There’s the Asia everybody knows and there’s Asia from a different perspective. You can enjoy a richer experience on a small-ship cruise around the Japanese archipelago and the beautiful coastal city of Busan, South Korea on this trip. Sail to intimate, lesser-known ports of call in Japan and island-hop to three of the country’s five main islands—Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu—among the 12 destinations visited over two weeks at sea and on land.
For those who want to see and engage with genuine life in Japan today, this 14-day itinerary expertly mingles history and modernity with local insight in electrifying cities and peaceful countryside landscapes alike. Plus, traveling by small ship affords you the ultimate flexibility to explore more deeply and customize your trip around a choice of onshore activities, including visits to working farms, guided excursions, and bicycle tours
ItineraryPLAN YOUR TRIP
In the evening, your tour commences with a welcome reception and dinner with a geisha cultural lecture and performance. In Western Japan, you’ll find the regional term for geisha—geiko (which translates to “woman of art”)—commonly used in Kyoto and Kanazawa.
Get a sense of its grandeur at the meticulously preserved, 15th-century Kinkaku-ji, Temple of the Golden Pavilion swathed in gold leaf and capped with a gleaming phoenix. Next, spend time in the Higashiyama District at the Sanjusangen-do Buddhis temple. For lunch, you’ll stop in a restaurant specializing in local cuisine and attend a traditional Taiko drumming performance.
Day 4:Osaka and Maizuru
To recharge after sightseeing, savor a local lunch with your fellow travelers and bid sayonara to Osaka. Next, you’ll head out on a scenic drive to Maizuru, tucked in an inlet on the Sea of Japan, where you’ll board the six-deck Le Soléal. Settle into the stylish atmosphere and take in the view of the southwest coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest island, as you head toward Sakaiminato, your first port of call.
Day 5:Sakaiminato and Matsue
To fully appreciate the greenery and see views of Mt. Daisen, visit the Tottori Hanakairo Flower Park filled with seasonal blooms and a 165-foot flower dome. Then, embark on an excursion to Matsue, known as “the water city,” to see the namesake castle simply known as the Black Castle for its darkly colored exterior. Once back in Sakaiminato and aboard Le Soléal, the captain will host you at a welcome dinner in the evening.
Learn about the city’s past with a visit to the Nagasaki Peace Park, which commemorates the World War II bombing in 1945, and the Atomic Bomb Museum. Afterward, return to the ship for lunch. Then, you can either walk through the open-air Dejima Museum and visit the Clover Gardens or head up to the Mt. Inasa Ropeway, rising some 1,100 feet above sea level, for a bird’s-eye view.
You’ll take the local ferry to Sakurajima, or Cherry Blossom Island, for a guided scenic drive and volcanic hot spring experience. After partaking in these therapeutic natural wonders, you’ll head back to Kagoshima with an opportunity to visit the Sengan-en Garden, a traditional Japanese garden located on the grounds of a stately home.
Take a break from sightseeing to taste regional fare, such as okonomiyaki (grilled savory pancakes topped with pork, cheese, and noodles) at a local restaurant. Finally, treat your eyes to the visual illusion of the Miyajima Itsukushima Shrine, which appears to float on water
Day 11:Uno Ko
Check out the Ohara Museum of Art, which first opened in 1930 as Japan’s first showcase of Western Art. Take the rest of the afternoon to ride bikes around Uno Ko, pop over to the little island of Naoshima, or sample Japanese beer culture at a local craft brewery, Doppo.
You’ll have the evening to yourself, whether you want to dine in a Michelin-starred restaurant or sip a leisurely cocktail at the hotel’s Mandarin Bar. In the morning, you’ll convene for a visit to the Meiji Shrine and a guided tour of the Japan National Museum. For your final night in Tokyo, you’ll enjoy a hosted farewell reception and dinner with traditional music and an unforgettable sumo wrestling demonstration.