Arrive Osaka, Japan
Cross the International Dateline and arrive at Osaka’s Kansai International Airport. After clearing customs and immigration, meet your A&K representative and transfer to your tranquil Kyoto hotel, situated in a historic area of Higashiyama Shichijo. Spend the remainder of the day at leisure. Alternately, with guidance from our experts, set out to explore Kyoto at your own pace. This culturally rich former capital features over 2,000 temples and shrines, 17 of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Because the city largely avoided bombing during WWII, its historic aura remains intact.
Kyoto | Cultural Epicenter
Set out on an enlightening tour of Kyoto, paying visits to Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion and Tenryuji Temple, where you attend a talk about Zen Buddhism. Pause for lunch at a local restaurant. Then, continue to the Heian Shrine before returning to your hotel. Gather this evening for a welcome reception and dinner with fellow guests, your A&K Expedition team and local guides who will be accompanying you and enriching your voyage.
Osaka | The Adventure Begins
After breakfast at the hotel, embark on a guided walking tour of the temples in the surrounding Higashiyama Shichijo district. After lunch, transfer from Kyoto to Osaka, where you board luxurious ‘L’Austral,’ your luxurious floating home for the next 11 nights.
Takamatsu | Explore Your Way
Arrive this morning in Takamatsu, gateway to Shikoku Island. Choose from a wide array of excursions, revolving around nature, gastronomy, arts or culture. You may, for example, opt to travel to Naoshima Island by ferry for a full-day excursion, celebrating its architecture and art museums. Visit the breathtaking, hillside Chichu Art Museum and stop at Benesse House, a complex featuring unique work by Japanese and international artists. Alternately, board a high-speed boat to Shodoshima, or Shodo Island, the heart of Japan’s olive-growing industry for a full-day tour. Otherwise, you may remain on Shikoku Island, experiencing Takamatsu’s most acclaimed features. Begin with a visit to Ritsurin Park, one of Japan’s finest gardens. After taking in the pond, bridge and hill-stippled setting, attend a hands-on udon noodle-making demonstration to gain insight into this local culinary art. Spend the rest of the day at your own pace in the lovely port of Takamatsu, with time to explore the shops and enjoy the lively atmosphere. Return to the ship at leisure.
Hiroshima/Miyajima | Hiroshima & the Iconic Torii Gate
Arrive in the port of Hiroshima, where you may opt to visit the Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, its cenotaph containing names of the known victims of the atomic bomb. Then, take a speedboat ride to Miyajima Island to witness the scarlet Torii gate at the entrance to the sacred Shinto Shrine. Or take a full-day excursion through Hiroshima, visiting the Hiroshima Castle and Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum, where you attend a private talk with an atomic bomb survivor. Alternately, spend a full day on the tranquil island of Miyajima, including the Itsukushima-Jinja, the shrine complex listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Treasure. Ascend Mount Misen by cable car for a hike. Then, admire the Shinto Shrine and Torii Gate. Return to your vessel and continue sailing through the Kamnon Strait en route to the Korea Strait.
Karatsu | Ancient Trading Post
This afternoon, ‘L’Austral’ makes her inaugural visit to the port of Karatsu. Once an early trading post between Japan and mainland Asia, Karatsu still maintains its medieval heritage. Visit Karatsu Castle, known as the “flying crane castle.” Pay a visit to the Hikiyama Exhibition Hall, which houses the floats and artifacts used in the annual Karatsu Kunchi autumn festival, recently inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. You may also visit Ningyo Joruri (puppet theater) and the Nakazato Taroemon Kiln, a ceramic studio that has been active since the late 16th century. Alternatively, visit the Kitahata Shige region to meet green tea farmers and to pick your own tea leaves.
