Yachts entering Japan used to have to apply for permission to enter any ‘closed port’ when cruising.
This requirement has now been waived, as of July 2018 please check
The old system was based on Japan’s history of exclusion from the outside world, some ports remain ‘Open Ports’, this list is obtainable from the MLIT website, and you will still be required to check in to the authorities in these places.
The southern islands of Japan and the Inland Sea, seem very relaxed, and yachts will be welcomed and left alone, while the Sea of Japan, regardless of permission is close to Korea and the scrutiny and formalities are more onerous!
Before entering Japan prior notice must be sent via either FAX or email to the relevant Customs authority.
It is highly recommended that if arriving in Okinawa you ask to be registered as a ‘local’ boat. This will save future formalities. Although you will not be eligible for duty free diesel, we never found we could get any in any case! Just remember when leaving Japan you need to reclaim your status as a ‘foreign yacht’!
Harbours, anchorages etc
We found it hard to understand when we were told that no one in Japan anchors! This is not entirely true, but most bays and possible anchorages have concrete walls and harbours so yachts are forced to go in. Usually this means tying alongside concrete walls with big barnacles, and in the Inland Sea and southern islands a significant tidal range.
Occasionally there are floating docks which are a godsend when you can use them!
A board with fenders both inside it and outside are the best way of protecting your top sides. Plenty of old fenders usually polystyrene covered in plastic can be found by scavenging!
In general visiting yachts should use the bits of wall with yellow and black stripes. Some fishing boats also use these places. Try to use an area where local boats have not left their lines and fenders, they may return, although often these seem to be abandoned.
There are no floating docks that we found in the Sea of Japan, but Tidal Range is small compared to the Inland Sea and the south islands.