During our search for the perfect luxury tour of Japan, I came across a Princess cruise to Japan Cruise. The Cherry Blossom route brings you all the way around Honshu, the largest Japanese island, and it looked like a perfect introduction to Japan.
Princess cruise to Japan
The Cherry Blossom cruise by Princess Cruises calls to the following ports during its luxury tour of Japan:
- Yokohama (Tokyo)
- Dag op zee
- Busan (Zuid-Korea)
- Dag op zee
- Yokohama (Tokyo)
Princess Cruises' Diamond Princess
We embarked the Diamond Princess, one of the Grand Class ships of Princess Cruises, which, in turn, is part of the Carnival Group.
This ship sails in Asia in the summer, and travels around Australia in the winter. Diamond Princess was voted Best International Cruise Ship in Japan, and so seemed the perfect choice for our first encounter with Japan.
Diamond Princess cruise in figures
- 290 meters long
- 37.5 meters wide
- 62.5 meters high
- 13 decks
- 2670 passengers
- 1100 crew members.
- The ship was launched in February 2004.
Cabins on the Diamond Princess cruise
If you are looking for a hotel, you can choose between a budget hotel or over-the-top luxury accommodations. It is the same with the cabins on a ship. You can opt for an inside cabin, an outside cabin with or without balcony, or one of the many suites.
Normally we always book two outside cabins with balcony for our family. But this was the first time we were travelling with three people, as our oldest son decided he preferred to go snowboarding with his friends instead. Putting our youngest in a cabin by himself just didn’t seem the right thing to do, and would also have been very expensive. A single cabin is nearly the same price as a double. Sharing an outside cabin with three people also wasn’t an option. Since we were quite last-minute in booking our trip, there was only one suite available on this Japan cruise, and it was offered with a substantial discount. So we made a quick decision and booked the Glacier Suite.
To give you an idea, here are the dimensions of the Diamond Princess cruise cabins:
- Inside cabin: ca..15 m²
- Outside cabin: 13 to 20 m²
- outside cabin with balcony: 20 m² (balcony included)
- Suite: 80 m² (including balcony)
When you book a suite, you also enjoy a raft of other benefits:
- Washing and ironing of your clothes free of charge
- Free dinner in a specialty restaurant (first night of the cruise)
- Priority when disembarking
- Priority when booking excursions
- Priority when booking of speciality restaurants
- À la carte breakfast in a separate restaurant (Sabatini's)
- Beds with top-quality mattresses (best hotel bed ever!)
- 24-hour room service
Activities aboard Diamond Princess Cruise
Of course, there are numerous bars on board. In one bar you can enjoy your drink in peace, in the other will have live music. On sea days there is bingo (for the fans) or a quiz. If the weather is nice, you order your cocktail at one of the bars on the outside deck.
In the evening you can go to the theater to see a show, or you can take a gamble in the casino.
You can participate in a cookery class or a wine tasting, or you can bid on one of the artworks from the gallery during an auction.
And it’s hard to avoid the many photographers who would just love to sell you one of those kitsch cruise photographs.
Did you forget to pack something for your Japan Cruise, or do you just fancy something new? No worries, there are plenty of shops on board. Clothing, handbags, watches, perfume... they sell it all. The shops aren’t open when the ship is moored.
If the weather is nice, you can take a dip in the pool or enjoy a spot of sunbathing.
Internet during the cruise
And of course there's always the Internet to kill some time. Nowadays, most hotels will offer free wi-fi, but there is no such thing on cruise ships yet. There are a number of packages for sale, but they’re all expensive. And the connection is very slow. I have found a solution, however.
Install the ExpressVPN app on your phone, and take out a subscription. You select your location, and you connect to the VPN. Thanks to that connection, we even managed to stream videos. The connection is 100% safe, and a subscription is not expensive. For USD12.95 a month, you can enjoy superfast internet.
Note: if you buy an internet package on board, you need to login first, and open your ExpressVPN app after that.
