In 2013 I was fortunate enough to experience Japan for the first time on the Sun Princess for a 9 night cruise from Yokohama which is the first harbour city and entrance to Japan. Prior to the cruise 2 nights was spent at the Intercontinental Yokohama Grand. The hotel is in the shape of a Yacht’s sail, very distinctive and is in a perfect location. The hotel has beautiful views of the cruise ships arriving into port and is also within walking distance to shops, transport and the water ferry.
Yokohama, has so many places to visit , including the Landmark Tower, a 296 meter sky scraper with a shopping complex, The Red Brick Warehouse along the wharf where you can enjoy wonderful shopping and dining of every kind, plus amusement facilities which offer entertainment day and night. A visit to the Sankien Gardens, built by Sankei Hara – a silk merchant, is not to be missed as the gardens have 17 old temples / buildings in a beautiful setting which is such a contrast to the industrial background of the city.
Our voyage begins and we experience a traditional Sake ceremony with the Captain before visiting the amazing cities of Japan.
Kushiro is our first port where we visit the Japanese Crane Reserve to see these beautiful, graceful creatures and symbol of Japan for luck and longevity. Next is Kushiro – Shitsugen Wetland National Park, a famous sightseeing spot in the Eastern Hokkaido which is the largest wetland in Japan of 18,290ha. There are many rare animals, plants and fish and with various length of walkways you can choose either a short or long walk to view and immerse yourself in the wetland . Whilst there the Hoso’oka Observatory offers great views of the winding Kushiro-gawa River beneath and the Akan Mountain Range in the distance.
Scenic cruising of the Shiretoko Peninsula, named a UNESCO World Heritage sight in 2005 is experienced the next day. We gather on the top decks of the ship to view the rocky cliffs, lush greenery, sea eagles and other wildlife along the coast of Japan.
Korsakov, Russia is our next port of call. The ship is anchored 1 mile off shore, surrounded by military vessels and no passengers were allowed to disembark until Russian officials boarded the ship and conducted the Immigration procedure.. Our guided tour to St Nicholas Church, Shakhalin Museum was very interesting, however the tour was very strict, with photos limited to take and overall not a very welcoming experience.
Our next port is Otaru, in Hokkaido known for glassworks, music boxes etc and was just incredible to see all of the beautiful handmade wares. The Otaru Canal is lined with cafes and shops in converted old warehouses. Absolutely gorgeous. We enjoyed magnificent city views on the Ropeway Cable Car Tour. Also a very interesting visit to the museum of Yujiro Ishihari, a famous Japanese actor and singer from 1934- 1987, with his classic cars and memorabilia to see.
Hakodate is a beautiful city. Our morning tour took us to Fort Goryokaku. This star-shaped fort has been designated as a special historic site. The Goryokaku Tower Observatory commands a panoramic view of the fort, which was amazing, all in the heart of the city. Our next visit was The Trapistine Convent – Japans first convent which was established in the 19th century was beautiful. Later in the evening we took a night tour of Hakodate to view the city of lights, however as it was a Saturday night it was extremely overcrowded and difficult to enjoy the full experience.
Our last port of call was Aomori. The wharf was close to all of the attractions and we experienced the Nebula Festival exhibition, which is so incredibly colourful. Huge illuminated floats are made of Samurai warriors, animals and popular cartoon characters which are paraded through the streets. We travelled through the scenic countryside passing rice fields to arrive at Hirosaki castle set in a 122 acre park. The castle was amazing and encompasses Japans ancient past.
A day at sea to reflect upon the incredible sights and experiences on this wonderful cruise. Tomorrow we disembark in Yokohama, with a day excursion to Tokyo, a huge, vibrant and bustling city before the night flight to Australia. Our excursion includes some last minute shopping, a visit to the Asakusa Temple, and a drive past of the Imperial Palace and it is quite amazing to see these temples in the heart of the city.
Japan is a wonderful destination to visit with its culture, temples, beautiful gardens and incredible cities, I look forward to my next journey there.