passenger market, the transport of unaccompanied freight trailers remains our bread and butter. Having said this, we do our utmost to differentiate ourselves from our competitors with the comfort level of our ferries. The ferry trip is not just a means of transportation as we have devised ways to enjoy the onboard life.” “In addition, we are gaining support from families travelling by car,” Iritani continues, adding that, just like in other parts of the world, Japanese ferry operators have lost passengers to cheap airlines. Until early January 2023, SHK Line Group also operated the 1998-built cruise ship Pacific Venus under the Venus Cruise banner. Cruises were suspended during the pandemic and although they resumed in March 2021, SHK Line Group decided to pull the plug on its cruise affiliate, with Iritani blaming the difficult business environment in the wake of Covid-19. 93 Hamayu and Soleil offer cruise ferry amenities, including deluxe suites and public baths. Although public baths are common on Japanese ferries that operate long-distance routes, the outdoor iteration onboard these ships is a new innovation