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Island Explorations of Japan
For the traveler interested in taking a deep dive into another culture, Crystal Endeavor’s sailing from September 13 to 29, 2020 presents a tempting itinerary. Over 16 days, you’ll see Japan in all its dazzling variety—from the bustle of metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka, to the remote southernmost islands of the country, where fishing villages can feel untouched by time and pristine national parks are waiting to be explored. Ancient shrines, natural wonders, and opportunities to learn about Japan’s long history abound on this journey of discovery. The cruise ends in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, where you can then get a taste of that country before returning home.
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    Day 1
    There is perhaps no better place to begin your journey through Japan than in the country’s capital, Tokyo. Home to 13.5 million people in the city proper—and some 37 million in the greater metropolitan area—the city is one of the world’s great metropolises. It also offers an intoxicating mix of old and new. Here the neon lights of Shibuya and centuries-old manicured gardens and temples can be found just blocks from each other.

    Japan’s capital offers an almost overwhelming array of sites to see and things to do—shopping in the luxury boutiques of Ginza, exploring neighborhoods of traditional homes in paper and wood, or dining at a restaurant floating above the glittering cityscape. You may want to opt for a pre-cruise extension to have some extra time to experience all that Tokyo offers before you board Crystal Endeavor.
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    Day 2
    You’ll arrive today in the coastal town of Shingu, best known for its three Shinto shrines that have been located along the Kumano River since the 12th century (though the buildings that stand there today are more recent constructions). This UNESCO World Heritage Site provides an introduction to Shintoism’s spiritual practices and its veneration of nature—both a centuries-old tree and a rock near the shrines are holy sites. If an active adventure appeals more than quiet meditation, you may want to opt instead to visit the Doro-kyo Gorge where you can raft amid the area’s dramatic rock formations.
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    Days 3 and 4
    Japan’s second largest city, Osaka, was long a rival to Tokyo and may have become the country’s capital if the Toyotomi dynasty had not come to an end. (The enormous reconstruction of their castle is one of Osaka’s most popular sights.) Osaka today fascinates visitors with its long history and sites that have attracted pilgrims and other worshippers for centuries, like the Sumiyoshi Taisha shrine and Shitennoji, one of Japan’s oldest temples.

    The city is also, however, a vibrant, bustling metropolis where an explosion of new construction in recent years have made it a showcase of contemporary architecture. Among the new buildings of note are the History Museum, the National Art Museum, and the Science Museum. You can combine admiring the new buildings with some shopping at Grand Front Osaka, next to the Osaka train station. The complex of shops and restaurants has become one of the city’s main attractions. With an overnight in port, you’ll have plenty of time to try some of Osaka’s cuisine as well. Among the city’s signature dishes, sold by many street vendors, are takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes). Osaka also boasts an array of fine dining options.
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    Days 4 to 5
    Continuing its journey south along the coast of Honshu, Crystal Endeavor arrives today to the city of Himeji, with half a million inhabitants. Overlooking Himeji is one of Japan’s most photographed buildings, the gleaming white Himeji Castle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of Japan’s best-preserved feudal castles, having miraculously survived the threats of war, fire, and earthquakes largely unscathed. Next door to the castle, the Kokoen Garden includes nine separate areas reflecting different styles of garden design from the Edo period (1603-1868).

