Buy rubles at Wakkanai (or hope you meet a friendly Russian)
My travel companion and I had no luck with finding a bank in Tokyo that stocked Russian rubles but felt certain there would be a money exchange counter at the ferry terminal. We were wrong. After disembarking at Korsakov, all ferry passengers were hurried onto a dusty blue bus that took us to the immigration building. Our visas were stamped by an officer inside a rudimentary wooden box with a window barrier so high it was level with the officer’s eyes. There was no ATM, no tourist information, no facilities whatsoever.
Looking lost, my friend and I stepped outside and were surprisingly greeted by a tall Russian man who said ‘Konnichiwa’. He told us he had travelled to Hokkaido to learn Japanese and he was curious at seeing two young tourists getting off the ferry from Japan. He then kindly offered to drive us 40km north to the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. This was a stroke of luck and had we not met our first and only Russian friend, Alexey, I have no idea what we would have done.
I can now tell you that the closest ATM is 10 minutes away by car inside Hotel Alfa, the only hotel in Korsakov (31 Krasnoflotskaya Street, across from Lenin Square). I also later found out that you can exchange rubles at the Wakkanai branch of Hokkaido Bank too.