An island world separated years ago from its Asian neighbors, Japan has maintained a mysteriously unique culture and is busy paving the way for the future of technology and pop culture around the globe. Mixing a variety of influences from traditional heritage and custom with an emerging pop scene, a cruise of Japan offers a bustling traveler’s sampler.
The country boasts a number of distinct art forms including architecture, dance, performing arts along with other native crafts such as bonsai and sushi. Truly an international spectacle, the Japanese lead the world in technologically savvy equipment and buildings, and the electronics industry has gained the reputation of being the highest quality in the world. The elegant formality of Japanese manners are strangely coupled with boisterous exchanges that one may overhear taking place over a few drinks. Japan offers its visitors clean malls and rural festivals; there’s a little something for every traveler on a tour of this country where traditional and modern cultures collide creating an atmosphere unmatched in the world. The trendy fashions mix with traditional kimonos, folk songs with Japanese pop music, and zen-influenced literature with anime entertainment and productions.
Majestic mountainous landscapes and peculiar wildlife cover the majority of the country. A Japan cruise beckons its travelers to not only enjoy the country’s famous urbanized setting but explore the natural beauty as well. Travelers will find their interests and excitement peaked when visiting this tiny island nation that has secured such a huge economic international status.
Fishers, hunters and gatherers from Korea and Siberia trekking across the land bridges (and possibly Polynesian migrants) were the first to settle in the territories now known as Japan. By 300 AD the Yamato kingdom had loosely unified the nation and Buddhism was introduced from China, which soon became the state religion. Believing the country to be more or less stable, emperors began to spend more time on leisure and less time on government, giving the samurai (warrior class) opportunity to rise to power. The influence of the country’s complicated past is still evident in modern-day Japan. The surviving essence of the samurai culture, in particular, is a popular attraction on a tour of Japan. The period to ensue was marked by feudal rule, struggles between the emperor and samurai, attempted invasion by Mongols and the introduction of a new, and uninvited, foreign religion – Christianity. Strict supervision was placed over the Japanese by the emperor and rigid obedience to law became a paramount consequence. Imperial power was effectively restored over the samurai class in 1868 and Japan continued in virtual isolation from the outside world.
Travelers seeking a truly rich cultural experience as well as those whose interests are perked by technology and future advancements, will thoroughly enjoy their time on a Japan cruise. Cities such as Kyoto and Nara boast beautiful temples, shrines, and museums, amazing treasures from Japan’s artistic heritage. Developed cities offer a technological adventure and a modern pop culture experience.
Historically China and Korea have had the most influence on the development of Japanese culture by introducing things such as ceremonial burial, pottery, painting, writing and poetry. During the pre-modern era, Japan broke from these influences and began to define a unique and distinct culture involving a developed artistry in things such as Bon dance. Predominant religions practiced in Japan are Shinto, Buddhism, and Christianity, which throughout history have helped shape the culture’s concepts of honor, duty and obligation to family. Japan’s contemporary pop culture is a direct result of western influence from the 1950s and onward. A cruise of Japan offers an excellent look at the country’s role as a leading exporter of pop culture. It has developed such unique artistic contributions as anime and manga (graphic novels).
Nearly two-thirds of Japan’s surface area is covered by mountains, hills, and forests, whereas residential and industrial areas account for less than ten percent. This is surprising to the many travelers visiting Japan who tend to tour the heavily urbanized and industrialized regions of Tokyo and Osaka and along the coasts. During a Japan adventure cruise, take advantage of the urban cities, but the incredible forested regions as well. Many popular plants such as the Sakura (cherry blossom), Momiji (Japanese Maple) and Take (bamboo) are well-known flora and the Matsu (Pine Tree) symbolizing youth and longevity is used as a decorative plant in most gardens. These plants are very popular for Bonsai.
Japan is one of the largest wildlife importers in the world. While striving for effective implementation of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) based on the concept of sustainable use, many businesses participating in wildlife and plant importing are unregistered and thus are able to avoid investigation.
While not as significant as it once was, a bowl of rice is still a practically guaranteed component of each meal in Japan. Side dishes called okazu are served along with the rice and soup, miso being the most common option. Common side dishes include grilled fish, rolled omelet, dried seaweed, salad, noodles, soba, and udon. Many popular lunch boxes include rice balls or sushi rolls with rice and sandwiches. Essential components to Japanese style cuisine – aside from rice – are seafood, seaweed, mushrooms, ginger and beans. Japanese cuisine typically uses soy sauce, miso, sake, and wasabi to add flavor to their dishes. Traditionally chopsticks are used to eat Japanese meals, yet many Japanese people also use forks, knives, and spoons depending on what type of food. Dinner is the main meal of each day, and these dishes tend to hold more variety ranging from Japanese cuisine (Washoku) to Chinese-style (Chuuka) and Western-style (Yo-shoku) cuisine. Travelers will be surprised at the selection available during their Japan tour, finding that not only sushi and tempura are popular, but also spaghetti, hamburgers, and Korean barbeque.
