Friday 11 October Auckland – Tokyo (D)
We depart Auckland this morning for our flight to Tokyo – the capital of Japan – a city of marvellous contrasts, its past and present meshing seamlessly. The major gateway into Japan, Tokyo is the logical start for our exploration of northern Japan. On arrival late afternoon, we are met and transferred to our hotel for a two-night stay. This evening, we enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
Saturday 12 October Tokyo (B,L,D)
Tokyo is the capital of Japan. At over 12 million people in the official metropolitan area alone, Tokyo is the core of the most populated urban area in the world, Greater Tokyo (which has a population of 35 million people).
This huge, wealthy and fascinating metropolis brings high-tech visions of the future side by side with glimpses of old Japan and has something for everyone. Today we visit the Imperial Palace, Meiji Jingu Shrine and Omotesando avenue. After lunch at local restaurant we continue to Asakusa Kannon Temple, Nakamise Street and Tokyo Tower. We return to the hotel with time to freshen up before dinner.
Sunday 13 October Tokyo – Commence Circle Japan Cruise (B,L,D)
This morning we continue our exploration of Tokyo by visiting Hama Rikyu Gardens, we enjoy a visit to Ginza – one of the city’s top shopping districts. After lunch we are transferred to the port to embark on our 14-night cruise on Holland America’s Noordam. Departs 4.00pm
Monday 14 October At Sea (B,L,D)
A full day at sea for you to enjoy the ship’s facilities.
Tuesday 15 October Aomori (B,L,D)
Most Japanese used to think of Aomori merely as the place you caught the ferry to when you were going to Hokkaido. By the time you’d gotten here, they figured, you were pretty much at the edge of the civilized world. The small Tsugaru Strait that separates Honshu from Hokkaido isn’t big—only about 20 kilometers at its narrowest point—but it’s ecologically important: Hokkaido has animals related to northern Asia, whereas Honshu’s are more closely related to southern Asia’s. The strait is also famous for sudden, very rough weather and for no shortage of shipwrecks. The city was flattened in World War II, so there isn’t much history left to see. Still, it’s a lovely area, not much congestion or development, and because the town is still the major gateway to Hokkaido, the city has money to spend on architecture and parks. Its setting on the edge of Mutsu Bay means you will often be surprised by lovely water views through the buildings. The old way of thinking of Aomori is over. Aomori may not be quite what most people think of when they plan a Japan trip, but it is what Japan thinks of when they consider where they got the new century right.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 5.00pm.
Wednesday 16 October Otaru (B,L,D)
An odd thing about Japan is that the people of this island country used to be horrified that there was a deep ocean all around them. (They have clearly gotten over it—today Japan’s navy is one of the five most powerful in the world.) Hundreds of years after the Polynesians had sailed to and settled impossibly distant islands, the Japanese were still mostly running rowboats not unlike the slave galleys from old Sinbad movies. A 1780s map from the voyages of French explorer La Pérouse shows the route his ship took to explore Japan: He’d get in close, map a few miles, the samurai would row out and he’d calmly sail back into deep water, popping in to map the shore again a few miles later. This long-held fear makes Otaru all the more interesting: The city is where the Japanese began to venture further out to sea. Otaru grew and flourished on the cargo brought home by ships that had dipped below the horizon. The town was, for a while, Asia’s herring capital—herring on every plate for breakfast, tons of herring. Thus Otaru is where the foolhardy proved even the deep and scary ocean has its attractions. And just how snug you can make a home financed by fish.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 5.00pm,
Thursday 17 October Hakodate (B,L,D)
Hokkaido’s remoteness is so legendary that it figures into one of Japan’s most important historical tales: After losing a battle in 1189, good guy Minamoto Yoshitsune managed to escape capture and death by heading to Hokkaido (no one felt like chasing him that far). In one version of the story, he returned from Hokkaido to the mainland and, if you give alternate readings of the characters in his name, became Gin Ke Ka—Genghis Khan. Hokkaido is the only spot among Japan’s primary islands where a non-Japanese culture manages to survive relatively intact, at least as an identity if not a lifestyle. The Ainu were here first, and are fairly easy to recognize; they have paler skin and more hair than ethnic Japanese. Cornerstones of Ainu culture remain, too: ceremonies that include sacrificing a bear (not often—bears are rare, although, there are still some out there), the beautiful attush robe, a dislike of uncooked fish. And they’re not going anywhere. In 1997, the Japanese government finally recognized the Ainu’s right to their own culture. Get a taste of that unique culture in Hakodate, the capital city of this northern island.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 7.00pm.