Check the ExpressVPN site for more information.
Things to see in Japan during your Princess Cruise
Our luxury cruise to Japan started in Yokohama, the port of Tokyo. We had arrived three days before the departure of our Japan cruise to give us a chance to explore Tokyo in 3 days. We also took a day to see the highlights of Kyoto.
The cruise departs in the late afternoon, and arrives in Ishinomaki the next morning, the start of our tour of Japan.
Things to see in Japan: Ishinomaki and surrounding area
Matsushima Bay cruise
From the port, it takes about an hour to reach Matsushima Bay, one of the most important things to see in Japan. The Bay is said to be one of the three most beautiful landscapes of Japan.
So beautiful in fact, that the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho couldn’t find the words to describe the beauty of the bay, and thus his poem doesn’t go beyond “Matsushima ah! Matsushima, Matsushima.”
Matsushima Bay is dotted with 260 picturesque islands, so a trip on an excursion boat is the perfect way to explore the bay. The excursion takes about an hour.
If you do not fancy going on a boat, you can also visit Saigyo Modoshi no Matsu Park. From here, you will also have spectacular views of the Bay of Matsushima.
Right next to the pier lies Godaido, a well-preserved Buddhist temple from 1604. The doors of the temple open once every 33 years, and then you can gaze upon the five Buddhas of wisdom.
A red, wooden bridge brings you to the temple. There are gaps between the planks of the bridge. If you stumble, it means that you're not ready to visit the temple.
The Entsu-in Temple is a mausoleum for the grandson of Date Masamune, a former samurai leader. The boy died at the age of 19. The mausoleum is adorned with decorations that were acquired through a trading mission with Europeans. A rose garden was constructed around the building in honour of this mission. The mosses and rocks in a different part of the garden symbolize Matsushima Bay.
If you visit Japan in the autumn, you have to visit this temple in the evening. The beautifully colored, illuminated maple trees will be enchanting.
You can walk from the Entsu-in temple to the Zuiganji temple. This temple, dating back to 828, was a Zen temple from the 12th to the 14th century. It then fell into disrepair until it was restored in 1609 by Date Masamune, to serve as a family temple.
The temple is mainly famous for its beautifully decorated doors.
You reach the temple by a straight road, flanked by cedar trees. Many of these trees unfortunately did not survive the salt water brought in by the tsunami in 2011.
If you take the path to the right of the entrance, you pass several caves that were once meditation spaces.
And if you’re interested, there is also an art museum on the site.
Tsunami 2011: Ishinomaki is located on the east coast of Japan, this was the region worst affected by the tsunami in 2011. An earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale caused a tsunami with waves up to 15 meters high. Entire villages, far inland, were flooded. This was followed by a melt-down of a nuclear reactor. The Japanese government tried to minimize this, but apparently a lot of nuclear particles were released at the time. If we are forced to look for a bright side, the Japanese have since been working hard on “green energy”.
Hiraizumi, the pearl of the north-east, is a small provincial town which you should not miss when you visit Japan.
The city has its own gold mines and once had a thriving silk industry. In terms of wealth, it could compete with Kyoto at the time. In 1998 they discovered remnants of a 12th-century settlement here.
The main attraction is the Chūson-ji temple complex dating to 850. The complex was expanded in the 12th century to include 40 temple spaces and monk cells. In 1337, the temple was almost completely destroyed by fire, only the Sutra Hall and the Golden Hall date from before the fire.
The Golden Hall is one of the greatest treasures of Japan. A shrine adorned with mother-of-pearl and gold and beautiful golden Buddhas houses the mummies of Fujiwara Kiyohira and three of his descendants. A concrete building is meant to protect this historical heritage. There is a good reason it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The complex is located on a hill and can be reached via a steep road, surrounded by cedars. Along the way you will pass a small temple and an old farmhouse that now serves as a café.
