Every other day the A-line ferries run between Naha and Kagoshima, stopping at several of the Amami Islands along the way. Every other other day it is the Marix ferries that do the running. Both companies have their ticketing offices at the Naha-Ko Ferry Terminal Building. We leave Naha on an even-numbered day, so it’s the A-Line ferry we buy tickets for. It leaves at 7am. The ferry building opens at 6am. The ferry is a containerized cargo ship that carries passengers on its top three floors. At half past six we line up on the tarmac with our tickets and climb the rickety sea-stairs and enter the ship, where music is piped in and prints line the walls and an orange escalator invites us to the world of the Passenger Decks. We are taken aside and led to a desk where a woman stamps our tickets, and then we are pointed to our room.
The room we sleep in holds 205 other people. It looks like a human baggage carousel, a large expanse of blue carpet in a U-shape traveling from the port to starboard entrance of foot traffic with squares cut out to leave your shoes in. The carpet is half-covered in rows of folded light blue mattresses, beige blankets with the A-line logo in red and a small square pillow the size of a tissue box. If all the mattresses were unfolded they would cover the carpet completely. The older people have put the beige blankets on their heads and gone to sleep. Families unfold their consecutive mattresses and organize picnics. We put our bags down against the wall at our own 4×6 footprint. Across the room there is a sense of being evacuated from a very genteel tragedy.
The lobby is arranged in rings. At the center two staircases lead to the next floor. Around those staircases is a circular planter filled with slight greenery and the men who sit here, smoking, and around them is ring of six ashtrays. There is a cafeteria, a bar and a restaurant, but only the cafeteria is open. The curry rice is about five dollars and not bad. The battered consignment shop sells sandwiches.
You can purchase a special ticket that allows you to travel for as long as one week, getting off and on the ferry where you wish. We get off at Tokunashima because Lonely Planet says nothing about it except that there are very many old people there, and beaches. We get off the ship at 4:30pm the day we board and we get back on the ship at 5:00 four days later. The next morning we reach Kagoshima.
Half of everyone gets their bags and stands around in the lobby much earlier than they need to. Everyone else sees them, gets nervous, and drags their bags to the lobby. Outside the terminal the taxis line up. After some standard issue miscommunication and pantomime, the lady at the terminal counter gives us a photocopied map. She circles our destination.
ARIMURA SANGYO (A-LINE) FERRY
ONE WAY WITH STOPOVERS, CHEAPEST TICKET Â¥14200 (ABOUT $122US)
DEPARTS NAHA, JAPAN EVERY OTHER DAY 7:00AM
ARRIVES KAGOSHIMA, JAPAN NEXT DAY 8:30AM
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Watching the clouds and dreaming of vending machines.