BY Ryan Swift on 14 Apr 2023

Nigel Beatty, founder of Super Yacht Logistics Japan, says that Kobe, famed for its beef, has all the ingredients of a great superyacht destination.

Nigel Beatty, founder of Super Yacht Logistics (SYL) and one of the first providers of superyacht support in Japan, is ever-more optimistic about the country’s future as a superyacht destination. In particular, he is eyeing Kobe, a key port city on the Western part of Japan’s main island, as a potential new superyacht destination and base in the Asia-Pacific.

Japan is the world’s third largest economy and has an incredible coastline (larger than Australia and 50% more than the USA), stretching from the colder, northern reaches of Hokkaido Island to the corals and white sand of the tropical Ryukyu Islands in the south. Japan also boasts an extensive marina infrastructure, suited to the local market of smaller pleasure yachts and private sport fishing boats, which has been going since the 1970s.

The rough beauty of northern Japan

Hokkaido Island, Japan

“You can equate Japan to the eastern Seaboard of the United States,” says Beatty. “In the north, it’s like Maine and New England, then you’ve got the central states down to Florida and the Bahamas.”

Read: Cruising Hokkaido Island

Improving superyacht regulations in Japan

Beatty founded SYL Japan in 2004 and has had his eye on the country’s potential as a superyacht destination ever since. Along with a handful of local yachting firms, he has also been patiently trying to prod local governments to make life easier for foreign-flagged visiting superyachts, along with business partner Kenta Inaba.

Over the past year, that work has been paying off.

In early 2022, a rule giving visiting superyachts an option to obtain a Naikosen; a cruising permit that legally turned the vessel into a Japanese coastal vessel was introduced. Previously a visiting superyacht would have to apply for clearance every time it moved to a new port. Now, a Naikosen can be granted for a superyacht’s entire visit.

Another key change that came in early 2022 opens formerly “closed” ports. Closed ports are harbours that require a seven-day notification before a visiting yacht can use it. Now Beatty says, these ports are open to superyachts with a blanket clearance for the entire country on arrival to Japan.

“This is really great, because sometimes you want to go to a really secluded village with a port, you can go and drop the hook or even dock up,” Beatty says.

The temple gate near on Miyajima Island, near Hiroshima, on the Inland Sea – photo by Bing Hui Yao

Finally, at the end of 2022, SYL was notified that all crew on a superyacht could get a one-year Crew Pass, with permission to go ashore and spend time at any location in Japan. This started in early 2023, Beatty says, letting crew of all nationalities go ashore for provisions or even just to take some time off which was great for those nationalities that would otherwise need to obtain a visa for Japan.

Beatty says that the Japanese government is aware of the benefits of inbound superyacht tourism and reacting favorably to the industry. “They want to promote it, they understand that with very high-end luxury tourism, there is a transfer of wealth into local communities,” Beatty says. “The government also understands that a lot of the guys who own superyachts are also captains of industry, and they want to show that Japan is an easy place to do business.”

Kobe, superyacht gateway to the Inland Sea

The next thing on Beatty and Inaba’s list of things to lobby for are clear rules around foreign superyacht charter. Regional governments are quite open to this, he says.

“It’s one of those things that could happen in two months, or it could happen in a year. We present and we push. We don’t hear anything, and then suddenly, bang, there it is.”

Though superyacht traffic to Japan is still relatively small, Beatty says that because Covid restrictions are gone, the yachts are starting to return in regular numbers.

In 2016, Beatty handed over control of SYL Japan to Kenta Inaba, who is now working with local governments to find solutions for visiting yachts. There are facilities for large yachts to tie up around the country, but Beatty is mainly focused on the Inland Sea, a sheltered cruising area 300 miles long with innumerable places to visit.

Kobe’s Port – Nigel Beatty says it has the potential to be a superyacht hub and gateway to cruising the Inland Sea

Beatty says the Kobe city government has plans to regenerate its old port area. “The local government really wants to put superyachts in there (the port area),” Beatty says. Kobe is next to Osaka and at the northern entrance to the Inland Sea, just a short distance from great scenery with protection from the open Pacific Ocean.

Read: Cruising the Japan’s Seto Inland Sea on a houseboat

Kobe’s port is huge, and the area designated to be developed for superyachts is about half the size of Monaco’s Port Hercule, is just a couple of minute walk from the downtown area, with shops, boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs. Beatty and Inaba hope to create a linear floating docking facility for visiting superyachts in Kobe. Superyachts can already tie up in Kobe, but there are no facilities such as electricity yet.

Beatty says the Kobe government wants to have a simple facility in operation before 2025, when the World Expo comes to Osaka. There are three airports in the area, including Osaka’s international airport. Kobe airport, which is built on reclaimed land in Osaka Bay, is due to become an international airport next year and will have a private jet facility.

Kobe airport also has a ferry dock, meaning private tenders will potentially be able to pick up arriving guests and ferry them directly to their superyachts. And of course, there’s the provisioning. What superyacht owner wouldn’t want a little Kobe beef to go with a day of cruising Japan’s unique coastline?