Seabourn cruises the islands of Japan during the breathtaking springtime cherry blossom season. The country offers a dazzling array of attractions, from the warm seas, coral reefs and sandy beaches of its subtropical southern archipelagos to Tokyo’s glittering neon wonderland, the tranquil Buddhist and Shinto temples and gardens of Kyoto and Osaka and the picturesque forested mountains of Hokkaido island in the north. Western travelers may not be aware of the sun-and-sand appeal of Ishigaki, Miyakojima and Okinawa, but their white sand beaches draw vacationers from Asia to enjoy sunny, Caribbean-esque leisure activities. Naha, on Okinawa, adds appeal with the UNESCO World Heritage-cited Shureimon Gate of its Chinese-style castle. Amami Ōshima, between Okinawa and Kyushu, is under consideration by UNESCO Natural World Heritage for its unique ecosystems and endemic species.
Kyushu is the nearest of Japan’s islands to the Asian continent, with important sites such as Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Sasebo, where the Dutch established the Japan’s first Western trading port. At the southern end of Kyushu, Kagoshima has been compared to Naples in Italy, because it is also dominated by views of an active stratovolcano, Sakurajima. Kitakyushu has a UNESCO-listed Kokura Castle and a quirky museum to the toilets manufactured by the TOTO company.
Takamatsu, on the smallest of Japan’s main islands, Shikoku, has a museum dedicated to the late designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Its port of Kochi is a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists, drawn to Shikoku by its photogenic five-story Chikurinji Pagoda.
Honshu, Japan’s largest island, holds many of the sites most familiar to Westerners, including the capital Tokyo with its Imperial Palace, historic Asakusa district, the shopping and entertainment meccas of Ginza, Roppongi and the dazzling electronics emporia of Akihabara. Accessed from the important port of Yokohama, an evening here could include a kabuki performance, or the astonishing teenaged fashion, cosplay and anime-fans in Shinjuku. The temples and gardens of Osaka, Kanazawa and Kyoto; the iconic views of Mt. Fuji from Shimizu; the timeless traditions and immense tombs of Sakai; colorful festival displays in Aomori; and hidden gems such as Sakaiminato with its six-story Matsue Castle are all to be found on Honshu.
Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost main island, with looming, darkly forested mountains and the colorful indigenous traditions of the Ainu ethnic group. Hakodate has a Museum of the Northern Peoples to orient you, as well as the celebrated ‘Snow Monkeys’ that winter in the Yunosawa Onsen hot springs. Kushiro is blessed with a warming current that keeps it balmier than nearby Sapporo and offers a wetland refuge for serene Japanese cranes. Otaru, by contrast, was an active trading port throughout the 19th century and has Western-style ‘herring mansions’ built by European traders and a Yoichi Nikka Whisky Distillery.
Throughout the length of its island chain, Japan holds many delights for guests voyaging there with Seabourn.