6 Best Japan Cruises for Every Type of Traveler

Drawn to Japan’s natural marvels or curious about its culture and cuisine? Whether you want to sail in luxury or with a locally owned boutique ship, there’s a perfect Japan cruise for you.

Gold temple in Kyoto, surrounded by green trees and reflected in still water

From the cruise port of Osaka, Celebrity Cruises passengers can spend a day in the former capital of Japan, Kyoto.

Courtesy of Erik Eastman/Unsplash

With its intriguing combination of traditional and modern architecture, ancient history and popular culture, Japan has become one of the most sought-after cruise destinations in Asia—not least because so much of the island-nation, with its long coastline, is accessible by water.

International cruise lines finally returned to Japan in March 2023 after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 border closures. Following last year’s pent-up demand for Japan cruises, cruise lines have responded by introducing a wide variety of sailings in Japan for this year. You can cruise Japan on a smaller, more intimate yacht, an expedition vessel, an ultra-luxury ship, or a large cruise ship with more than 2,000 passengers.

Regardless of which ship you choose, the best Japan cruises feature itineraries that include neon-and-skyscraper cities, tranquil shrines and temples, beautiful parks and gardens, and hot springs and snow-capped peaks, including Mount Fuji. Depending on the time of year you choose to sail, you can enjoy springtime’s cherry blossoms or the crimson leaves of fall. Cruise passengers will also get to experience a wealth of cultural encounters, from local food and customs to colorful arts and entertainment.

For those who are as excited as we are about the return to Japan, here are our picks for the best Japan cruises.

The fall foliage during a rainy day in Japan

Let Abercrombie & Kent host you in Japan and witness the beauty of fall, one of Japan’s lesser-known scenic seasons.

Photo by Shutterstock

Abercrombie & Kent

  • Best for: Viewing fall foliage
  • Suggested itinerary: Abercrombie & Kent’s 13-night Wonders of Japan cruise from Sapporo to Osaka starts at $21,495 per person (includes two nights at the Ritz-Carlton Osaka).

If your goal is seeing Japan’s fall foliage, luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has chartered a Ponant ship for the height of the season, from September 20 to October 3, 2024. The cruise is on the Le Soléal, capped at 199 passengers. With its expedition team and local guides, A&K is focusing on cultural experiences such as private performances by the world-renowned Kodo taiko drummers, Kabuki warriors, and geishas as well as time spent in scenic Japanese gardens. In Hiroshima, passengers will meet a storyteller who will discuss the World War II atomic bomb attack. Lectures and presentations aboard will be led by specialists in Japanese history and culture.

Celebrity Millennium cruise ship sailing, with green hills in distance

Bring the entire family for a fun- and culture-filled exploration of Japan on the Celebrity Millennium.

Courtesy of Michel Verdure/Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises

  • Best for: Families
  • Suggested itinerary: Celebrity’s 12-night Best of Japan cruises start at $1,292 per person.

The 2,138-passenger Celebrity Millennium, complete with an alfresco movie theater and a supervised Camp at Sea program with more than 500 activities, is the perfect option for families; it cruises in Japan from late August to early October 2024. The line’s Best of Japan sailings embark from Yokohama, near Tokyo. After you explore the vibrant capital city before departure, you’ll sail key ports, like Kobe (known for gourmet marbled beef) and Hiroshima. You’ll also be able to see such lesser-known gems (on select itineraries) as the hot springs of Hakodate on the island of Hokkaido. All sailings include an overnight stay in Osaka, with time to head to the celebrated temples, shrines, and overall beauty of Kyoto (one hour away)—or passengers can stay in Osaka and visit the world’s largest aquarium and Universal Studios Japan.

A wood-paneled communal bath aboard Guntû with ocean view

Take a dip in the communal bath on the sleek 38-passenger Guntû.

Courtesy of Guntû


  • Best for: Local immersion
  • Suggested itinerary: Three-night sailings with Guntû from Hiroshima start at $3,663 per person.

