This 13-day cruise explores Manila, a city full of contrasts, before heading towards the Japanese islands in the country’s south.
Okinawa, famous for having been the theatre of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, is also known for its centenarians. Le Laperouse will then sail to Hiroshima, now proclaimed “City of Peace”: Facing the Inland Sea, only the Hiroshima Peace Memorial stands as a reminder of past events. You will also be able to admire the remarkable Shukkeien Garden. Miyajima, the island where people and gods live together, is also accessible from Hiroshima. You will then cruise to Osaka, the second largest city in Japan which is home to a fortified castle dating back to the 16th century.
Day 1 : Manila | Embark Days 2-3 : At Sea Day 4 : Hualien Day 5 : Ishigaki Day 6 : Miyakojima Day 7 : Naha, Okinawa Day 8 : Amamioshima Day 9 : Miyanoura, Yakushima Day 10 : Uwajima Day 11 : Hiroshima | Miyajima Island Day 12 : Tamano Day 13 : Osaka | Disembark
Discover the Japanese islands in the country’s south
Visit three UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Discover the ancient imperial capitals of Kyoto and Nara
On first sight, the Philippines' capital shows its highly Americanized Asian megalopolis side, with ultramodern skyscrapers set all along the waterfront. Stroll through the cobbled streets of the Intramuros district and discover a different side of Manila, one that's full of old-world charm. An enchanted pause in the middle of urban bustle, Rizal Park's 60 hectares of magnificent green parkland is perfect for recharging your batteries. To see the city from a different angle, take a walk along Roxas boulevard, a popular seaside promenade.
During your days at sea, make the most of the many services and activities on board. Treat yourself to a moment of relaxation in the spa or stay in shape in the fitness center. Depending on the season, let yourself be tempted by the swimming pool or a spot of sunbathing. These days without ports of call will also be opportunities to enjoy the conferences or shows proposed on board, to do some shopping in the boutique or to meet the photographers in their dedicated space. As for lovers of the open sea, they will be able to visit the ship’s upper deck to admire the spectacle of the waves and perhaps be lucky enough to observe marine species. A truly enchanted interlude, combining comfort, rest and entertainment.
Nicknamed “the beautiful island” by Portuguese sailors, 70% of the island of Taiwan is covered in lush, subtropical vegetation. When your ship stops in Hualien discover the stunning Taroko Gorge, one of the island’s must-see sites. This natural masterpiece, sculpted by the pure waters of the Liwu River, is known for its 1,200 meter-high marble cliffs, from which a unique panorama unfolds. During your stop here, discover the Eternal Spring Shrine, a complex clinging to the side of a mountain, made up of several small temples and overlooking a glistening waterfall. Then, along the Tunnel of Nine Turns, you will be able to admire the spectacular gorges which wind their way through deep canyons over some twenty kilometers.
THE TAROKO GORGE
Situated near the rocky east coast of Taiwan, Taroko Gorge rates as one of the island's biggest tourist attractions. A fantastic 19-kilometer-long canyon, the gorge is a breath-taking spectacle of craggy rocks and cascading water. The gorge offers a fabulous opportunity to see nature at its best. The rugged landscape and isolation have rendered the east coast mostly untouched from the industrialization and urbanization of other parts of the island. The area is largely unspoiled and offers visitors the chance to see an astonishing array of geological wonders, an abundance of flora and fauna indigenous to Taiwan, and fascinating aborigine culture. From the pier, embark your coach for the one-hour drive to the entrance of the National Park where a photo stop will be made. A 10-minute walk (involving steps) will bring you to the Eternal Spring Shrine from the bus drop off point. The Shrine was built to commemorate the 212 personnel (military veterans) who died during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway, which runs right over the mountains connecting the east and west coasts of Taiwan. The highway was carved out of the sheer cliffs at a cost of some US$11 million and was completed in 1960. Today, it remains one of the greatest feats of engineering in Taiwan's history. Another 30-minute walk along the trail of Swallow's Grotto offers fantastic views of the gorge and the impressive cliffs opposite. Typical limestone formations, such as swallow holes, can be seen in the cliffs. The famous "Indian Head" rock is said to resemble the profile of an American Indian chief - his face being craggy rock, and his head dress the vegetation growing on the cliff edge.
