With visions of pagodas and cherry blossoms dancing in my head, and armed with a book on Japanese etiquette, I arrived in Tokyo, where traditional Buddhist shrines and temples are nestled among the city’s skyscrapers. There I would embark on a segment of Oceania Cruises®’ “Mythical Asia” voyage of five countries and nine ports of call over 20 days from Tokyo to Bangkok aboard the Nautica®.
Upon boarding the elegant 684-guest Nautica®, the pampering began. Suites and staterooms boast queen-sized Prestige Tranquility Beds with 1,000-thread-count linens and Bulgari toiletries. We spent sea days relaxing at the famed Canyon Ranch SpaClub® and attending lectures by experts who offered background on Asia’s history and culture.
Dining each night on Nautica® was an epicurean adventure—which one expects when the cruise line’s executive culinary director is legendary master chef Jacques Pépin. The ship’s eateries include the Polo Grill, a modern steakhouse where I indulged in juicy prime rib and a sampling of the chef’s sweetest fare; and the Italian restaurant Toscana, where I had a decision crisis when confronted by the menu with its eight different antipasti, nine pastas, three risottos and 10 entrées.
The cruise aboard the Nautica® featured six overnight stays, which allowed guests to explore the variegated ports at night. In Kobe, Japan, I glimpsed two young geishas in traditional dress stepping daintily into a shop. During our overnight stay in Kobe, guests ventured out to sample the city’s famed beef or traveled to Kyoto to take in a traditional geisha performance.
From Kobe we journeyed to Osaka, historically an economic powerhouse and a meeting place for global commerce. There, I noticed teens in a busy mall wearing familiar Western attire. A die-hard shopper, I was helpless in the face of scarves made from antique kimono fabric. Kagoshima delivered natural beauty with an unforgettable view of lunar-like landscapes of ancient lava rocks at Sakurajima, an active volcano.
Art was the thing in Taipei, Taiwan, where we toured the National Palace Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art. The museum holds more than 600,000 items, some of which were originally housed in Beijing’s Forbidden City. From bronze water vessels from the Shang Dynasty to ink-colored silk scroll hangings from the Tang Dynasty, early Chinese art seemed to place equal importance on beauty and meaning—a theme that’s still important today, our guide said.