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®.