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Port of Sakai plans terminal and works with stakeholders to boost Sea of Japan cruising

PHOTO: Damien Sidhanand
Costa Victoria pictured at Port of Sakai. In the foregraound, the plot earmarked for a new cruise terminal to be ready by 2020
Once upon a time only Japanese cruise vessels would call at the port of Sakai, located close to the least populated Japanese prefectures of Tottori and Shimane - but ones that are rich in beauty, culture and history.

It was here at Tottori that US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, chose to take part in a 'Sea to Summit' sports event in 2015.

The summit was Mt Daisen, revered  as Japan's second Mount Fuji. Its hiking trails take on various hues from spring cherry blossom time to autumn. In winter it offers the best skiing in West Japan.  All this is just 20 minutes from Sakai port, which now receives an increasing number of international cruise calls.

The Port and other stakeholders in the region are encouraged and gearing up to facilitate more cruise calls and shore experiences.

Some 30 cruise ships have called at Sakai this year, including Ovation of the Seas with around 4,000 passengers, which tested logistics and facilities to their limits. About one-third of the calls in 2016 were by Costa Victoria.

Other vessels included Skysea Golden Era , Caledonian Sky , Le Soreal, Quantum of the Seas, Diamond Princess, Silver Discoverer, Celebrity Millennium and  L'Austral.

Next year more than 50 calls are expected.

The growing interest of international cruise vessels has made Sakai Port authorities, neighbouring ports and tourism partners, increase their efforts at promotion and developing cruise infrastructure.

Sakai port is planning a new berth to ease congestion, as well as a cruise terminal in 2020. A plot for the terminal has been earmarked across from where cruise vessels dock now.

Sakai Port strives to give visitors a memorable cruise experience from arrival.  Life-sized bungling-cartoon characters 'grim reaper' and 'cat girl' are onhand to greet passengers as they disembark.

The two figures are from the cast of hugely popular creations of artist-philosopher the late Shigeru Mizuki . His characters have delighted generations of Japanese for over 60 years.  A shuttle service from the quayside goes to the town’s Sakaiminato station some 20 minutes away. Cruise guests can walk along an 800mtr long stretch with 53 bronze statues of mythical spirit-monsters and visit the Mizuki Shigeru Museum. The museum, established 23 years ago as Sakaiminato’s central showcase, was the city's attempt to breathe life and fun into a town that had become lackluster. Few wanted to continue with traditional fishing for a livelihood and Mizuki’s goblins were enlisted to revitalize a fast-becoming a ghost town.

Some 80 minutes away is Shimane prefecture’s Izumu Museum which houses the most extensive archeological collection in Japan.  Ancient Japanese chronicles or Kojiki, as well as 358 unearthed swords and other artefacts, strongly suggest Ancient Izumo could have been the cradle of Japanese civilization. The collection is gazetted as national treasure and thought to be more than 2,000 years old. There is multilingual commentary at the museum and bus-loads of cruise passengers, typically 100 passengers are bused in to enjoy this experience in Japanese history and culture.

The nearby Izumo Taisha Shrine, is revered as the place all the gods of Japan congregate once a year.  Part of the complex has a wing to accommodate the visiting deities. The gods hold conferences to discuss various prayer requests and various issues such as liquor production, marriage ties, and agricuture production. The13th century Izumo shrine’s three structured pagoda was the tallest structure in Japan, reflecting its past power and glory.
Sakai Port cooperates closely with neighbouring Kanazawa, to provide sufficient excursion buses and provide tourist information onboard. Kanazawa which is about 7 hours away overland has become better connected to capital Tokyo, since the speed rail or Shinkansen link which started in March 2015. As a result visitors from Tokyo have been able to board cruise ships at Kanazawa port. According to Kanazawa port authorities, roughly 8,000 passengers embarked and disembarked at Kanazawa during this summer's Costa Japan sailings. Roughly 40% of these passengers were from the Tokyo area. Given these numbers, Kanazawa has the potential to be a turnaround port.  The Shinkansen access will extend to Osaka eventually, but the route has not yet been decided.

Both Sakai and Kanazawa ports and their tourism partners cooperate on promotional roadshows within Japan and taregtting the wider cruise community attending  cruise events such as Seatrade Cruise Asia in Busan this May.

A network of five Japanese and Korean ports comprising Busan, Hakata, Maizuru, Kanazawa and Sakai jointly promoted Costa Victoria’s Sea of Japan cruises between July and September this year, as they will for Costa neoRomantica which will be deployed for a longer season from April to October in 2017. They also hosted events in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya to try and attract more people to cruise in the Sea of Japan.