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Evening lights over the Otaru canals

Expedition on the Kitamae Route

Otaru, Hokkaido - Osaka - Example 12 Day Cruise aboard Le Soleal
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Discover the Empire of the Rising Sun, its numerous customs, and iconic landmarks. From Otaru, go on a brand-new 12-day trip in the footsteps of Japanese merchants using the Kitamae maritime route to Osaka in the mid-18th century. Visit the island of Honshu's north coast, notably the lovely city of Sakata. After that, cruise to Sado, a small island famed for its spectacular coastline, untamed scenery, and rich history. Then, in Toyama, a picturesque town bordered by the Tateyama mountain range, embark on the Kurobe Tateyama alpine path for a journey above the clouds. Le Soléal sails from Honshu to Hagi, the birthplace of the samurai and Hagi pottery. Your trip concludes in Osaka, the last stopover on the Kitamae route.
Temple garden in Busan, South KoreaSeaside Buddhist temple in BusanColorful trees in OsakaOsaka's city lights after sunsetEvening lights over the Otaru canals
  • Experience the first expedition cruise in the world in the footsteps of the merchants of the Kitamae route.
  • Enjoy local cuisine that passed through the Kitamae route from rich seafood to local sake.
  • Discover the rich culture along the Sea of Japan to Setouchi inland sea.
  • Discover Busan, South Korea’s second city. A place of great contrasts,
Places Visited
Activity Level: Relaxed
Involves minimal physical effort and is typically associated with leisurely activities. Activities are low-intensity or last less than a few hours each day.

Full Itinerary

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Day 1: Otaru, Hokkaido | Embark

Boasting an outstanding setting of natural beauty, bordered by the Sea of Japan on one side and Mt Tengu on the other, Otaru is a lively harbor town. This old industrial capital has kept from its past glory buildings in 19th-century brick as well as its canals, formerly the main means of transportation. They give this Japanese town a striking appearance, especially when covered in snow. Magnificent vistas abound - itメs up to you to put them in order of preference. Shukutsu Observatory, overlooking out over the vast Bay of Ishikari, is just one of them.

Day 2: At Sea

During your day 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. This day without a port of call will also be an opportunity 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.

Day 3: Sakata

Nestling on the shores of the Sea of Japan, in the Tohoku region in the north of the island of Honshu, Sakata will enchant you with its folkloric atmosphere and its authentic and traditional architecture. This emblematic city has retained the scents, flavors and certain traditions of the time of Kitamae, a shipping route along which Japanese merchants travelled in the 18th century, extending from Otaru to Osaka. The succession of Sankyo warehouses where rice was once stored stand as a testament to that time and are now the symbols of a strong industrial heritage.

Day 4: Sado

A small stretch of land nestling in the Sea of Japan, Sado Island is one of Japan’s unsuspected gems. Here, off the coast of the city of Niigata, time seems to stand still. The traditional wooden houses coexist with a unique natural environment offering a wonderful mix of quiet beaches with crystal-clear water, craggy coastline, wild moors, and splendid rice terraces.  Before the Edo Period, political opponents were exiled on this island. Renowned for its gold mines, active until 1989, Sado distinguishes itself by preserving a cultural heritage with fabulous attractions. Noh theatre is a perfect example. The oldest traditional performing art in Japan, combining dance-drama and pantomime, Noh theatre holds a special place in the history of Sado. The island is world-renowned for this art form.

Day 5: Wajima

Let yourself fall under the spell of Wajima, a city of rich diversity, lying to the north of the Noto Peninsula. Off the coast of the Ishikawa Prefecture, the charming little town unfolds before you, with its craggy coastline and its splendid hillside tea plantations. As soon as you arrive, wander through the alleyways of its mythical morning market, one of the three largest in Japan. In the market, you will be able to taste some of the town’s specialities, such as seafood or the traditional rice crackers called shio-senbei. Renowned around the whole country for the quality of its arts and crafts, Wajima stands out for its ancestral know-how. Here, they excel in the production of lacquerware, are famous for making the huge Kiroko lanterns used during the Kiroko Matsuri Festival, and are distinguished for their suzu-style pottery designs.