In the 1960s, they discovered traces of a beautiful garden with artificial streams and ponds. This Jodo garden has since been restored to its former glory. The site also includes an iris garden that features over 300 types of irises. The garden is in flower between mid-June and mid-July.
On the fourth Sunday of May, the Japanese visit this garden dressed in Heian period costume. They float a cup of sake on the creek that runs through the garden. They are meant to write a poem before their cup reaches the end of the stream.
Near Hiraizumi lies a gorge between 100-meter-high cliffs. You can take a boat trip through the narrow gorge, and enjoy the great acoustics between the rocks. It is breathtakingly beautiful, especially during the autumn.
Sendai is the capital of Miyagi Prefecture and has over one million inhabitants. The city was badly hit by the tsunami in 2011.
The main attractions in Sendai are the ruins of the Aoba Castle. The castle is located on Mount Aoba, and offers spectacular views over the city. The Date clan castle was largely destroyed. However, the guard house and the stone walls were restored. The building is guarded by a giant monument of Date Masamune on horseback, an iconic symbol of Sendai.
Zuihoden is the mausoleum which was built for Mamamune in 1637.
Osaki Hachimangu shrine was built by the best and most famous artisans of their time. The shrine is decorated with black lacquer and gold leaf.
Akiu Hot Spring
If you prefer a quiet day around Ishinomaki, you can visit the Aiku Hot Springs, 15 km west of Sendai. In the 6th century, the hot springs here at the Natori River were used by the imperial family.
Samurai Date Masamune even installed his bath house here in the 17th century. He also opened an inn for travelers.
The hot springs are so popular that you can find numerous hotels and ryokans.
Near the hot springs are Rairaikyo Gorge and Futakuchi Gorge, as well as the 55-meter high Aiku Otaki waterfall. This waterfall is purported to be one of the three most beautiful waterfalls in Japan (the other two are Nachi and Kegon) so it's definitely one of the things to see in Japan.
Shiogama Fish Market
If you prefer enjoying some culinary delights during your trip through Japan, you should visit the Shiogama Fish Market. It receives the largest catches of tuna in Japan, and the market is therefore an attraction in its own right. Walk through the fish market, and taste all the goodness that the sea has to offer. You can’t find it any fresher.
Things to see in Japan: Hakodate and surrounding area
The town of Hakodate attracted many visitors in 1854 as it opened its borders to foreigners at that time. When you walk from the gondola to the town, you pass the Motomachi district with a Russian Orthodox church and the old British consulate. The town has many great things to see.
Take the gondola up to the top of Mount Hakodate. From here you have a wonderful view over the harbor and the city. There are two viewing platforms, a cafeteria, and two monuments.
One of the monuments is a statue of the British scientist Thomas Blakiston who discovered the dividing line between the fauna of Siberia and Japan, now named the “Blakiston line” after him. The other monument is to Inō Tadataka who created the first map of Japan.
This star-shaped fort, the first one in Western-style, was built at the end of the Edo period to protect against attacks from the west. Later, a civil war battle was fought here, with the troops of the shogun on one side, and the troops of the Meiji regime on the other.
In the 1910s, the site became a park. Over a thousand cherry blossoms were planted, making it the best place to see cherry blossoms in Hokkaido today. The peak of the flowering season is early May.
Climb the 107-meter high Goryokaku tower for the best views of fort.
Hakodate Morning market
Enjoying food is one of the most important things to do in Japan. Gourmets certainly need to visit this fresh market. Squid, king crab, giant clams, and other delicacies are waiting for a buyer. Small dishes are available to taste at a few of the stalls.
Daisan Zaka Slope
This slope (also called Kinoshita’s slope) was named as one of the “Hundred Representative Roads of Japan” in 1987.
Kanemori Red-Brick Warehouse District
These former port buildings from the Edo period (1600-1867) are now home to all sorts of interesting souvenir shops, clothing stores, and restaurants. There is even a chapel where you can get married.