    A little further afield, nearby Mount Shosha is topped by the Engyoji complex of temples. These wooden buildings, some over a thousand years old, are set amid a dense forested landscape. With its evocative atmosphere, Engyoji has frequently been used as a location in films about Japan during the days of the samurai.
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    Photo By 663highland
    Day 5
    The last port that Crystal Endeavor visits on the island of Honshu is Tamano. The city’s economy revolves around shipbuilding and manufacturing, but the atmosphere is far from industrial. Instead visitors and residents alike head to nearby beaches and leafy Miyami Park when the weather is good. Roughly 20 minutes west of town, the Ojigadake Bluffs are crossed by hiking trails and offer stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea, dotted with tiny islands.
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    Photo By 663highland
    Day 6
    Cruising the Coast of Japan
    As one of only 200 guests on Crystal Endeavor, you have an opportunity today to explore one of the most anticipated new cruise ships in the world. The largest and most spacious expedition yacht ever constructed brings a contemporary elegance to the high seas. You may want to book a treatment at the serene Crystal Life Spa & Salon, work out at the state-of-the-art fitness center, or learn about the art, history and wildlife of the destinations you’ll visit with the engaging enrichment programs. Or you can simply lounge poolside or in the solarium while the attentive crew caters to your every whim. As evening arrives, order a cocktail in one of the luxurious lounges, indulge in the renowned culinary creations of Nobu Matsuhisa, or enjoy special wine-makers dinners.
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    Day 7
    You’ll arrive today to the island of Shikoku, which forms the southern border of the Seto Inland Sea, facing Honshu to its north. The city is home to one of only 12 castles that has survived intact from the Edo period, while the Date Museum recounts the history of the castle, city, and the Date clan that ruled this part of Japan for centuries. As a coastal city, Uwajima has long been focused on the sea with fishing and pearl diving mainstays of the local economy. An excursion to a pearl farm introduces Japan’s famous pearls and what to look for if you want to purchase a piece as a unique souvenir of your travels around the country.
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    Day 8
    Today Crystal Endeavor calls at its third island on this itinerary, Kyushu. You may find your arrival to the port of Kagoshima breathtaking with the Sakurajima volcano looming over town. Kagoshima has often been compared to the Italian city of Naples, with Sakurajima its counterpart to Mt. Vesuvius. The two cities also share a warm and mild climate—ideal for agriculture, as well as travelers who want to explore the region. North of town, the Senganen Garden, with views of Sakurajima in the distance, was first laid out in the 17th century. It is one of the highpoints of garden design from the Edo period while the Iso Residence, located in the garden, has been restored to how it would have looked in the late 19th century when the powerful Shimazu family lived there.
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    Day 9
    Yakushima Island
    Yakushima Island, off the coast of Kyushu, is one of Japan’s natural wonders. Its cedar forests include some of the country’s oldest trees—some are estimated to be around 7,000 years old. While in the past the trees were harvested to be turned into cedar shingles, today most of Yakushima is protected parkland and has been recognized by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage Site since 1993. At the location where two different biotic zones meet, the island is known for its remarkable biodiversity. In addition to its famous cedars, there are some 1,900 different species and subspecies of flora that thrive here.
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    Day 10
    Amami Oshima
    Amami Oshima, the largest island of the Satsunan chain which runs between southern Kyushu and Okinawa, may surprise travelers who didn’t realize that Japan includes a number of subtropical islands. The climate on the island is closer to that of Okinawa, in the south of Japan, than that of the islands to its north. Trails pass through mangroves while the forest floors are dense with ferns. Visitors can snorkel in cobalt seas along coral reefs or head high into cloud forest that covers the interior of the island. Amami Oshima is also known for its silks which have long been used to create the highest quality kimonos.
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    Day 11
    Motobu, Okinawa
    Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, consists of a number of islands including Okinawa itself. Long part of the Ryukyu kingdom, which wasn’t absorbed into Japan until the 19th century, the islands have distinct culture from that of the rest of the country, the result of Chinese and other influences. The island is also known for its spectacular beaches and the Churaumi Aquarium, the world’s largest private aquarium, located in Ocean Expo Park. With an area of more than 200,000 square feet, the aquarium is home to sharks, rays, manatee, sea turtles, and thousands of tropical and deep-water fish.
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    Day 12
    Once the capital of the Ryukyu kingdom, and today the capital of the Okinawa prefecture, Naha has layers of history waiting to be delved. Unfortunately much of the city was destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa in World War II, but the reconstructed Shuri Castle provides a glimpse of the lives of the royal family of Ryukyu. Shikinaen, another residence of the Ryukyu kings, was also restored following the war and today its gardens combine traditional Japanese design with buildings constructed in a style typical of Okinawa.

    Shoppers will also find plenty to peruse in Naha. Bustling Kokosaidori is the main shopping street in the city. Not far from Kokosaidori, the Tsuboya district, centered on the cobblestone Tsuboya Odori Pottery Street, has been the center of Naha’s pottery workshops since the 17th century. Today you can purchase unique handcrafted vases, dishes, or perhaps a pair of shisa, a mythical animal resembling a cross between a dog and lion. Statues of them were traditionally placed at the entrances to Ryukyu homes.
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    Day 13
    Kerama Islands
    Located some 20 miles from Okinawa, the Kerama Islands boast crystal-clear waters ideal for snorkeling and beautiful white-sand beaches. Of the 36 islands in the group, only four are inhabited. A day exploring its coral reefs will likely include encounters with sea turtles as well as some of the many fish that are endemic to the islands. In the interiors of Zamami and Tokashiki, the largest of the Kerama Islands, a number of observation decks provide views of the smaller islands dotting the sea.
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    Day 14
    The fourth largest of the islands in the Okinawa prefecture, Miyako-Jima is most famous for its white-sand beaches. Maehama is known for its sunset views, Yoshino is a favorite of snorkelers with a coral reef not far from the shore, and Sunayama’s dunes and rock formations combine to create postcard-perfect setting. Whichever one you choose to visit, on this Crystal Endeavor cruise you’ll be in Miyako-Jima at the perfect time of the year, when the water is warm, and the skies are typically blue.
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    Photo By 663highland
    Day 15
    Iriomote Island
    The second largest island in Okinawa, Iriomote also has the distinction of being home to the southernmost national park in Japan. Nearly 90 percent of the island is covered by dense mangroves and jungle. White-sand beaches line the coast while a 12-mile trail allows visitors to explore on foot. It’s also possible to venture into the interior of Iriomote by rafting or kayaking along its rivers for a different perspective on the island’s natural beauty.
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    Day 16
    Your journey through the islands of Japan concludes today when you arrive in Keelung, the port for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, and disembark from Crystal Endeavor. One of Asia’s most dynamic cities, Taipei has a skyline that dazzles with new skyscrapers being erected every year. If you are ready to start exploring another culture, some of Taipei’s highlights include the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial, and the famous Grand Hotel.