Just Back From Cruising Japan

Our writer is just back from a voyage on Diamond Princess®.

On my favorite day in Japan, I took in a truly spectacular view more than 4,000 feet up a mountainside. I strolled a 6,000-year-old archaeological site, rebuilt to show how some of the country’s earliest humans lived. I dined on exquisite sushi, prepared by a master chef at an adorable restaurant tucked in a quaint alleyway. I had a moment of zen at an idyllic countryside temple as I stood awestruck before the nation’s largest seated bronze Buddha. And I marveled at massive luminous floats from Japan’s most colorful annual festival, at a wildly vivid museum built in their honor.

Then I got back on the ship.

Diamond Princess®

Photo: Princess Cruises®

Japan and cruising may not be synonymous to the Western traveler, but Japan may be better suited to cruise travel than anywhere else, especially for first-time visitors like me. It is, after all, a nation of islands—some 6,852 in all, but chiefly four close neighbors that make up about 97 percent of it, creating the long and curvy shape that we all recognize as Japan. Given the country’s manageable size, it’s possible to circle the main island of Honshu, experience a bit of Hokkaido and get fairly close-up views of Kyushu and Shikoku—and even squeeze in a day trip to Busan, South Korea, along the way—all in just eight amazing days.

What’s more, cruising eliminates navigating tricky Japanese road signs or train timetables—leaving you to fully focus on soaking up the wonder that is Japan.

My ship of choice was Diamond Princess®, a Princess Cruises® 2,670-passenger beauty that now spends its entire year in Asia, and a good portion thereof sailing a variety of itineraries around Japan. Life on board has a casually upscale Western feel, but includes oodles of Japan-inspired luxuries, such as an all-day ramen station (and other Nipponese options) at the buffet, classes in yukata (summer kimono) wearing and Japanese calligraphy.

My particular journey began and ended in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo. Before the actual cruise, my itinerary included a couple of days in the uniquely dazzling capital. Many passengers add an extra few days for taking in even more, but it’s entirely possible to see many of the city’s top highlights—like Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, the Imperial Palace and Shibuya crossing—with the cruise’s own Tokyo excursions.

And once the seaborne portion of the cruise commences, these excursions simply get better. Just a sampling of the mind-blowing experiences I almost certainly would’ve missed had I tried to crisscross Japan by land: a thrilling traditional geisha performance in the Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa (often called “Little Kyoto” for its historical charm); the best ramen I shall probably ever devour, at Yokohama’s fantastic Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum; and Goryokaku, seat of Japan’s first-ever (albeit short-lived) democratic government, in Hakodate in the north.

If there’s one frustrating thing about a cruise, it’s that one simply can’t do everything. During our day-long stop at Sakaiminato on the west coast, I visited Matsue Castle, one of the last medieval castles remaining. Then I took a magical canal ride on a tiny boat (with a folk-singing pilot) that collapsed its roof each time it traveled under ultra-low bridges, followed by the fascinating Lafcadio Hearn Museum, commemorating the Greek-Irish 19th-century writer who helped popularize the mystique of New Orleans before he became one of the first Westerners to write about Japan for a global audience.

It was yet another terrific day (second only to my favorite at Aomori in the north), but it meant totally bypassing Sakaiminato’s best-known attraction: the striking bronze yokai (spirit monsters) erected along the main street to honor the characters popularized by its most famous native son, Mizuki Shigeru, whose whimsically ghoulish manga work is also honored at a nearby museum.

Never mind; I’ve just added the yokai to my list of things to see when I return to visit Japan by land. Or heck, I may just stick to the sea forever.

The writer was a guest of Princess Cruises®.

Princess Cruises offers many choices for sailing throughout Asia. Call 877-396-7159 to contact a AAA Travel Counselor or explore the options online.

Book Now

Rose Stadt, AAA Travel Counselor, Vallejo, Calif.

More and more people want to customize their escorted trips with longer stays in certain cities or visits to specific sites. I make sure the independent pieces fit seamlessly with the tour.

© 1996–2018, AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah. All rights reserved  |  Terms & Conditions  |  Privacy Policy