Jane Archer, the UK's leading cruise journalist reveals why Japan should be a must on everyone’s travel bucket list.
I can’t think of a country that has leapt from zero to hero with cruisers as fast as Japan. Cruise lines have been going there for years, but usually visiting a couple of ports as part of a longer voyage around the Far East, not anymore.
These days, cruise lines have entire cruises circumnavigating Japan. Azamara Club Cruises, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, I could go on, but you get the picture.
I’d love to tell you what the attraction is, but I’ve never been, well, that’s not strictly true, I flew into Osaka once, caught a bus from the airport to the ship I was joining and we set sail in the early hours the following morning.
So am I ready to do a proper cruise around the country? You bet! Here are seven reasons why it’s top of my wish list.
Seven reasons to visit Japan on a cruise:
1. Extraordinary Japanese culture
My experience catching the bus at Osaka Airport was fascinating. A kind man with a smattering of English told me which bus I needed, helped me buy a ticket (the machine was only in Japanese), then directed me to stand in one lane and put my suitcase in another. As buses came in, he bowed respectfully, directed the waiting passengers on, loaded their bags and bowed again as it pulled away. It made me realise how very different and extraordinary Japanese culture is.
2. Plenty of cruises to choose from
A cruise is the best way to visit Japan, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But think about it. You don’t have to worry about the language because there’ll be English-speaking guides to show you around (I think I found the one man at Osaka Airport who spoke English so believe me, that is a big advantage), and if you are nervous about the culture or food, you are back on board for dinner each evening.
3. A handful of fascinating cities right near the coast
Look at a map of the country, all the well-known cities – Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Osaka and Kyoto – are either on or near the coast and so are less-familiar places that shouldn’t be missed. Hakodate, a cosmopolitan metropolis in the shadow of the mountain that gave the city its name; Aomori, where in August every year the streets come alive with people and colourful floats to celebrate the Nebuta Festival; Kagoshima, home to hot springs and sand baths and Shimizu, which has castles, shrines and unparalleled views of Mount Fuji. Another reason why a cruise is an ideal way to visit Japan.
4. The Jigokudani Monkey Park
Yes I know I said everything you would want to see, and more, is near the coast but just 150 miles inland from Tokyo is Jigokudani Monkey Park, home to the famous Snow Monkeys. You can visit the park on your own but even better, ROL Cruise has teamed up with Wendy Wu Tours to offer a superb holiday combining a 14 night Silversea cruise around Japan on Silver Muse with four nights in Tokyo and trip into the Japanese Alps to see the monkeys.
5. The Springtime cherry blossom
Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see Japan’s spectacular cherry blossom? To fill your nostrils with the scent of the flowers? There are cherry trees all over Japan and they blossom in late March to April, depending on the weather. Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Sakata are some of the best places to see the blossom – and all just happen to be on Silver Muse’s April 2021 itinerary. Don’t miss Shinjuku Gyoen park in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cherry trees.
6. Fascinating history and culture
We all know about Pearl Harbour and the fighting in the Far East during the Second World War, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows very little about the rest of Japan’s history and culture. The shogun rulers, samurai warriors, geisha traditions and the meaning of Zen Buddhism – you can learn all this on a cruise, and also visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, where peace parks remember the death and destruction caused by the atomic bombs dropped in 1945.
7. Mouth-watering Japanese cuisine
Dare I say it? I don’t like sushi and puffer fish is a definite no-no. But I’d love to try real Japanese Kobe beef, ramen noodle soup, soba noodles and tempura vegetables. I’ll have to get better with chopsticks and learn to slurp when eating (apparently this is the done thing when tucking into noodles in Japan).
A Taste of SALT
In March, I was one of several journalists invited by Silversea to sample a new food concept designed to encourage passengers to understand cultures through their cuisine.
Called Sea And Land Taste (SALT), it will be introduced on Silver Moon, the new Silversea ship launching in August next year, but we were trying it out on Silver Muse, on a cruise from Manila to Singapore.
On shore, we learned about local food and dining traditions including joining a Filipino kamayan buffet where you eat with your fingers.On board, food experts explained how their culture and cuisine were
intertwined and cooked up a few dishes for us to sample. It was a brilliant insight into a side of life in the Philippines, Eastern Malaysia and Singapore that I’ve never appreciated before.
Details of the inaugural SALT tours on Silver Moon are being finalised but if the Muse trip is anything to go by, they will be wonderful. I can’t wait to find out.
- Blue Horizons
- Jane Archer