Why Visit Japan

In the storied Pacific island nation of Japan, the ancient and the modern are always at hand. As you'll find when you cruise Japan, her ample natural beauty hosts a culture whose masterful sense of design shows a unique respect for Mother Nature. Her Buddhists temples and Shinto shrines are elegant, built with exquisite care and keeping their surroundings in mind; her gardens are works of art, and her historic towns and districts intimate and appealing. And while Japan’s large cities can buzz with neon excitement, rural Japan is celebrated by artists and architects committed to minimalism and coexistence with Nature.



Japan is made up of more than 6,000 islands strung along the eastern coastline of the Continent of Asia. Only a small percentage of these islands are populated; many are covered by rugged mountains that surround the inhabited areas below.

Japan’s “Big Four” islands of Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido and Shikoku, range in landscapes from snowy mountains to sub-tropical beaches.  The largest, Honshu, contains Japan’s large cities: Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.  Linking most of Japan’s cities and towns is a futuristic rail system that measures delays in seconds (rather than minutes). While urban landscapes excite with tall buildings and bright lights, there are also dreamy small neighborhoods with wooden buildings and lantern-lit pathways that charm.

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From rugged mountains to pine-clad islands, volcanic peaks, groomed tea plantations and white sand beaches, Japan’s scenery impresses.  But beyond these natural treasures is the constancy of the Japanese eye, where art and design are considered inseparable from their settings.  We’d like to share some of them with you here:

Kinkahuji (Golden Pavilion) - Kyoto

Built originally circa 1400 as part of a shogun's village, the top floors of this stunning temple are covered in pure gold leaf. Overlooking a pond, each floor was built in a different style of architecture, from a Chinese Zen hall, to a samurai’s residence and a historic Japanese palace.


Adachi Museum of Art – Shimane

A showcase of modern Japanese art, including works by the noted artist Yokoyama Taikan, the Adachi Museum is also prized for its stunning gardens. Their designs vary from dry landscape to white gravel, pine and moss, with the purpose of creating harmony between the works of art and the setting.

Glover Garden – Nagasaki

Thomas Glover, a Scottish merchant, contributed to Japan’s opening up to the world around 1860 by opening a trading post on a hill overlooking lovely Nagasaki Harbor. Bringing his expertise in business to a country previously isolated under shogunate rule, Glover led the way for the establishment of  hotels, banks, hospitals and homes in this settlement meant for Westerners, where Glover’s mansion remains today.

Sakurajima – Kagoshima

Likened to the “Naples of Japan” due to the mild climate of this seaside city, Kagoshima offers views of Sakurajima, Japan’s most active volcano. Rising from  the middle of Kagoshima Bay, its middle peak smokes  constantly. In town are over 100 sochu distilleries. Stronger than sake, which is brewed from rice, sochu can be brewed from wheat, buckwheat, brown cane sugar – and sweet potatoes, the local favorite.

Ando Museum , Benesse Museum House & the Art Houses Project – Uno Ko

This haven of modernist  haven of art features a 100+-year-old traditional Japanese house where concrete meets timber, thanks to Pritzer Prize winning architect Tadao Ando; the Benesse House Museum, offering a dramatic series of art galleries that radiate down a hillside to the sea; and the Art Houses Project where traditional Japanese houses on small  side streets have been turned into modern art installations.


Miyajima (Itukushima Shrine) – Hiroshima

This vermillion-lacquered shrine is built over water and is known for its immense torii gate which appears to float over the sea at high tide. Harmoniously arranged as a “trinity of sea, man-made architecture and mountains,” the shrine’s prayer hall, traditional theater and main hall are connected by boardwalks meant for taking in the surrounding beauty.

Ginza District – Tokyo

Luxury shopping and expensive entertainment know few bounds in this high-rise district in central Tokyo. Covering about 30 city blocks, Ginza is considered the ultimate place to be for designers and storefronts, where the streets glitter by night to promote its popular bars, lounges and nightclubs.

Sensaji Temple & the Meiji Shrine – Tokyo

Situated across town from one another, and offering contrasting views, the Buddhist Sensaji Temples is “as old as Tokyo itself.” Within the complex is an exuberant crossroads of shops, gates, pagodas and crowds. More austere, the Shinto Meiji Shrine is surrounded by a serene green park and known for its 40-foot-high torii gate at the entrance.

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Because etiquette plays a critical role in Japanese culture, it’s helpful to know a few traditional Japanese customs and expectations in advance to feel more comfortable when you visit.

  • When greeting someone, a handshake is common practice, but in Japan, it’s done with a light touch and without eye contact. Bowing is a way of saying “thank you,” which you can do with a simple nod of the head.
  • A jinja is a Shinto shrine, recognizable by the torii gate that marks its entrance (as above).
  • At a Buddhist o-tera (temple) you’ll often need to cross over a raised threshold to enter; try to remember to step over it, not on it!
  • When visiting a Japanese home, you’ll be expected to remove your shoes in the genkan (entry way), where slippers will be left out for your use inside the house.
  • If you’re new to using hashi (chopsticks), use the smaller ends for eating and the larger ends for picking up foods from a shared plate; asking for a western fork, knife and spoon is perfectly acceptable.

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  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Genbaku Dome
  • Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Hiroshima
  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara
  • Fujisan, sacred place & source of artistic inspiration, Mt. Fuji
  • Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution

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  • Tauck’s Japan small ship cruise, Cruising the Land of the Rising Sun, has been named one of “50 Tours of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler
  • 8-night small ship cruise aboard the elegant motorized yacht L’Austral
  • 3 nights in Osaka and 2 nights in Tokyo at premier hotels
  • Experience traditional Japanese arts through geisha and taiko drumming performances
  • Visit museums celebrating modern Japanese art and gardens that are works of art in themselves
  • Explore historic temples, shrines and castles from the past, brilliantly designed and built
  • See time-honored Japanese traditions come alive, from sumo wrestling to a teahouse ceremony
  • Delve into poignant World War II history in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and at Tokyo’s Edo Museum
  • Visit to Busan, South Korea, home to the world’s only U.N. Memorial Cemetery
  • Discover historic districts like a samurai residential area and merchant towns unchanged by time
  • Ride the bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo, at fascinating speed

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