Day 6: Ine | Miyazu

In Kyoto Prefecture, along the coast of the Sea of Japan, lies the charming city of Miyazu. As you explore this interesting blend of lush nature and rich heritage, you will be captivated by the numerous places of worship that dot the town, such as the Manai Shrine and Nariai-ji Temple. You will also discover one of the “Three Views of Japan”, the country’s most beautiful panoramas: Amanohashidate, a sand bar covered with 8,000 pine trees, lying between the Asokai Inland Sea and Miyazu Bay. It is known as the “bridge to heaven” and legend has it that this sand bank is a ladder that fell out of the sky and was once used by the gods Izanagi and Izanami to ascend into the clouds.​

Day 7: Uradome Coast | Tottori

 The Uradome Coast, a picturesque coastal estuary on the Sea of Japan, along the Tottori Prefecture coastline, is as surprising as it is fascinating. This major site of the UNESCO-designated San'in Kaigan Geopark will captivate you with its geological diversity, featuring white sandy beaches, shallow grottos, natural sea walls and protruding cliffs sculpted by the winds and marine erosion. Its emerald waters, which are home to rare marine biodiversity, are also perfect for nautical activities such as snorkeling, diving or kayaking.​

On the San-in coast, Tottori, the Japanese island of Honshu’s northernmost city, offers tranquillity and a change of scenery. Lined with lush forests containing mountain sanctuaries long considered to have been the homes of the gods, Tottori has retained its authenticity of yesteryear. A symbol of Japan off the beaten track, this city in the eponymous region promises to be a surprising interlude on your cruise. With good reason, since this ancient fortified city with vestiges of its past is home to the largest sand dunes in Japan. Bright sunshine, golden dunes edged by the Sea of Japan, camels with a captivating gait... Here, in this majestic landscape where wind waves rise to caress the sand giants, time seems to stand still. ​

Day 8: Busan

With around four million inhabitants, Busan is the second largest metropolis on South Korea, after Seoul. This dynamic harbor city, located in the south-east, surrounded by the warm waters of the Sea of Japan, benefits from a mild, pleasant climate. You’ll find delightful simply to stroll around the lively streets and explore the city’s outstanding cultural heritage of art galleries, museums, and Buddhist sites, such as the Haedong Yonggungsa temple, which elegantly sits on the waterfront. Rich too in magnificent beaches and superlative natural landscapes, Busan’s peaceful atmosphere will win you over, as will its inhabitants, whom you’ll have the pleasure of meeting.

Day 9: Kanmon Straits | Shimonoseki

  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Sailing in the Kanmon Straits, between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu, promises an unforgettable experience. During the crossing of this emblematic maritime passage linking the Sea of Japan to the Seto Inland Sea, fall under the spell of this traditional Japan, with its charming picturesque fishing ports and its shrines built in the heart of enchanting nature, between verdant hilly peaks and captivating granite cliffs.

On the western tip of the island of Honshu, between the Seas of Japan and Seto, Shimonoseki stands facing the Kanmon Straits. Often considered as a crossing point to reach the island of Kyushu or the Korean coastlines, this discreet but no less historic port town has a unique heritage, a result of 700 years of samurai rule. In this city of modern appearance, which was the theatre of many battles and legendary duels, an irresistible essence of the past prevails. Enjoy strolling the alleyways of its emblematic traditional market, famous for its stands of fugu (pufferfish).​

Day 10: Shimokamagari | Mitarai | Kurushima Strait

  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
The island of Shimokamagari stretches into the heart of the Seto Inland Sea, off the coast of the town of Kure, in the Hiroshima prefecture. A historical city during the feudal period, the island was the theatre of major diplomatic missions for the future and the Empire’s trade relationships, notably with repeated visits from mainly Korean, but also Chinese and Dutch, emissaries. Registered since 2017 on the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, documentary heritage of these encounters is conserved in the Shotoen Garden, one of the emblems of this lush islet. A magnificent Japanese garden with perfectly kept grounds, interspersed with raked pebbles and surrounded with majestic trees, it is home to a Rantokaku Museum complex, consisting of four exhibition rooms tracing the island’s naval history.

A charming fishing village nestling in the east of Osaki Shimojima Island, on the edge of the Seto Inland Sea, Mitarai is appreciated for its traditional charm and authentic character. A trip back in time to the Edo Period, where the hustle and bustle of modern cities is replaced by the gentle sound of fishing boats. Thanks to its 19th century wooden dwellings lining the small, narrow streets, its great causeway, its centuries-old sanctuaries and its gangi stairs, a stone structure giving on to the sea, the old town was classed as a Preservation District by the Japanese state in 1994.

Between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, in the very heart of the emblematic Seto Inland Sea, the Kurushima Strait will unveil a traditional and picturesque Japan. This 4-kilometre (2.5-mile) maritime route, with swift currents, will give you the opportunity to discover certain great feats of engineering, such as the mythical Kurushima Kaikyō Bridge. This colossal construction is the first triple bridge and the longest set of suspension bridges in the world, with a total length of 4,105 meters (almost 13,500 feet) In the footsteps of the Japanese traders from the middle of the 18th century, fall under the spell of the charming picturesque fishing ports that line this historic maritime route.​