Located to the south of the main island of the Yaeyama archipelago, Ishigaki boasts all the aspects of an authentic piece of paradise. Here, instead of skyscrapers, find pure emerald waters and idyllic beaches. Explore pristine coral reefs on a scuba-dive or snorkeling session, where you may witness the 'flight' of a manta ray. The waters off Shiraho, on the island's south-west coast, have one of the largest areas of blue coral in the world.
Choose from the following excursions:
TAKETOMI WALKING TOUR
From the pier, take a short motor coach ride to the Ishigaki Ferry Terminal. Here you will take a 15-minute ferry ride (seat-in-coach) to Taketomi Island. Taketomi Island is an island just off the coast of Ishigaki Island and the site of a beautifully preserved, traditional Ryukyu village. As Taketomi Island is fairly small, it is often visited as a day trip from Ishigaki. Thanks to preservation efforts, the small village consists almost entirely of traditional style, one-storied houses, which are surrounded by stone walls, and covered with red tiled roofs and ample lion-like shiza statues to ward off evil spirits. Some of the village's houses serve as guest houses accommodations, orminshuku. Other traditional homes inside the village are used as restaurants or shops selling local food and crafts. On arrival walk to the Yugafukan Museum, and learn about the island's nature and traditional culture and arts. Next, take a water buffalo-drawn cart tour of Taketomi village. The 30-minute tour takes you around the preserved, traditional streets of the village while a Japanese speaking guide talks about the island, sings songs and plays Okinawan music on his sanshin (Okinawan stringed instrument).
IRIOMOTE ISLAND & MANGROVE CRUISE
From the pier, take a short coach ride to the Ishigaki Ferry Terminal, followed by a 45-minute ferry cruise to Iriomote Island. Iriomote Island is Okinawa’s second largest island. Largely undeveloped, nearly 90 percent of the island is covered by dense jungle and mangrove forests, much of which makes up the Iriomote National Park, the southernmost of Japan’s national parks. Many rivers wind their way through the island, giving you access to the interior. Enjoy a 1½-hour mangrove cruise on the Urauchi River which meanders its way along one of the island’s longest waterways. After a Japanese lunch at a local restaurant, take a water buffalo-drawn cart tour to Yubu Island. This small island is situated next to Mihara village, on the eastern side of Iriomote. The waters that divide Yubu Island from its neighbor are actually so shallow you could cross it on foot, but the popular water buffalo cart is definitely the most entertaining way to go and see the historical village. At the conclusion of your visit, it will be time to take the ferry back to Ishigaki and the pier.
HIGHLIGHTS OF ISHIGAKI
From the pier, board your coach for the one-hour drive to Tamatorizaki Observatory, which offers breathtaking views on the Hirakubo Peninsula that stretches out to the north of the island and on the Hanna Peak. To the east, the vast Pacific Ocean spreads right in front of you while behind the hills on the west and beyond you can view a bit of the East China Sea. This is the most beautiful ocean view in Ishigaki! Then you will head to Yaeyama Palm Tree Glove which features several dozen different palm tree varieties from many different places in the world. It's a chance to see the unusually tall, native Yaeyama Palm, a species of tree with a unique Japanese National Natural Monument designation. Measuring from 10-15 meters in height, and some over 200 years old. Next is Kabira Bay, which is famous for the culture of black pearls and is one of the most beautiful spots of the island. Take in the view and a leisurely walk on the beach. Enjoy a lunch of Ishigaki beef, then stop at the Emerald Sea Observatory, offering commanding views of the city and Emerald Sea.
SNORKELING AT MIYAKO
From the pier, take a 30-minute transfer to where you will board a local boat for your 2-hour snorkeling trip. Miyako Island is known for some of Japan's best beaches and as a great destination for snorkeling and diving in the coral reefs. The subtropical climate provides mild weather year around. The boat captain will stop at 2 locations where you can snorkel directly from the boat.