Because of its geography, a cruise is one of the best ways to travel Japan. Japan consists of a chain of islands totaling four major ones and some 3900 smaller ones that follow an 1860 miles-long-arc of mountains. During the last big ice melt sea levels rose along the eastern rim of the Asian continent to flood the land bridge that connected Japan to the mainland. The highest peak is Mt. Fuji at 12,385 ft. Adjoining mountains and unique islands offer the traveler on a Japan cruise a taste of the breathtaking scenery that greets the Japanese every morning.
Japan, situated on a chain of mountains, is filled with numerous hot springs and constantly faces the potential for volcanic activity, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Japan geography is one of the world’s most active regions, enduring around 1000 earthquakes each year. Many are too small to notice without seismic readings.
Before you begin your trip to Japan, enhance your experience by learning a little more about the modern history of the country. Understanding the episodes, which helped shape modern Japan, can bring deeper meaning to your travel as well as a more comprehensive look at this complex country.
Around the turn of the 19th century, famine and poverty spurred on by the ever-increasing presence of foreign ships began to weaken support for the government of Japan. In 1868, the existing Shogun resigned and Emperor Meiji took control and began to westernize and industrialize the country. In 1889 Japan created a Western-style constitution, and with it came a strength and courage of national confidence demonstrated through invasions of China, Russia, Korea and Taiwan. During WWI Japan sided with the Allies and took the opportunity to trade and expand its economy. Emperor Hirohito ascended to the throne in 1926. Unrest, due to the world depression and increasingly powerful militarists, Japan decided to invade Manchuria in 1931 and China in 1937.
When diplomatic attempts to gain US neutrality regarding the China invasion failed, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Initially Japan was successful, but by 1945 Japan had been driven back on all fronts. With the Soviet Union then declaring war on Japan, and two atomic bombs devastating the country, Emperor Hirohito surrendered and opened Japan to occupation by Allied troops that remained a fixture until 1952. With millions of Japanese dead, the country’s industries and infrastructure were all but demolished. Efforts to demilitarize and dismantle the emperor’s authority began and a recovery program boosted the economy to rapid expansion and production.
In 1947 Japan adopted a new pacifist constitution seeking to emphasize human rights, democratic practices, and international cooperation. With the arrival of the 1990s, Japan’s amazing economic growth came to a near standstill after a major stock market crash. The Liberal Democratic Party produced a number of leaders who attempted to solve the countries economic woes, until finally Koizumi, bringing a mix of nationalism and reform agendas, managed to help Japan’s economy climb out of its hole. Today, a trip to Japan, demonstrates the healthy and growing economy of the country.
The Japanese government is structured as a constitutional monarchy, with Junichiro Koizumi currently serving as the Prime Minister and Akihito serving as Emperor. The Emperor does not hold any effective power, but rather serves as a symbol of the state participating in ceremonies and diplomatic meetings. The current constitution – promulgated during the year 1946 during the occupation by the Allied powers following WWII – provides for a system with Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary branches. All men and women Japanese citizens receive the right to vote upon turning 20 years old. The Japanese legislature, called the diet, consists of a House of Representatives (480 members) and the House of Councillors (242 members). Japanese citizens elect all these officials. Elections for the House of Representatives are held every four years and every three years for the House of Councillors. Election years are a great time to travel to Japan, and get a better understanding of their political system and their animated campaigning process. The Prime Minister is elected by members of the diet to head the Executive cabinet. The Prime Minister then in turn appoints other ministers to serve in the cabinet (most are usually also members of the diet). The Judiciary Branch is primarily led by the highest court, the Supreme Court. There are also district, family, and summary courts that support the system across the nation. Executive cabinet members appoint these judges to office. Besides the national elections, more local and municipal elections are also held.
Japan weather, greatly affected by a seasonal southerly monsoon, differs significantly from other Asian neighbors of the same latitude. If you are on a tour of the south you are likely to run into warmer temperatures, averaging 83°F in July, and grow cooler as one travels north, averaging 73°F in July. The climate is usually moderate with some chilly winter days and fairly steady rainfall throughout the year, with a slightly rainier season during summer and autumn.
The best times for a Japan tour are Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November). During spring one can expect clear skies, cherry blossoms, and plenty of domestic tourists, as this is a holiday time for the Japanese. Autumn temperatures are pleasant, and colorful countryside colors create beautiful landscapes. Mid winter (December to February) can be very cold and summer (June to August) can be extremely humid.
Japan boasts a variety of wildlife species, including over one fourth of bird species known to live near water. A Japan tour should include time to explore some of the country’s forested regions and the wildlife that flourish within. Almost 600 species of birds inhabit Japan’s islands with the sparrow, house swallow and thrush being the most common. Many birds such as the crane, heron, swan, stork, and duck also make their homes along Japan’s coasts. Also found are robins, woodpecker, cuckoos, pheasant, and pigeons. Several carnivores, such as the black, brown and red bear also live in Japan, and the Japanese macaque (a red-faced monkey) is the only primate living within Japan’s borders. During a tour, also keep an eye out for weasels, otters, and Japanese mink; many varieties of seal can also be spotted and rodents such as squirrels, rats and mice are common. The Japanese deer, which is small, boasts a coat of fur that becomes spotted and white in the winter and brown in the summer, making it a truly unique animal. Tropical snakes are known to live in Okinawa, and other famous Japanese animals such as the fox (kitsune) and raccoon dog (tanuki) inhabit these islands.