For something different, try a destination-immersive luxury floating hotel on Japan’s island-rich Seto Inland Sea with a local company. An artisan-built ship called Guntû does three- to five-day itineraries. Carrying only 38 passengers, it’s designed by the Japanese architect Yasushi Horibe to resemble a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. The decor is minimalist and modern, with lots of wood and glass details. For a splurge, some of the suites come with their own open-air tranquil onsen baths. When you are not off exploring remote villages, dine on cuisine envisioned by a renowned Tokyo chef Kenzo Sato from Shigeyoshi, indulge in seafood-rich creations at the sushi bar, sip craft cocktails, and participate in tea ceremonies. In the spa, there’s a communal bath, where you can join other guests while taking in water views.

Lindblad's "National Geographic Resolution" in water surrounded by hills

Expedition specialist Lindblad is bringing travelers to Japan on the National Geographic Resolution this year.

Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions

Lindblad Expeditions

  • Best for: A mix of culture and nature
  • Suggested itinerary: Lindblad’s 16-night Coastal Japan sailing starts at $24,650 per person, and the 21-night Journey from Nome to Tokyo itinerary starts at $31,590 per person.

Lindblad Expeditions is exploring Japan with a good mix of both tried-and-true itineraries and new options in August and September 2024. The 16-night Coastal Japan: Imperial Dynasties and Modern Culture route (which includes two hotel nights in Tokyo) sails between Niigata and Kobe. It will focus on both cultural attractions, such as temples and art studios, and natural wonders, including on Japan’s subtropical islands. The 21-day Journey from Nome to Tokyo: Ring of Fire to Ainu Culture itinerary begins in Nome, Alaska, and takes travelers all the way to Japan’s islands of Hokkaido and Honshu. The ship is the 138-passenger National Geographic Resolution, with attractions that include a Nat Geo-certified photographer aboard to help you capture Japan’s beautiful scenery with aplomb.

A few small boats sailing around Ishigaki Island in Iriomote Ishigaki National Park, with turquoise water and short sandy beach

Enjoy the turquoise-blue waters of the islands that make up Japan’s Iriomote Ishigaki National Park.

Photo by Shutterstock


  • Best for: Getting off the beaten cruise path
  • Suggested itinerary: Ponant’s seven-night sailing between Keelung, Taiwan, and Fukuoka starts at $5,770 per person.

Upscale French line Ponant explores Japan with its 264-passenger Le Soléal and is doing some of the most innovative cruise itineraries currently available in Japan—in an expedition style, with naturalists leading landings in inflatable Zodiacs. The area of exploration is the subtropical southern islands with a focus on the Okinawa archipelago and the Yaeyama Islands in the Ryukyu archipelago, and the lush Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seven-night itineraries in October 2024 include time on pristine beaches on islands such as Ishigaki and Kume, as well as snorkeling excursions and diving opportunities. Out of the water, you’ll visit traditional villages for cultural experiences such as drum and dance performances.

A lounge with cream couches and art deco decor on Regent Seven Seas' "Seven Seas Explorer"

Let Regent Seven Seas bring you to Japan in the utmost style.

Courtesy of Preston Mack/Regent Seven Seas

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

  • Best for: Ultra-luxury cruising
  • Suggested itinerary: Regent Seven Seas’ 11-night Japan cruises start at $10,499 per person, with business-class airfare included.

All-inclusive luxury cruise line Regent Seven Seas Cruises is sailing to Japan in October on the Seven Seas Explorer, one of the world’s most luxurious ships. Fares include excursions that cover Japan’s most notable cities, with stops in Tokyo for visits to the ancient district of Asakusa; close-up explorations of Mount Fuji from the Port of Shimizu; views of Kochi’s memborable natural landscapes; and lessons on Japan’s fraught history in Nagasaki. Among other stops, guests will also visit Busan in South Korea for a night of lively exploration in the large port city.

This story was originally published in 2023 and was most recently updated on June 17, 2024, to include current information.

Fran Golden is an award-winning travel writer who has sailed on some 170 ships to destinations around the world.
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