IRABU & SJIMOJI ISLANDS
Irabu Island and Shimoji Island are two small islands connected by 6 bridges and are part of the Miyako Island group. In ancient times during the Ryukyu kingdom the Miyako Islands were a stop off point for trading convoys on their way to Okinawa from China. To visit these two islands, take the Irabu Bridge, which is 4,310 meters long. The construction of the bridge started in 2006, and it took about nine years to complete. Arrive at the Makiyama Observatory, situated near the Irabu Bridge. From the deck find a panoramic view of the beauty of Miyako Island, where the blue ocean contrasts against the rich green vegetation.
Next, drive around Shimoji Island and stop at the mysterious “Tori-ike” Pond, a popular destination among divers. Legend has it that the pond, as it is today, resulted from a large wave that crashed over the pond to rescue a mermaid captured by humans. Since the pond is deep and connected to the ocean, freshwater and seawater combine to create a wonderful display of ever-changing colors.
SCENIC MIYAKO & AWAMORI DISTILLERY
From the pier, board your coach for the 30-minute drive to the Taragawa awamori distillery. Awamori is distilled by a unique manufacturing method during which black malt is added to rice and water, and the mix is left to become moldy. The mixture is then distilled in pot stills. The resulting brew is a 100-degree pure alcohol with no additives. After distillation, the spirit is stored for an extended time to improve in mellowness since its taste and aroma are enriched by the natural aging process. The distilled awamori is then aged in clay pots, usually kept in cool underground storerooms. The town of Gusukube, where the Taragawa Awamori Distillery is located, is blessed with a rich underground water source. The liquor is named after the underground Taragawa River. As an island formed from elevated coral reefs, Miyako Island is mostly made up of limestone and red clay. The Taragawa Distillery is known for its use of a limestone cave in a sugarcane field as its cellar. After touring the distillery, take the time to taste some varieties of Awamori.
SCENIC VIEWS & SWIMMING
From the pier, board your coach for the 45-minute drive to Cape Higashi Henna Zaki. This cape is one of Japan’s top 100 scenic spots. The length of the cape is about 1.2 mile (2 km); it is a flat and narrow land with a snow-white lighthouse at the end. From its observation deck, you can view a 360-degree panorama. After the cape, you will head to Aragusuku Beach for some time of leisure. Enjoy strolling along the beach or going for a swim.
Capital of Okinawa Prefecture, the town of Naha is located on the south-west of the island. You'll love its lively atmosphere, particularly along Kokusai Dori, otherwise known as 'international street'. The picturesque Makishi Public Market, nicknamed 'Naha's kitchen' offers a profusion of colorful fish, Okinawan foodstuffs and local spices and you can sample delicacies cooked on the spot . For an insight into the island's heritage, which combines Japanese and Taiwanese influences, visit Shuri Castle, a medieval building protected by UNESCO and surrounded by lovely gardens.
Choose from the following excursions:
BEST OF OKINAWA
From the pier, a 30-minute drive will bring you to Shuri Castle. Ryukyu was a small kingdom including Okinawa, in vassalage to both Japan and China, therefore this castle has a unique mixture of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. It was the residence of the king and the seat of local government until 1879, when Okinawa was made a prefecture of Japan. The castle was obliterated during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the reversion of Okinawa in 1972, the Japanese government rebuilt Shuri Castle and it was opened to the public in 1992. West of the castle stands Shureimon Gate, which had been used to welcome the Chinese ambassador and was rebuilt in 1958. Re-board your coach for the short drive to the Shikina-en Garden, the Ryukyu royal family's largest country retreat. The royal family used it as a getaway and also to entertain dignitaries from China. Shikina garden now covers about 23,000 square meters centering on a pond in the shape of the Chinese character “kokoro” (heart), with a six-sided gazebo in the middle and an “udun” (villa) with its red tiled roof. The park was totally destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa, but family members have begun restoration since then. Next visit Kokusai Street, the main entertainment strip in Naha, running for about 1 mile (1.6 km). There are many souvenir shops as well as food and drink establishments lining both sides of the street. A stop will be made at “Okinawa’s kitchen,” a market where a wide variety of foods are sold, such as large chunks of pork, colorful tropical fish, and vegetables grown on the island. It is the best place to learn about Okinawa’s food culture.