Friday 18 October Akita (B,L,D)
Akita, Japan is ideal for exploring Japan’s natural landscapes and cultural festivals. From the deck of our perfectly sized ship, take in spectacular views of the glittering Sea of Japan as you pull into port. Begin sightseeing soon after disembarking at the nearby Selion Port Tower. Go 143 meters up to gaze at stunning panoramas of the city, which pink cherry blossoms cover in spring. Look east for Mt. Taihei and west for Mt. Chōkai. Akita is also known for traditional festivals, including the Kanto Festival every August, where performers balance lanterns on their heads and the Namahage Sedo Festival, one of five major snow festivals where locals scare away evil spirits by visiting residences in demon costumes. Take the time to sample the region’s renowned cuisine, such as kiritanpo, a dish made from mashed rice, served with a hot pot of stew. Wash it down with sake, another thing Akita does very well.
Arrives 8.00an, Departs 6.00pm.
Saturday 19 October At Sea (B,L,D)
Sunday 20 October Sokcho, South Korea (B,L,D)
Guests on cruises to Sokcho arrive to a coastal city in northeast South Korea, a must for anyone who wants to experience the natural beauty and culture of the country. Part of North Korea until the late 1940s, Sokcho is now a buzzing fishing hub. Dock at Daepo Harbor on the Sea of Japan (East Sea). Soon after you get off the ship, make your way through a maze of eateries and street vendors clustered around the cruise port. Snack on seafood in all forms— shrimp, crab, squid, and fish, deep-fried, pickled, raw or dried. Visit Sokcho Central Market, a lively, traditional marketplace for an authentic taste of life in Sokcho. If you see sundae on the menu, don’t expect ice cream. Sundae is a popular street food made from Korean blood sausage. Vegetarians should try soft tofu dishes, another specialty in the area. Wash it all down with makgeolli, a milky rice wine.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 4.00pm.
Monday 21 October Sakaiminato (B,L,D)
Sakaiminato is home to Shigeru Mizuki, creator of GeGeGe no Kitaro (a character who’s everywhere in contemporary Japan), and gateway to the ancient region of Honshu, site of the famous “Black Castle.”
Arrives 9.00am, Departs 6.00pm.
Tuesday 22 October Fukuoka (B,L,D)
Fukuoka, Kyushu’s largest city, was once two separate entities: Fukuoka in the west and the merchant area of Hakata to the east. Joined together in 1889, the contemporary city—population 1.5 million—has a lively, modern atmosphere, an array of impressive architecture by international starchitects, including Rem Koolhaas, César Pelli, Emilio Ambasz and Aldo Rossi, and a number of cultural attractions and museums such as the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Modern developments like Canal City—a mixed-use complex designed by American Jon Jerde that contains hotels, cinemas, restaurants and shops—lend the city space a futuristic air, as does the striking 234-meter Fukuoka Tower, which is covered in mirrored glass and has an observation deck. On the historical side, sites like the Kushida Shrine and the ruins of Fukuoka Castle offer traditional and cultural insights. The pond in the center of Ōhori, Fukuoka’s largest park, was once part of Fukuoka Castle’s moat, and you’ll find gardens, a zoo, an amusement park and a car museum in Uminonakamichi Seaside Park.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 5.00pm.
