Japan's cruise boom

With fascinating history, fabulous food and more ports than any other destination in Asia, Japan has found favour with major cruise operators, writes Bernadette Chua.

The Land of the Rising Sun has become one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, welcoming more than 2.45 million passengers last year.


It’s always been a hit with the Southeast Asian market, sailing to Japanese destinations such as Fukuoka, home to ancient temples and modern shopping malls, and Okinawa, famous for its pristine beaches and delicious seafood.

Everything from buzzy Tokyo to the iconic geisha culture in Kyoto has also helped fuel interest in a country with more ports of call than any other in the region.


Natural beauty is a particular drawcard. The perennially beloved cherry blossom season brings cruisers to Japan in March, and increasingly popular fall foliage trips in October and November to enjoy the brilliant changing colours of the Japanese maple and Ginkgo trees have extended the cruise season. Untouched landscapes in areas such as Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido also draw nature seekers.


New longer routes leaving from Tokyo and Kobe circumnavigate the country, with shore excursions for everyone. Culture vultures enjoy watching the traditional Bunraku puppet show in Osaka, recognised as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Those seeking relaxation and health benefits flock to the social atmosphere of an onsen hot spring bath in Aomori; and history buffs learn the ways of samurai warriors with a visit to Nagoya’s medieval castle.


Last year, cruise lines such as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea and many more made a collective 2,928 port calls in Japan. This puts Japan at the top spot Asia and more than three times ahead of runner-up China.

The most popular ports in Japan include Fukuoka, Naha and Nagasaki. Ports like Yokohama are also getting increasingly busy, with up to four ships arriving in one day.


Princess Cruises has dedicated Diamond Princess to Japanese itineraries, which has the largest Japanese bath at sea, the Izumi Bath. In June 2020, Sapphire Princess will also be visiting Japan towards the end of her Asian season before heading to Australia/New Zealand.


In 2020, Royal Caribbean Cruises will also be homeporting Spectrum and Quantum of the Seas in Fukuoka to sail short four to five-night cruises. Norwegian Cruise Lines will also have Norwegian Spirit sailing out of Yokohama, along with Holland America Line’s Noordam select sailings with Celebrity Cruises.


Meanwhile the port of Naha welcomes both Noordam and Westerdam of Holland America Line, Splendida from MSC Cruises and Le Laperouse from French luxury line Ponant.

Other luxury lines sailing the region include Oceania Cruises, Cunard and Silversea Cruises. With many of them arriving in April and May 2020, during Japan’s Golden Week holiday.

6 reasons to cruise to the Land of the Rising Sun

1 / It’s affordable

It’s a misconception that Japan is expensive. Sure, you can splurge on Michelin-starred restaurants and expensive designers, but day-to- day food and activities are quite affordable. Getting around is also cheap – an inexpensive train ticket will get you surprisingly far, and it’s fairly easy to navigate by yourself.

2 / It’s good for your health

While you might be pigging out on your cruise, the Japanese are known for their clean, fresh diet – which probably helps to explain their long and healthy lives. While you’re there, take advantage of the natural hot springs, called onsen. They are believed to have physiological and mental health benefits such as improving circulation, digestion and skin quality; reducing muscular pain; and lowering blood pressure.

3 / It’s full of bucket-list items

Where else in the world can you kneel on a tatami mat and partake in a traditional tea ceremony or watch sumo wrestlers locked in battle? You can be taught to dance, sing or play the shamisen by a geisha or maiko. Visit the Golden Temple in Kyoto, dare to sample some pufferfish or check out a kooky cat cafe.

4 / It’s a foodie’s paradise

The Japanese are known for their flair for flavour, attention to detail and sumptuous produce. Hunt down local specialties in hidden laneways, or pay top dollar at the best sushi restaurants in town. Splash out on the mouthwatering Kobe beef, try Nagasaki’s champon and slurp Hokkaido’s regional ramen. And don’t forget to sample the different sake in every region.

5 / The history is rich

There are plenty of fascinating historical sites to visit, such as shrines, temples and castles. One not to miss when you cruise to Japan is the Meiji Temple in Tokyo with its lovely gardens. For more recent history, visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, both living monuments to the devastation of atomic bomb attacks in World War II.

6 / There’s always something on

Cruise lines plan itineraries around Japan’s many seasonal festivals. Cherry blossom season in March is a popular time to visit, and the fall foliage attracts many cruises. In July, the Aomori Nebuta Festival features giant brightly lit lanterns, and Kumano hosts a fireworks festival in August. Even if you miss a festival, you won’t be short of things to experience and explore.

Japan's cruise boom

With fascinating history, fabulous food and more ports than any other destination in Asia, Japan has found favour with major cruise operators, writes Bernadette Chua.


The Land of the Rising Sun has become one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world, welcoming more than 2.45 million passengers last year.


It’s always been a hit with the Southeast Asian market, sailing to Japanese destinations such as Fukuoka, home to ancient temples and modern shopping malls, and Okinawa, famous for its pristine beaches and delicious seafood.

Everything from buzzy Tokyo to the iconic geisha culture in Kyoto has also helped fuel interest in a country with more ports of call than any other in the region.


Natural beauty is a particular drawcard. The perennially beloved cherry blossom season brings cruisers to Japan in March, and increasingly popular fall foliage trips in October and November to enjoy the brilliant changing colours of the Japanese maple and Ginkgo trees have extended the cruise season. Untouched landscapes in areas such as Shiretoko National Park, Hokkaido also draw nature seekers.


New longer routes leaving from Tokyo and Kobe circumnavigate the country, with shore excursions for everyone. Culture vultures enjoy watching the traditional Bunraku puppet show in Osaka, recognised as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Those seeking relaxation and health benefits flock to the social atmosphere of an onsen hot spring bath in Aomori; and history buffs learn the ways of samurai warriors with a visit to Nagoya’s medieval castle.

Last year, cruise lines such as Princess Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Silversea and many more made a collective 2,928 port calls in Japan. This puts Japan at the top spot Asia and more than three times ahead of runner-up China.

The most popular ports in Japan include Fukuoka, Naha and Nagasaki. Ports like Yokohama are also getting increasingly busy, with up to four ships arriving in one day.


Princess Cruises has dedicated Diamond Princess to Japanese itineraries, which has the largest Japanese bath at sea, the Izumi Bath. In June 2020, Sapphire Princess will also be visiting Japan towards the end of her Asian season before heading to Australia/New Zealand.


In 2020, Royal Caribbean Cruises will also be homeporting Spectrum and Quantum of the Seas in Fukuoka to sail short four to five-night cruises. Norwegian Cruise Lines will also have Norwegian Spirit sailing out of Yokohama, along with Holland America Line’s Noordam select sailings with Celebrity Cruises.


Meanwhile the port of Naha welcomes both Noordam and Westerdam of Holland America Line, Splendida from MSC Cruises and Le Laperouse from French luxury line Ponant.


Other luxury lines sailing the region include Oceania Cruises, Cunard and Silversea Cruises. With many of them arriving in April and May 2020, during Japan’s Golden Week holiday.