THE BATTLE OF OKINAWA
Near the end of World War II, Okinawa Honto became the site of one of the war's bloodiest battles, when the US forces invaded and occupied the island. An estimated 200,000 people, including more than 100,000 civilians and 12,500 Americans were killed in the battle which lasted from April to June 1945. The devastating effects of the war had a profound impact on the Okinawans, and there are a number of monuments and museums related to the period throughout Okinawa Honto. The worst fighting of the battle took place in the south, and that is where some of the larger monuments have been erected. Board your coach for a drive through Naha city on your way to the Okinawa Peace Memorial Museum. Located in Peace Memorial Park, the museum displays images of war and model exhibits, constituting an appeal for everlasting peace. Five separate areas cover the history of Okinawa leading up to WWII, the Battle of Okinawa and the post-war period. Also located within Peace Memorial Park is Mabuni Hill, the site where at the end of the Battle of Okinawa, cornered Japanese troops and civilians brought their own lives to an end by committing suicide. There are approximately 120 memorial monuments on the hill, honoring all who died in the War of the Pacific. After contemplating the lives lost during one of the most storied and tragic wars of modern times, your next stop will be the former Japanese Navy headquarters, which was moved to an underground shelter during the fierce combat in Okinawa. Investigating the subterranean interior, you will view the Commander's office and other rooms preserved as they appeared and functioned during the war.
SACRED SITE & VALLEY OF GANGALA HIKE
From the pier, board your coach for the one-hour drive to Sefa‑Utaki. Sefa‑Utaki is an important sacred site of the shinto religion, which focuses emphasis on the worship of nature. The site is located on a densely forested hillside along the ocean and features several rock formations connected with each other by walking trails. Sefa‑Utaki is included as one of Okinawa World Heritage sites. Although regarded as a powerful spiritual site beforehand, it was in the early 16th century that Sefa‑Utaki came into prominence. Follow your guide on a spiritual visit to this sacred site, passing by the remains of places of worship. There are no temples or grand structures, as nature is the focus of the shinto religion. Then, you will head to the Valley of Gangala for a 90-minute walking tour with your local guide. Opened to the public in 2008, the Valley of Gangala is a huge limestone cave partially collapsed, created hundreds of thousands of years ago and that is becoming increasingly popular as a spiritual place. Excavations are currently being conducted in these ancient caves that dot the lush subtropical forest and that are believed to have been the dwelling site of human beings who existed some 20,000 years ago. A giant banyan tree estimated to be 150 years old, the ancient cave and valley-like formations resulting from the collapse of limestone are nestled in rich natural surroundings.
SILK, KIMONOS & TANAKA ISSON MUSEUM
From the pier, board your coach for the 30-minute drive to the Oshima Tsumugi Village. The village is set in a natural garden of subtropical vegetation. During your guided visit of these gardens, see the manufacturing process of Oshima Tsumugi textiles, from the white silk threads to the final silk fabrics. Along with Persian carpets and Gobelin tapestries, Oshima Tsumugi silk pongee is one of the world's three great textiles. Its historical records can be traced back to the Nara period, approximately 1,300 years ago, and the textile is still produced in various locations, including Amami islands. Due to its origin in Amami Oshima island (one of Amami islands), the official name of the silk is “Authentic Amami Oshima Tsumugi.” The unique dying method uses the Amami's iron-rich mud as a natural dye. This makes the silk threads a beautiful and luminous black. It takes more than six months to produce the final product through over 40 processes. Authentic Amami Oshima Tsumugi has unique features distinctive from any other textile. Next, you will visit the Oshima Kimono Museum, where you will see kimonos made from the famous Authentic Amami Oshima Tsumugi textile. Your last stop is the Tanaka Isson Memorial Museum of Art. The center is dedicated to the late artist who lived and painted on Amami Oshima toward the end of his life. The museum showcases art over five rooms with a mixture of permanent and temporary exhibitions from Isson himself and other artists associated with the island. Tanaka settled on Amami Oshima at age 50 where he studied and sketched the tropical forest floors and canopies, forging a romanticized world, a paradise recovered, that later led to him being called Japan’s Paul Gauguin.