Hakodate was one of the first Japanese ports opened for international trade.
Onuma Quasi-National Park
Hikers can entertain themselves all day in this park which is surrounded by vulcanoes. There are several hiking trails through, so they say, the most beautiful landscapes of Japan.
On the many islands in this lake in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park you can find hot springs, a smoldering volcano, a five-star hotel, a museum about volcanoes, and a park full of beautiful sculptures.
Things to see in Japan:Niigata and surrounding area
Visit a sake brewery
During your cruise to Japan, you should not miss a visit to a sake brewery. The region around Niigata is famous for its rice production. A tour of the region is therefore certainly worth it. Visiting one of the many sake breweries on the way is one of the many things to do in Japan. Sasaiwai and Yamada are well-known breweries. Both organise tasting sessions.
We visited Imayo Tsukasa.
Throughout history, brewers often added water to the sake to make more profits. They never did that at Imayo Tsukasa. They are still known as producing the best Niigata sake. Some bottles are also real works of art.
There is a viewing platform on the 31st floor of this building, from where you have a phenomenal view of the city. You can see the Shinanogawa river, Sado Island, and the Gozu mountain range.
The Yahiko shrine is surrounded by mountains, and it is said that it was built 1300 years ago. Inside you can view a large number of cultural treasures, such as swords and calligraphy.
Teradomari Fish Market
The local fish market adjoins the beach with the same name. Here, too, you'll find numerous small restaurants where you can taste the freshest fish and seafood.
Iwamuro Hot Spring
Visiting a hot spring is also one of the unique things to do in Japan. Fans of hot springs can visit the popular Iwamuro hot spring in this region.
300 years ago, according to legend, a wounded goose took to the water and was miraculously healed. This hot spring has been popular ever since.
Shibata castle ruins
The city of Shibata was founded 420 years ago. The castle was built in 1598 and was the centre of government under the rule of samurai Mizoguchi. The three-storey tower was completely restored in the original style.
You will find this elegant 17th-century garden in Kyoto style near Shibata castle. The park with its many ponds, trees and variety of plants is worth a visit in every season. A visit to a typical Japanese garden is one of the popular things to do during your cruise to Japan.
We visited South-Korea on the second-last day of our Princess Cruise of Japan. This was the highlight of the trip for us, so we definitely will return again to further explore South Korea. If you're traveling through Japan, see if you can make a trip to South Korea, so you can get a first impression.
Things to see in Busan, South Korea
Busan, or Pusan, is the second-largest city of South Korea, after Seoul. The city lies on the Nakdong River. As many as 4.6 million people live in an area of over 400 square kilometers. Busan is an important port on the Sea of Japan and is known as the "summer capital" of South Korea because of the many hot springs, beaches, mountains and temples.
Local residents flee the crowds during day trips to Mount Geumjeong. Haeundae beach is always busy too.
During the Olympic Games in Seoul (1988), the sailing competitions were organised off the coast of Busan. In 2002, the Asian Games and the World Cup Soccer were also held in Busan.
We just got a glimps of Busan and we loved it right away. We will return for sure because Busan has so much to offer.
This beautiful temple, in the middle of a deciduous forest on the slopes of Mount Geumjeong, is a head temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The original temple was founded in 678 and it burned down in 1592 during the Japanese invasion of Korea. The building burned down again during the reconstruction in 1602. The current buildings date from 1613.
Some of the buildings are national heritage.
According to the legend, the waters of the temple have magical powers. The four impressive statues guarding the entrance are said to keep evil spirits out.
This “Temple of the Buddha land” contains seven Korean art treasures that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The temple was built between 751 and 774 by King Pobhung as a space for silent prayer for the queen.
Haedong Yonggungsa temple
Most Korean temples are located in the mountains, but this temple overlooks the ocean. Try to visit this temple in April because it is one of the prime locations to see the cherry blossoms.
