Traveling in Japan can be a beautiful and unforgettable experience. Shinkansen, local trains, buses, bikes, monorails and airplanes are all frequently used to see the country in its full glory. However, it’s by boat that Japan, with its stunning shoreline and vibrant culture, really comes alive. There’s something magical about seeing Japan and neighboring countries from the open ocean that leaves a romantic and indelible impression.

Fukuoka: A Culinary and Cultural Capital by the Sea

Fukuoka has become one of the most recognizable and visited places in Japan for a reason. Long known as Japan’s gateway to Asia, it’s one of the island nation’s culinary and cultural capitals, known for its warm hospitality, bustling street markets and laid-back vibe. Wander through lively districts like Hakata and Tenjin, sampling local food from the region’s famous yatai (food stalls), which come alive in the evening, drawing in crowds of locals and visitors alike. During the day, pass through ancient shrines and serene canals, stopping at trendy boutiques, cafés and galleries on the way.

What some visitors aren’t aware of, though, is Fukuoka’s proximity to South Korea’s Busan, the country’s second-largest city and largest port, which allows for the wonderful opportunity to see Japan and South Korea in one trip. The high-speed ship Queen Beetle, operated by JR Kyushu Jet Ferry Inc., departs from Hakata Port International Terminal (approximately 15 minutes by bus from the Fukuoka city center), and takes only 3 hours and 40 minutes to reach Busan.

An Elegant, Enchanting Journey by Boat

With a striking, bright red exterior, the Queen Beetle, designed by the acclaimed Eiji Mitooka, is a sophisticated, speedy and convenient way to travel between two of Asia’s most exciting and enchanting cities.

The Queen Beetle was designed with passengers’ comfort and ease in mind; during the trip, travelers are free to walk around, visiting the onboard duty-free shops and kiosks which offer refreshments, snacks and, depending on the season, special products from each prefecture of Kyushu. There’s also an observation deck for those who wish to take in the stunning ocean view, as well as a slew of family-friendly facilities, including a nursing room and a special play space for children. Though every seat is meant to facilitate a pleasant and relaxing trip, business class is particularly luxurious, with a private indoor observation deck, onboard meals and exclusive free vending machines, as well as a priority disembarkation service upon arrival.

One of the biggest advantages of traveling on the Queen Beetle is that you can bring liquids and large carry-ons just as you would on a train; travelers can take advantage of a locker area for their large baggage, as well as the ship’s own bicycle parking area, which can hold up to 10 bicycles (advance reservation required).

Arriving to Busan in Style

From Busan Port International Terminal, where ships arrive, it’s only 10 minutes on foot to Busan Station, which offers easy access to Busan city and also the rest of South Korea via high-speed railway, should you feel like a greater adventure.

But a trip to Busan is an adventure in and of itself: It’s a welcoming, lively and intriguing city with seaside skyscrapers, beautiful beaches and an array of retail and other attractions. Take a visit to Busan X the Sky, South Korea’s second-tallest building, or stop by Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, which faces onto the coast; Jagalchi Fish Market and Yongdusan Park are also can’t-miss attractions.

Traveling from Fukuoka to Busan by the Queen Beetle is a charming, time efficient and exciting method of seeing two of Asia’s up-and-coming cities. Both Fukuoka and Busan are famed for their friendliness, thriving food culture, captivating history and the massive retail complexes that dot their respective skylines. The Queen Beetle is the ideal conduit in which to spend time in each city and perhaps, if time allows, to extend your trip to other parts of Kyushu in Japan, or to other areas and cities in the South Korean peninsula, where new experiences, people and memories await.

To make a reservation, visit the Queen Beetle website

This article appeared in Kyushu Weekender 2024. To read the whole issue, click here