CANOEING IN THE MANGROVES
Amami Oshima has the second largest mangrove forest in Japan after the one of Iriomote Island. From the pier, board your coach for the 30-minute drive to the park. After a safety briefing, embark on a one-hour canoe ride. Follow your guide on the off-shoots of the river and the mangroves. Before returning to the port, a brief photo-stop will be made at the Mangrove Observatory, where you can enjoy the panoramic view of mangroves.
Yakushima is a striking island in the South of Japan, covered in forest and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hikers are very fond of this destination because of the lush vegetation, Mount Miyanoura, the waterfalls and cascades. But without a doubt, the symbol of the island remains its many age-old cedar trees which are said to have inspired some of the scenes in the animated film Princess Mononoke. On this island, you will also find wildlife including the Japanese macaque, the sika deer, and green sea turtles which lay their eggs on the magnificent sandy beaches here.
YAKUSUGI HIKING TOUR
Yakushima is a World Heritage site that exhibits a rich flora, with some 1,900 species and subspecies, including ancient specimens of Japanese cedar. Yakushima is almost 6,450 feet (2,000 m) high and is the highest mountain in southern Japan. Vegetation is significantly different from the mainland, and the island hosts indigenous Japanese cedars called “sugi”, which can reach more than 1,000 years of age on stable sites under the local climate. Specimens younger than 1,000 years are known as “kosugi” while older specimens, which may reach 3,000 years, are known as “yakusugi” and are found at altitudes between 1,800 feet and 5,800 feet (600 m and 1,800 m). A scenic one-hour drive (winding, towards the end) will take you to Yakusugi Land, which is a nature park populated by many yakusugi trees. A series of well-developed trails lead through them. Follow your local guide on an 80-minute walk, covering a distance of 1.5 miles (2.5 km). All trails follow the same route into the park with different turn off points that lead back to the trail head. You will have a sense of total nature immersion in this forest and feel “small” compared to the height of these ancient trees. The first part of the trail is over boardwalks; then you will go “off-road” onto natural paths which may be slippery and muddy if it has rained recently. Located near to Yakusugi Land, Kigensugi Cedar is your second visiting spot. This tree is 63 feet (19.5 m) high, 26 feet (8.1 m) wide and more than 3,000 years old. If you are lucky, you might have a chance to encounter Yakushima monkeys or deer on the road.
Located on the west coast of Shikoku island, will delight lovers of history and traditional customs. The magnificent Uwajima Castle was built in the 17th-century by the powerful Date clan and has a beautiful ornamental garden and bridge. The much-visited Taga Shrine is dedicated to fertility and is full of phallic imagery. As for eating, you must taste jakoten, a local delicacy based on fried fish.
Choose from the following excursions:
HIGHLIGHTS OF UWAJIMA
Uwajima is located deep inside Uwajima Bay with its coast facing the Bungo Channel in southwestern Ehime. Since the early 17th century, the city has flourished as a castle town of the Date family. Upon arrival, your first visit will be the beautiful terraced fields of Yusu Mizugaura. An epithet used for these terraced fields is "Plough a way to heaven". The steep mountain slope has been transformed with stacked stones into a staircase of farmland. Its majestic scenery has been selected as an important cultural landscape and one of hundred famous views of rural Japan. Next, visit Doi Pearl. The Uwajima Pearl is one of the highest graded pearls in the world. Here, learn about natural pearls, the method of pearl culturing, the production and distribution of pearls. After a lecture, you will have a chance to purchase pearls. Driving back to Uwajima city, visit Uwajima Castle, located in the heart of the city and built by Lord Takatora Tohdoh, who was a master castle designer during the Edo era. The well-balanced donjon is one of the very few which remain as originally built and is designated as national important cultural assets.
Your last stop is at Kisaiya square, a place with several types of shops selling local products, snacks, souvenirs and other goods, as well as some restaurants. Kisaiya means "come and join us", or "please come" in the local dialect of this region. Enjoy some time at leisure to take in the atmosphere and observe local life.
