Why you should cruise around Japan

From its ultra high-tech cities and world-beating food to its grand temples and bamboo forests, there really is no other country like Japan. Tuck into a steaming bowl of ramen at a station counter or watch a tea ceremony in an imperial castle, and you’ll see for yourself the wonderfully Japanese fascination with detail that has ensured that the country has one of the least diluted cultures in the world.

With over 6,800 islands in its archipelago, a cruise is one of the best ways of seeing Japan with itineraries taking in multiple cities and ports. Setting the tone for the country’s great metropolises are the towering skyscrapers of Tokyo, criss-crossed by neon-lit backstreets,  pedestrian crossings and wooden shanty bars. It’s also got the highest number of Michelin starred restaurants in the world, not least Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-starred sushi restaurant located in an unpromising basement adjacent to Ginza Metro Station.

Then there are the bright lights of Osaka, the perfect foil for nearby Kyoto’s incredible density of shrines and temples, and the warm, traditional Japanese welcome of Fukuoka. Home to a 17th century Edo-period castle, the latter is famous for its rich and tasty, porkbased Hakata ramen.

Moving east, while Hiroshima’s history is painfully overshadowed by the events at the end of World War II, today its Peace Memorial Park and leafy boulevards are well worth a visit. Nagasaki, once similarly blighted, is also coming into its own as cobblestone streets reward travellers with evocative shrines, churches and temples, framed by a sweeping harbour and hilly landscape. There’s even the Koshibyo Shrine, the only Confucius shrine the Chinese built outside of their homeland.

However, head out of the cities and you’ll find perhaps Japan’s best-kept secret – its spectacular countryside. Bisecting the main island, the Japanese Alps stretch from Tokyo until they fall dramatically into the Sea of Japan. Dotted with temples, tearooms and castles, they offer fantastic hikes, skiing and welcome respite in naturally occurring onsen hot springs. For warmer climes, the coral reefs, cobalt-blue waters and sweeping beaches of cruise-favourite Okinawa Island are more Bali than Japan. Ships often call at Shimizu where a shogun burial ground has fantastic views to the conical peak of Mount Fuji.

Itineraries also often include Hakodate, at the southern tip of Japan’s northernmost island. Take a tram through its historic streets to the hilly edge of town, sprinkled with wooden buildings and brick churches. For another blend of urban and rural, look to Kobe, Japan’s ancient maritime gateway. Be sure to take in the striking curves of its modern, portside architecture before sampling its most famous export, Kobe beef. Tenderly massaged, this impeccably marbled delicacy is recognised as among the best meat in the world.

When to go cruising to Japan

The best times to visit Japan are spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November). Spring is when Japan’s famous cherry trees bloom. Starting in March, the sakura zensen (cherry tree blossom line) advances northward, usually passing the main cities of Honshu and Hokkaido from early April. The autumn foliage line reverses the advance of the cherry blossom, starting in the north in October and peaking across Honshu in early-to-mid November.

Who to cruise with

Many of the world’s leading cruise lines sail to Japan, including Silversea, Azamara Club Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Seabourn & Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Scott Anderson is General Manager at The Luxury Cruise Company. The Luxury Cruise Company is your port of call for incredible cruise holidays.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Comments (6)

  1. Helen says:

    To be honest a cruise around Japan had never even entered my mind until I read this post, it is quite an eye opener for me.

    The fact that there are 6,800 islands in the archipelago means that we would get some spectacular views. I doubt that you are ever going to be looking at just blue sea and blue sky horizons.

    Also I like the fact that it is all going to be quite compact with plenty of ports of call. I wouldn’t be happy stuck on a boat for several days at sea.

  2. Gary Childerly says:

    This presents a very different view of Japan to my image of the country, perhaps my pucturd of Japanese city life is stereotypical and something of a cliche. I like the idea of a cruise that isn’t just focusing on the big towns but trying to scratch beneath the surface to get to a more authentic Japan.

    • A cruise is a great way to see those smaller villages an off the beaten track ports, as well as headline cities – great to meet the locals too =- and only unpacking once!

  3. mcj says:

    Tokyo has a personality all its own. Kyushu does also. Its city versus country, but high tech is all over Japan. Its great. Although a cruise wasnt in the cards it should be a great experience. You get to view more cities, and they all have something special for you to enjoy. Please check out Dogenzaka and Yoyogi park..Tokyo

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