Day 11: Onomichi | Tomonoura

  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Anchored on the northern shores of the Seto Inland Sea, in the Hiroshima prefecture, the historical city of Onomichi extends from the main island of Honshu to certain neighboring islands, linked by the bridges of the Shimanami Kaido motorway. Before becoming this peaceful town with its charming, sloping little streets, Onomichi established itself in the 7th century as a nerve center of the rice trade for the entire Japanese archipelago.  Although its activity is diminished today, the port remains at the center of the town’s culture. Onomichi now stands out for its exceptional heritage. With good reason, since it can boast over twenty temples and shrines, saved from the bombing of the Second World War. Among them are Senkō-ji, offering an outstanding panoramic view over the whole town, Saikoku-ji and its three-storied pagoda, and Jōdo-ji and its emblematic eleven-faced statue of the goddess Guanyin. ​

Anchored to the south-eastern end of the Nunakama Peninsula, facing the calm and clear waters of the Seto Inland Sea, Tomonoura is a destination particularly appreciated for its authentic and old-fashioned atmosphere that gives it an incomparable charm. In the past used as a port where boats would moor while waiting for a favorable wind, the charming and picturesque village now serves to inspire many filmmakers and artists. With good reason, since its craggy landscapes, its cherry trees in blossom, its gentle way of life, its traditional wooden houses and its port, preserved since the Edo era, notably enabled the artist Hayao Miyazaki to make the animated film Ponyo.​

Day 12: Osaka | Disembark

  • 1 Breakfast
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 specialities: takoyaki, made with octopus, and other succulent dishes such as kushikatsu kebabs.​


Le Soleal

Enjoy a show in the movie theater.
Bar and lounge with a view.
Restaurant aboard the Le Soleal.

Dates & Prices

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Superior Stateroom
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Superior Stateroom
The Superior Stateroom has a capacity of up to 3 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds.
Deluxe Stateroom
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Deluxe Stateroom
The Deluxe Stateroom has a capacity of up to 2 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and a private balcony.
Prestige Stateroom
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Prestige Stateroom Deck 4
The Prestige Stateroom on Deck 4 has a capacity of up to 2 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and a private balcony.
Prestige Stateroom
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Prestige Stateroom Deck 5
The Prestige Stateroom on Deck 5 has a capacity of up to 2 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and a private balcony.
Prestige Stateroom
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Prestige Stateroom Deck 6
The Prestige Stateroom on Deck 6 has a capacity of up to 2 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and a private balcony.
Deluxe Suite
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Deluxe Suite
The Deluxe Suite has a capacity of up to 2 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and a private balcony.
Prestige Suite
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Prestige Suite Deck 5
The Prestige Suite on Deck 5 has a capacity of up to 4 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and an 8m² private balcony.
Prestige Suite
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Prestige Suite Deck 6
The Prestige Suite on Deck 6 has a capacity of up to 4 passengers per cabin, with a king-sized bed or twin beds and an 8m² private balcony.
Owner's Suite
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Owner Suite
The Owner's suite is situated on Deck 6 with a capacity up to 2 passengers per cabin. With a king-sized bed, it has been decorated by French interior designers and provides you with a breathtaking panoramic sea view.


Please note:
Fares are based on double occupancy and are capacity controlled. Rates may increase at any time as the ship sells out and are subject to change without notice.

Discounts are available for children sharing a cabin with two adults and third adult passengers in select cabin categories. Please contact us for details.

Single travelers can opt for a solo cabin - supplements start at 50%.
  • 11 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 11 Dinners
  • 11 Nights Accommodations
  • Accommodations as listed
  • Ground transportation as listed
  • Activities as listed
  • Meals as listed
  • Access to a 24-7 Emergency line while traveling
  • Port Fees
  • Unlimited Wifi
  • Onboard Entertainment 
  • Captain’s Welcome Cocktail and Gala Dinner
  • Gratuities to Onboard Crew
  • “Open Bar” (pouring wines, house champagne, alcohol except premium brands...list available upon request)
  • 24h Room Service (special selection)
  • English-Speaking Lecturer 
  • Highly experienced and bilingual (French-English) expedition staff
  • Park Entry Fees into Protected Areas
  • Water sports activities (except scuba diving) using the ship’s equipment, when permitted by local authorities and confirmed by ship Master according to safety and sea conditions onsite. 
  • Travel Insurance
  • Personal Expenses
  • Flight costs (please request a quote)
  • Fuel and transportation surcharges (when applicable)
  • Visa Fees
  • Optional Excursions - Ponant allows you to pre-book your excursions approximately six to two months prior to the cruise* departure. Please note that this is subject to change. Please contact us for more details.
  • Any ground services before and/or after the cruise other than the ones mentioned
  • Luggage Handling 
  • Laundry Services, Hair Salon, and à La Carte Spa Treatments
  • Pre or post cruise programs, overland programs or shore excursions 
  • Beverages other than the ones mentioned in inclusions
  • CDP recommends that every Traveler has full and adequate travel insurance covering the risks of cancellation, assistance being required, repatriation, damages to and loss of baggage, and medical expenses



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