UCHIKO OLD TOWN
From the pier, embark your coach for the one-hour drive to Uchiko. Located about 50 km northeast of Uwajima, the pleasant town of Uchiko is a vestige of traditional, rural Japan. Uchiko was once a prosperous center of wax and paper production. One of the town's main attractions, the Kamihaga Residence, explores this historical industry. Next, enjoy a guided walk on the streets of Yokaichi, which is Uchiko's preserved street of houses where most of the town's attractions can be found. This historical district looks just as it did over 100 years ago, when wealth and prosperity came to Uchiko through its wax trade. Omori Candle maker is one of the long-established makers and you can observe the sensitive work of the Japanese handmade candles. Your guided walk continues to the old pharmacy called museum of commercial and domestic life. You will see the various scenes of pharmacy life displayed by dolls dating back to 1921. Another symbol of Uchiko is found outside of the old district: Uchiko-za is a full-scale kabuki theater equipped with trap doors, hidden entrances and a rotating stage.
Uwajima is located deep inside Uwajima Bay with its coast facing the Bungo Channel in southwestern Ehime. Since the early 17th century, the city has flourished as a castle town of the Date family. Your first visit will be the beautiful terraced fields of Yusu Mizugaura. An epithet used for these terraced fields is “Plough a way to heaven”. The steep mountain slope has been transformed with stacked stones into a staircase of farmland. Its majestic scenery has been selected as an important cultural landscape and one of hundred famous views of rural Japan. Next, you will visit Doi Pearl. The Uwajima Pearl is one of the highest graded pearl in the world. During you visit, you will learn about the method of pearl culturing, the production and distribution of pearls. After a lecture, you will have a chance to purchase pearls.
Your final stop is Nanraku-en Garden for a Tea Ceremony. The Japanese tea ceremony is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one's attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one's heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture. You will have a chance to see an authentic tea ceremony performance.
Visiting Hiroshima is a moving experience. The town spreads along Honshu Island, along the inside coasts of Seto. While firmly focused on the future, Hiroshima doesn't forget its past, and a visit to the Peace Memorial Park and Genbaku Dome is a must. Enjoy the city's modern, cosmopolitan atmosphere and effervescent nightlife just as much as the peaceful stillness of its natural parkland areas such as splendid Shukkei-en, the town's historic garden.
Choose from the following excursions:
SAIJO SAKE STREET WALKING TOUR
Sake is Japan's national drink, an alcoholic beverage which is made from fermented rice. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, often depending on the weather and the type of food with which it is being consumed. Saijo has long been a prime location for sake production, largely due to the high-quality spring water in its vicinity. The well water of the breweries originates from mountains 3km outside of Saijo. The quality of the water changes as it makes its way to the town, and the calcium and magnesium content in the well water becomes three times higher than that of the mountain spring water. From the pier, board your coach for the one-hour drive to Saijo Sake Street. On arrival your guided walking tour through the main brewery district will start. The area is recognizable by the number of red brick chimneys poking into the sky. Saijo's sake industry began at the turn of the 20th century, so many of the buildings in the area have an old-world charm. There are nine breweries in Saijo Sake Street. You will visit two of them and learn about the production process, followed by some tasting of different varieties of Sake. On the way back the pier, a photo stop will be made at Hiroshima Castle. It is a good example of a castle built on a plain in the center of a city as opposed to hilltop and mountaintop castles. Its main keep is five stories tall, and its grounds are surrounded by a moat. The castle tower was designated as a National Treasure in 1931 but was destroyed by the atomic bomb. Total renovation was completed in 1989.