United Nations Memorial Cemetary
A visit to the memorial cemetery is an absolute must. It is the final resting place of 2299 soldiers who fought here after World War II to prevent the division of Korea. South Korea was supported by the United Nations, North Korea by China.
Korea was also occupied by Japan for a long time (1910-1945), and you can still taste the real hatred against the Japanese.
The cemetery is divided into several sections. Every country that fought alongside South Korea has a separate area.
One of the Australian soldiers that lies buried here died one month after his marriage in 1951. His wife mourned him for the rest of her life. When she died in 2004 at the age of 87, she had only one desire, to be reunited with her husband. She was then buried alongside her husband.
The river running through the grounds is the Daunt Waterway, named after an Australian soldier who was killed at the age of 17. He is the youngest victim in this cemetery.
You have a great view of Busan from the cemetery. It is particularly beautiful here during the cherry blossom season.
In the front building you can watch a film about the war, with gripping testimonies, and visit a small museum. During our visit a former warrior was present who received a thunderous applause.
This open-air museum shows you a glimpse of life during the Silla dynasty (668-936 BC). The village is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The area is divided into three so-called "belts". The Namsan belt contains a number of prehistoric and historic remains. In the Wolsong belt, you can find the ruins of the Palace of Wolsong, and the Kyerim forest. There are 20 royal tombs in the Tumuli Park Belt.
Ja-Gal-Ch’i Fish Market
This market was established during the Korean War and was completely run by women. This is why the market is nicknamed “Aunt’s Market”. Here you will find fish, shellfish, and exotic seaweed.
Things to see in Japan: Kagoshima and surrounding area
The final stop of our Princess cruise to Japan brought us to Kagoshima, the Naples of the East. The city owes its nickname to its palm-lined boulevards, relaxing atmosphere, and iconic volcano in the background.
Kagoshima was one of the first cities that came into contact with the West.
Visit the Samurai district with its many well-preserved houses and beautiful gardens. The area is also home to the Kamikaze museum about the World War II Kamikaze base. There are pictures of all pilots and farewell letters to their loved ones. Chiran is one of the special things to see in Japan.
Kagoshima castle ruins
Kagoshima castle was built in 1602. It was a simple castle with only one entrance. No less than twelve consecutive generations of the Shimazu clan ruled from this place. The castle was completely reduced to ashes in a fire in 1873. Later, this became the location for the battle of Shiroyama. When Samurai Saigo Takamori died during the battle, it heralded the end of the Samurai in Japanese history.
The vulcano, which is over 1,000 metres high, can be seen from everywhere in the city. From the ferry you can see the smoke, and you can hear the spluttering of the volcano.
This beautiful lake at the foot of the beautiful Mount Kaimon, a cone-shaped volcano, is the ideal place for a boat trip. Beware, as you might see Issie, the Japanese version of the Loch Ness Monster.
Onsen, or hot springs are one of the top things to see in Japan. Kirishima Onsen is one of the most famous hot springs in the region. There are 9 springs of different sizes, and there are a whopping 20 inns.
Shiroyama, which means something like castle mountain, is a 107-metre high hill in the center of Kagoshima. There used to be a castle here, but now there’s just a forest and a two-kilometer trail. There is a viewpoint at the end of the promenade, from where you have a view over the city with Mount Sakurajima and Kinko Bay in the background.Shiroyama,
You can visit a sake brewery in almost every city in Japan. The Shochu Brewery is something special in Japan, however. They don’t use rice to make sake, but sweet potato. Through a glass wall you can see the production process, and you can taste all different types of sake in the shop.
With a view of the volcano Sakurajima, the symbol of Kagoshima, we set course for Yokohama..
Of course you can extend your holiday after the cruise to Japan, for instance by touring the interior of Japan. During this trip, we specifically missed an introduction to Osaka, and Hiroshima is also still on our list. But that's no problem because now at least we have a good excuse to go back again.
Is Japan on your bucketlist?
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