Wednesday 23 October Kagoshima (B,L,D)
Situated at the southern tip of Japan, Kagoshima is the capital of the prefecture of the same name and famous for its dramatic views of Sakurajima, an active volcano that smolders across the bay. One of the most popular activities is taking a ferry to Sakurajima and hiking on the 100-year-old lava flow that is now a grassy peninsula. Kagoshima, however, offers much more than the volcano’s almost overwhelming beauty. The food scene provides opportunities to experience the area’s rich culinary culture and features dishes using locally caught fish and regional specialties, like satsuma a’ge (deep-fried fish cake) and shōchū, a traditional beverage made at more than 100 distilleries in Kagoshima alone. Although the city was officially founded in 1889, it has an even longer history that is reflected in the 17th-century gardens of Sengan-en. More recent events are covered at a museum dedicated to the kamikaze pilots who flew out of Kagoshima.
Arrives 9.00am, Departs 6.00pm.
Thursday 24 October Kochi (B,L,D)
High atop a hill in Kochi sits 17th-century Kochi Castle, once the seat of the Yamauchi lords. Explore this historic site and enjoy panoramic views of the city, then dine on sushi at Hirome Market.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 6.00pm.
Friday 25 October Osaka (B,L,D)
Think of Osaka, Japan, as a combination of Los Angeles and Chicago. It very definitely has L.A.’s second-city complex, but its attitude is pure Chicago. The only business that matters is business, and so what if the Hanshin Tigers, the local baseball team, are frequently the worst professional athletes in the world? They’re the home team. People in Osaka laugh louder, play harder and drink more than Tokyo’s most decadent dreams. Osaka even has its own dialect, one the rest of the country calls “dirty Japanese,” one entirely different than even Kobe’s—and Kobe is an Osaka suburb. Busy markets, the visual noise of neon and nonstop action on shopping streets offer insight into the energy and ambition of Osaka.
Arrives 8.00am, Departs 4.00pm.
Saturday 26 October Shimizu (B,L,D)
Widely regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful ports, Shimizu affords peerless views of Mount Fuji on a clear day and claims the scenic Miho-no-Matsubara pine forest as a backdrop (both are UNESCO World Heritage sites). The port’s temperate climate and rich culture—heavily connected to the surrounding Shizuoka region—have made it one of the country’s prime sightseeing destinations. A few of the main attractions include Kunozan Toshogu Shrine, designated a National Treasure by the Japanese government, Sumpu Castle (built in 1586) and Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, where warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu, who ushered in the Edo period, held his coming-of-age ceremony. Tokugawa shoguns ruled Japan for 250 years, until 1867. The broader region offers plenty in the way of picturesque coastal landscapes, tea plantations and a wealth of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, while the port itself—famed in the 1900s for its tea exports—is today best known for its prodigious tuna haul, the biggest in Japan, samples of which can be enjoyed in many of the port’s fantastic restaurants along with other local delicacies such as sakura shrimp and shirasu (whitebait).
Arrives 10.00am, Departs 7.00pm.
Sunday 27 October Disembark Tokyo – Kawaguchiko (B,L,D)
Sadly, this morning we disembark our cruise, but our adventure is far from over! We are met by our coach and local guide to begin the coach touring part of our itinerary. There are many places to enjoy stunning views of Mt. Fuji, but few are as picturesque an area as Lake Kawaguchiko. The biggest and most accessible of Fuji’s five lakes, Kawaguchiko has a wealth of natural resources, with stunning autumn leaves, and flower festivals galore. Our itinerary takes us on a leisurely exploration of some great sights in the Lake Kawaguchiko area – with plenty of opportunities to enjoy the view of Mt. Fuji. Overnight in Kawaguchiko.
Monday 28 October Kawaguchiko – Takayama (B,L,D)
Today we enjoy sightseeing in the Mt. Fuji area. Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain at 3,776 m (12,389 ft). The perfect volcanic cone dominates the area of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and the area has recently been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration”.
We travel up to the “5th Station”, halfway up the mountain at 2,300m. This spot is a preparation point for those climbing the mountain, and has shops, lodgings and facilities. From here we coach to Mishima station where we board the JR ‘Bullet’ Train to Nagoya and then continue on to Takayama where we stay overnight.