Gyeongju, South Korea | Ancient Korean Capital
Disembark and spend a full day exploring Gyeongju, South Korea, ancient capital of the Shilla Dynasty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gyeongju’s cultural heritage dates back to the first millennium, when it began a 1,000-year rule of Korea. Witness its excavated monuments, temples, tombs and pagodas, gaining insight from your cultural historian. Then, unearth the treasures of the National Museum, which houses an exceptional collection of gold jewelry, metal weapons and distinctive pottery. Sit down to a lunch of Korean delicacies, and witness a traditional dance performance.
Matsue, Japan | Verdant Gardens
Return to Japan and disembark at Sakaiminato to visit Matsue, the “town of water,” nestled between a scenic lake and a large lagoon. Choose to explore the countryside, pausing at the Peonies Village to wander through its picturesque Yuushien Garden. Pause for lunch at a local restaurant before visiting historic Matsue Castle, one of Japan’s few remaining medieval castles, built in original wooden form. Alternately, visit the garden-frocked Adachi Museum of Art, which melds the founders’ passions for art and garden design. Following a traditional lunch at a ryokan (inn), visit Yakumo-mura village to learn about the art of Japanese paper-making.
Kanazawa | Epicenter for the Arts
Spend the next two days exploring the thriving art center of Kanazawa, known for its Kutani-style pottery and gold-leaf workmanship. Choose from various experiences that allow you to traverse its winding cobblestone streets. Perhaps see traditional houses, museums and galleries, and view a geisha performance at Higashi Chaia geisha district. At your leisure, wander through its Omicho Market, which features everything from fresh flowers to fish and local handicrafts. Later, partake in a tea ceremony and discover the sophisticated Kenroku-en Garden, known for its contemplative botanical designs. Or, choose a more active excursion that includes a hike in Kakusenkei Gorge; lunch at a local restaurant; and an onsen (spa) experience in the Yamanaka Onsen district, or a visit to scenic Shirakawa-go and the Shogawa River Valley.
Sado-ga-shima | Kodo Drummers
Travel off the beaten path and arrive at pastoral Sado Island, replete with rice paddies, bamboo groves and dramatic, surf-pounded seacoasts. Political exiles, deposed emperors and intellectuals were once “banished” to live in this beautiful setting. Today, enjoy an exclusive, private performance by the fabled Kodo Taiko drummers, an exhilarating experience followed by a rare opportunity to meet the world-famous troupe. Return to your ship and set sail for the west coast of Japan’s mainland.
Noshiro/Aomori | Ancient Caldera Lake
Disembark in Noshiro and head to Towada-Hachimantai National Park, passing en route through the panoramic mountain plateau region of Hachimantai, part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Pause at the Great Drum House to witness the drums used in the Tsuzureko Shrine Festival. Then, hike or take a boat ride at the ancient caldera of Lake Towada, formed by the eruption of a volcano. For a more in-depth nature experience, you may choose a trekking excursion to Juniko Lake alongside an A&K naturalist and a national park nature guide. Later this afternoon, re-board your vessel in Aomori.
Otaru | Historic Canal
Arrive in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Shortly after lunch, disembark in Otaru, a picturesque city known for its canal, well-preserved architecture, handicrafts, sake distilleries and stunning views of Mount Tengu. You may opt to take a historical and cultural tour of the city, once a prosperous fishing village. At the impressively crafted “Herring Mansion,” learn the history of the prominent Aoyama family, local fishing industry and artwork on display. Afterward, discover Otaru’s storied glass-making and visit a sake distillery, where you may sample its rice wine. End with a visit to the city’s historic canal; once filled with fishing barges, it is now lined with museums and shops, which are situated in converted warehouses. Or, choose to visit Mount Tengu by gondola, taking in panoramic views of Otaru Port and Ishikari Bay. During a nature walk, you may see the 100-year-old cherry tree. Then, visit the Tengu House, where nearly 700 goblin masks from throughout Japan are exhibited. After your descent back to the city, partake in a hands-on glass-making workshop and head to see the famous canal. Spend the evening in port in Otaru.
After breakfast on board ‘L’Austral,’ transfer to the airport. Board your homebound flight, join the post-cruise group extension to Tokyo, or continue onward with your independent travels.