The Best Way To Experience Japan’s Coastal Cities
To see Japan by cruise ship is to experience a side of the country that even the most seasoned traveller seldom sees. Japan’s coastal destinations offer more tranquil and traditional experiences that lie happily off the beaten track, away from the bustle of cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
With Costa’s neoRomantica’s “Experience Japan Like Never Before” cruises, Japan’s coastal prefectures and cities such as Kanazawa, Sakaminato and Maizuru are a smooth sail away, with journeys heading out of Fukuoka.
Available between April and October, the summer cruise programmes take in some of the region’s most beautiful land and seascapes. Guests can opt for between four and seven-night holidays that could include stops in Busan, Korea and Vladisvostok in Russia.
Each day, the 57,130-tonne neoRomantica docks at her ports of call by late morning, allowing passengers to wander the destination till dusk. Dinner is served at the ship’s six Italian restaurants, which include a pizzeria, a fine-dining eatery, and a buffet restaurant.
At all hours, entertainment abounds. There are cabaret shows, magic shows, dance classes, themed nights, a disco, and a cigar lounge, as well as karaoke sessions, cooking demonstrations, and group games.
The chance to travel to multiple destinations without having to change hotels or navigate the local transportation system make these cruises particularly appealing. Retire to well-appointed cabins and suites, particularly those with balconies on which to enjoy the ocean’s breeze, and awake to a new destination each morning.
Some highlights of the five-night “Ancient Japan & Dynamic Korea” cruise, include:
Adachi Museum of Art, Shimane Prefecture
When Adachi Zenko, a textile wholesaler from Shimane prefecture, opened this museum in 1980, he filled it with his private collection of artwork and ceramics by Japanese artists. But few come here for those pieces. Rather, it is the impeccably manicured Japanese garden surrounding the building, often voted as the most beautiful in Japan by the Journal of Japanese Gardening, that draws the crowds. The gardens can only be viewed from inside the building, through strategically placed glass windows that evoke the feel of a framed painting. Six themed areas — the moss garden, dry landscape garden, white gravel and pine garden, pond garden, Kikahu waterfall, and the garden of Juryu-an (the only one guests can stroll through) — make for “living paintings” whose colours change dramatically with the season.
This 3.6-km sand bridge, formed over thousands of years, is touted as one of Japan’s three greatest natural scenes. A beloved landmark in Kyoto’s northern prefecture, it is best viewed from kitschy Kasamatsu Park. Most travellers coming here by land hop on a number of trains from Kyoto, which take about 100 minutes from point to point. By car or bus from Maizuru port, where neoRomantica docks, it’s about a 20-minute drive. A charming chairlift ferries visitors to the viewing point 130 metres above the sand bridge, where it’s not uncommon to spot people standing on a bench with their head between their legs. Seen this way (upside down, really), the sandbank appears like a trail towards the heavens, hence its name, which translates to “bridge to heaven”.
Omicho Market, Kanazawa
Kanazawa’s largest fresh food market has been in operation since 1721 and remains a bustling hub made up of almost 200 shops and stalls selling fantastic local seafood, produce, sake, sundries, and kitchen tools. It’s near impossible to resist the giant fresh oysters on ice that are shucked to order or the bevy of plump Japanese fruit bursting with the promise of sweet, juicy flesh. Save room for a kaisendon (a bowl of sliced local raw fish served over hot rice), which Omicho is famous for. Just nip into any one of the market’s restaurants for a quick bowl.
Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, Korea
The colourful rows of terraced houses standing along the mountainside have earned this Culture Village the nickname “Machu Pichhu of Korea”. There is beauty and chaos all rolled into one at this former slum, with its mish-mash of pastel-hued houses and tiny alleyways. Transformed in 2009, when South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism launched an initiative to turn the area into a creative community, Gamcheon Culture Village is now known as home to some of the best street art in the country. This being Korea, there’s lots of street food to tide you along as you wander through this charmingly ramshackle maze.