Tuesday 29 October Takayama – Kanazawa (B,L,D)
Hida-Takayama – locally known as Takayama – is a city near the northern Japan Alps of Gifu prefecture in the Chubu region, which has retained a traditional atmosphere like few other Japanese towns, especially in its beautifully-preserved old town. The city is famous for its well-preserved quarter with Edo-style streets, only rivalled by those of Kanazawa. It gained importance as a source of high-quality timber and highly skilled carpenters in feudal times. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is considered one of Japan’s best festivals. Our sightseeing here includes Takayama Jinya, the former local government office, Sanmachi-suji street and Kusakabe Folk Museum. This afternoon we drive to Shirakawa-gō where we visit Kanda House and Toyama House. Shirakawa-gō, formally Shirakawa-mura is a historic village in Gifu Prefecture. Together with Gokayama in Toyama, it was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. We continue on to Kanazawa where we stay for two nights.
Wednesday 30 October Kanazawa (B,L,D)
Kanazawa sits on the Sea of Japan coast, bordered by the Japan Alps, Hakusan National Park and Noto Peninsula National Park. Kanazawa is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a City of Crafts and Folk Art. While here we visit Japan’s most celebrated Kenroku-en Garden and Nagamachi Samurai House before lunch at a local restaurant. During the afternoon we go to the Ohi Pottery Museum, Higashi chayagai and Ochaya Shima – an historical geisha house in the Higashi Chaya-gai district of Kanazawa. The building is now a museum and gives visitors a look at the life of the geisha who once entertained here. Many of the former geisha houses in this area have been converted into guest houses or restaurants. However, this house is dedicated to preserving and exhibiting memories of the past and is now a nationally designated Important Cultural Asset.
Thursday 31 October Kanazawa – Kyoto (B,L,D)
This morning we take the train to Kyoto with the afternoon at leisure. We are based here for four nights to make the most of this wonderful part of Japan. We enjoy dinner this evening at a local restaurant.
Friday 01 November Kyoto (B,L,D)
A full day sightseeing today as we visit Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple, Kiyomizu Temple, Ninenzaka and Sannen-zaka followed with lunch at local restaurant. This afternoon we enjoy a special Tea Ceremony Experience at Daitokuji Zuiho-in and then on to Fushimi Inari. This intriguing shrine was dedicated to the god of rice and sake by the Hata clan in the 8th century. As the role of agriculture diminished, deities were enrolled to ensure prosperity in business enterprises. The magical, seemingly unending path of over 5000 vibrant orange torii gates that wind through the hills behind Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine makes it one of the most popular shrines in Japan.
Saturday 02 November Kyoto (B,L,D)
Early this morning we have an opportunity for a Zazen Experience at Tenryuji. “(ZA)” means to seat, to settle down without interruptions. Together, “(ZAZEN)” is the form of meditation and ascetic practices at the very heart of ZEN practice. There are many Buddhist temples in Kyoto, and Zazen provides a unique approach to understand and experience the Buddhist culture here. We then continue on to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and after lunch at a local restaurant we visit Tenryuji Temple and Nijo Casle. Tenryu-ji Temple is an ancient sprawling Zen temple with one of the finest gardens in Kyoto and has wonderful mountain views.
Sunday 03 November Kyoto (B,L,D)
This morning we visit Heian Jingu and also Ginkakuji, an elegant temple set in beautiful grounds at the foot of Kyoto’s eastern mountains. After lunch the afternoon is free for your leisure.
Monday 04 November Kyoto – Tokyo (B,D)
This morning we depart by train to Tokyo and transfer to our hotel for the night. This afternoon is at leisure.
Tuesday 05 November Tokyo – Home (B,L)
This morning, we enjoy a sightseeing tour of Kamakura & Enoshima. Visit Hokoku-ji Temple, known as the bamboo temple for its beautiful bamboo grove. We also see Kotoku-in Temple and the Great Buddha and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. Lunch is served at a local restaurant before we head to the airport early afternoon for our evening flight home.
Wednesday 06 November Arrive Home
Arrive Auckland mid-morning