In the years just following the atomic bomb blast on 6 August 1945, scientists doubted if Hiroshima could ever live again. Yet modern Hiroshima rose like a phoenix from its own ashes, and less than five decades since its obliteration, it is a vital city with a population of one million and growing. From the pier, you will reach the poignant Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and its impressive museum. Consisting of two buildings, the museum surveys the history of Hiroshima and the advent of the nuclear bomb. Its main focus though is on the events of 6 August: the dropping of the bomb and its outcome in human suffering. The personal details displayed are quite upsetting and serve to remind that we should not take peace for granted. Then you will walk from the museum to the Atomic Bomb Dome, passing by the Peace Memorial Park. This park is hugged by rivers on both sides, large, leafy space criss-crossed by walkways and dotted with memorials. Its central feature is the long tree-lined Pond of Peace leading to the cenotaph. This curved concrete monument holds the names of all the known victims of the bomb. Just north of the road through the park is the Children’s Peace Monument, inspired by Sadako Sasaki, who was two years old at the time of the atomic bomb. When Sadako developed leukemia at 11 years of age, she decided to fold 1,000 orizuru (paper cranes). In Japan, the crane is the symbol of longevity and happiness, and she believed if she achieved that target she would recover. She died before reaching her goal, and her classmates folded the rest. Her story inspired a nationwide spate of paper-crane folding that continues to this day. Continue to the Hiroshima Orizuru Tower. Officially opened in September 2016, it is located beside the Atomic Bomb Museum. The 50-meter-tall tower is one of the few tall buildings around the Peace Memorial Park and offers a great view of the surroundings, including the less commonly seen view of the A-Bomb Dome from above. The Orizuru Square on the 12th floor is a station where you can try to fold orizuru. These cranes can be kept as a souvenir or dropped down into the Orizuru Wall, a glass panel wall that will be filled up with these folded cranes in time to come.
At the heart of the Inland Sea, Miyajima, the “island sanctuary” will reveal its treasures. In the background you will see the Shinto Grand Sanctuary, whose entrance is guarded by a magnificent vermilion “Torii“. Considered to be one of the most beautiful sites in the Japanese islands, you will be transported by the unique character and the serenity of this sacred site.
ITSUKUSHIMA SHRINE & ZAZEN MEDITATION
From the tender landing, a 30-minute walk will bring you to the Daisho-in Temple, which is located at the foot of the thickly forested Mount Misen and is one of the most famous temples in Miyajima. There you will meet a resident Buddhist monk who will perform a 30-minute meditation session with you. Zazen is the form of meditation at the very heart of Zen practice. In fact, Zen is known as the “meditation school” of Buddhism. Basically, zazen is the study of the self. The monk will teach you how to sit and breathe. Zazen is practiced while seated on a round cushion known as a zafu. The positions of the pelvic and hip bones are the key. The correct balance is achieved when sitting on the middle of the zafu with both knees planted firmly on the floor. The shoulders, the rib cage, and the inner organs are also relaxed so that the breathing becomes unimpeded and natural. Next, you will visit the Itsukushima Shrine. The shrine was established in 593, the first year of the reign of Empress Suiko, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current torii was erected in 1875 after the original one was destroyed. The shrine's torii rises 48 feet above the sea, its columns, made of camphor are 30 feet in circumference and supported by smaller pillars, which are buried in the seabed. The construction of the sanctuary, consisting of structures on piles and pontoons, is due to the sacred status of the island. The visitors had indeed no right to dismount; when they arrived by boat, they passed under the torii and floating dock on the pontoons. Scene from Noh theatre, also on stilts, is close to the temple. After your visit to the shrine, you will enjoy free time to discover the numerous shops located in the narrow streets.
ITSUKUSHIMA SHRINE & COOKING EXPERIENCE
From the tender landing, a short walk will bring you to the place where you will learn how to make the local Momiji Manju. This is the area’s most popular souvenir, a small maple-leaf shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste. After this fun and hands-on experience continue to the Itsukushima Shrine for a visit. The shrine was established in 593, the first year of the reign of Empress Suiko, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current torii was erected in 1875 after the original one was destroyed. The shrine's torii rises 48 feet above the sea, its columns, made of camphor are 30 feet in circumference and supported by smaller pillars, which are buried in the seabed. The construction of the sanctuary, consisting of structures on piles and pontoons, is due to the sacred status of the island. The visitors had indeed no right to dismount; when they arrived by boat, they passed under the torii and floating dock on the pontoons. Scene from Noh theatre, also on stilts, is close to the temple. After your visit to the shrine, you will enjoy free time to discover the numerous shops located in the narrow streets.
Located on the island of Honshu, hugging the banks of the Sento Inland Sea, Tamano is a popular destination thanks to its sun-drenched climate. Upon arrival, marvel at the way in which the city has been built along the coast at the foot of a deep, dark forest. In the area surrounding Tamano, stroll down the streets of Kurashiki, known as the 'white-walled city' in a nod to the pretty façades of the houses that line the streets of this ancient Edo-period trading town. Another major regional attraction is the Seto Ohashi bridge. Its 12.5 kilometers make it the world's longest double-decker bridge.
Choose from the following excursions:
NAOSHIMA ISLAND OF ART
Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea that is known for its modern art museums, architecture and sculptures. The island with its Mediterranean atmosphere, sandy beaches and sunny weather, combined with a laid-back, rural feel is a relaxing getaway from Japan's large urban areas. Your excursion will start with a 45-minute ferry ride to the pier of Naoshima. First, visit the Chichu Art Museum. Designed by Tadao Ando, the museum was constructed in 2004. It was built as a place to rethink the relationship between nature and people. In order not to affect the natural beauty of the island, the majority of the structure is buried underground. Here, you can see permanent exhibits by Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria. Then, you will head to the Benesse House Museum, a modern art museum and resort hotel on the southern coast of Naoshima. The museum was built in 1992, based on the concept of “coexistence of nature, art and architecture”. This is a place where people can explore art, nature, architecture, and their own thoughts in a multi-layered and synergistic fashion. After your lunch, you will visit the Outdoor Works, artworks exhibited in open-air settings around the island. Among these, the most popular piece and symbol of the island is Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin. Overlooking the sea, this artwork seems to change expressions by time and condition, at dawn and dusk, in bright sunlight and heavy rain. Your final stop is the Art House Project, which started in 1998 with Tatsuo Miyajima’s work. As part of the project, the empty houses were turned into art works. The project strives to preserve older structures and explores how to combine modern and traditional architectural styles.
Located in the western part of Okayama Prefecture, Kurashiki is known for the lovely, white walls of its buildings. This city developed as a port town along the Kurashiki River. From the pier, embark your coach for the one-hour drive to the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Area. The atmosphere of the Edo Period is preserved in the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Area along the Kurashiki River, which still contains old storehouses that point to a time when this city was a vital location in the distribution of goods throughout Japan. The houses are known for their white walls and black tile roofs and are a reason why Kurashiki is sometimes called the "white-wall town." The area also includes numerous museums and sightseeing spots. All electrical wires are buried beneath the ground so there is nothing to mar the view of the buildings. Many of the buildings you have seen before entering the museum were originally rice granaries built in the late 18th century. The tiled roofs, white-washed walls, black-tiled walls with lattice windows were the characteristics of Kurashiki. From the variety of museums, you will visit the Kurashiki museum of folk craft. Mr. Kichinosuke Tonomura, the first President of this museum, collected more than 10,000 items. His collection includes the whole range of practical goods for everyday use, such as ceramics, textiles, lacquers, baskets, wood works, metal works, pictures and so on. Next walk to the Ohashi family old merchant house, this 200-year-old merchant's house was appointed as an Important Cultural Property in 1978. The Ohashi family built their wealth by salt farming and financial business in the Edo period (1603 - 1867). The main wing is simple and solid; fire-resistance architecture with a gate terrace, which was privileged to the high class family, is the proof of their outstanding prosperity in the area.
Day 13 Osaka | Disembark
Like its big sister Tokyo, Osaka is the product of ancestral traditions and amazing technological innovations. And despite its size, its location on the Pacific Ocean give it a sense of serenity. The main historic landmark is the 16th-century Osaka Castle, which stands proud in the midst of majestic skyscrapers. The lively streets of Dotomburi and the bizarre Shinsekai district attract thousands of locals and visitors. A multitude of restaurants offer menus full of regional specialties: takoyaki, made with octopus, and other succulent dishes such as kushikatsu kebabs.
Our guide and driver were very good with their knowledge and were very helpful with our questions. It was a very pleasant visit that would have been impossible to do on our own. Hotels and restaurants were fantastic. The special places we got to go to, like the kitchens, were great. Enjoyed the entire trip!