Tour begins: The St. Regis Osaka, The Ritz-Carlton Osaka or The Conrad Osaka. A transfer is included from Osaka's Kansai Int'l Airport or Itami Airport to The St. Regis Osaka, The Ritz-Carlton Osaka or The Conrad Osaka. After settling in to your hotel, depart for a Tauck Exclusive evening including a welcome reception followed by a Geiko / Geisha cultural lecture and performance and a welcome dinner.
Temples and traditions of Kyoto
Travel today from your hotel in Osaka to nearby Kyoto, and immerse yourself in the loveliness of this classic city of 2,000 temples and shrines. Like a divine dream the Zen Golden Pavilion, bathed in gold leaf and capped by a golden phoenix, sits in a landscape design meticulously preserved since the 1400s, with a strategically placed pond that hauntingly reflects the shimmering golden temple. Next visit the Sanjusagen-do, a Buddhist temple in Kyoto's Higashiyama District - officially called "Rengeo-in" ("Hall of the Lotus King"). After lunch at a local restaurant, attend a traditional Japanese Taiko drumming experience and explore more of Kyoto before returning to your hotel in Osaka. (Please note that sightseeing on days 2 and 3 may alternate.)
Exploring historic Nara
Head to the city of Nara this morning to visit Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple), a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the city's powerful Seven Great Temples. Its Great Buddha Hall houses the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana, known in Japanese as Daibutsu. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site officially called the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara," Todai-ji temple also serves as headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism in Japan. You'll note that deer roam the grounds freely; they are regarded as messengers of the gods in the Shinto religion. After lunch at a local restaurant, enjoy a pleasant visit to Nara Park at the foot of Mount Wakakusa; established in the 14th century, it is one of the oldest public parks in Japan and is considered a national treasure - as are the more than 1,200 free-roaming wild sika deer that call the park home. Return to your Osaka hotel for an evening spent as you please.
Osaka discoveries & embark Le Soléal in Maizuru
Begin the day with a walking tour of Osaka's Dotumburi district, and tour other areas of this famed Japanese city. After lunch at a local restaurant in Osaka, take a scenic drive to the port of pretty Maizuru, tucked in a bay off an inlet of the Sea of Japan, where your yacht Le Soléal awaits. Begin your cruise along the southwestern coast of Honshu, the largest island in the Japanese archipelago, bound for Sakaiminato.
Sakaiminato and Matsue's black castle
Arrive this morning in Sakaiminato, Western Japan's fishing industry center, for an excursion to Matsue, known as "the water city" for its river, canals, and setting on two lakes and the Sea of Japan. Weather permitting, take in the great view of the city and beyond from the feudal fortress, the Black Castle, which presides over the city in solemn majesty. Begin the day ashore with a visit to the Adachi Museum of Art, then return to the ship for lunch. This afternoon, you may choose to shuttle into Sakaiminato to explore the town as you please, or head off on an excursion to Matsue and a visit to the famous Black Castle. After returning to Le Soléal and setting sail for Busan in Korea, please join us onboard for the captain's welcome dinner tonight.
Sail on to Busan, South Korea
Your crossing of the Strait of Korea to Busan, South Korea, today is a perfect time to enjoy some of the amenities aboard ship. After docking in Busan, city sightseeing includes the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, honoring troops from many nations who fell during the Korean War; and a tour of the renowned Jagalchi Fish Market, a traditional seafood market on Busan's waterfront, and the largest in the country. In Korea as in Japan, seafood has been a mainstay of local cuisine for millennia, and your visit to this vast cooperative market offers an in-depth look at this longstanding cultural tradition. Return to the ship this afternoon and set sail for Nagasaki.
A day well spent in Nagasaki
Le Soléal arrives in the port city of Nagasaki for a day filled with historic sights. In the morning, visit the Nagasaki Peace Park, graced with notable monuments and memorials, and the Atomic Bomb Museum. After lunch aboard ship, return for a choice of activities this afternoon: a visit to Glover Gardens, an al fresco museum memorializing the Europeans who settled in Nagasaki in the late 19th century; or an excursion on the Mt. Inasa Ropeway, which takes visitors from Nagasaki to the top of Mt. Inasa, rising to the west of the city. Return to the ship for dinner, and continue your cruise to Kagoshima.
From a volcano to a peace museum in Kagoshima
Called the "Naples of Japan" for its location on a bay, Kagoshima lies on the southwestern tip of Japan's southernmost main island, Kyushu. You'll have your choice of three excursions in the Kagoshima area today. One invites you to take a short ferry ride from Kagoshima across the bay to see Sakurajima (which means "Cherry Blossom Island"), an active volcano that most recently had a series of small eruptions in 2016 and 2017; take a guided scenic drive around the former island (now connected to the mainland by lava flows), and stop at its visitor information center to learn about Sakurajima's volcanic history... and immerse your feet in a volcanic hot spring! Or visit Sengan-en Garden, a traditional Japanese garden and stately home in Kagoshima, passed down in the Shimadzu family for over 350 years. The charming garden, filled with Banzai trees and manicured lawns, boasts spectacular views of Sakurajima across the bay, while the house provides a glimpse into the lifestyle of a powerful feudal lord of centuries past. Your third choice, in nearby Chiran, is a visit to this well-preserved samurai district's Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots, on the site of a former airstrip used by Kamikaze pilots during World War II, and dedicated to the need for everlasting peace. Return to the ship for lunch.
Choices galore in Uwajima
Today provides a rare chance to spend a morning in a rural area around the port city of Uwajima on Shikoku, with a choice of three excursions. One takes you into the countryside to visit a pearl farm - where you'll view a hatchery and see farmers working on bamboo rafts from which baskets of pearl oysters are suspended in the water for culturing - and the 16th-century Dairakuji temple, known as Musasabi-dera ("Flying Squirrel Temple") for the wild flying squirrels that live there, for an eclectic tour led by a Buddhist monk. Another explores Nanrakuen Garden, the largest traditional garden on Shikoku, presenting a series of beautiful gardens based on themes of "mountain, village, city, and sea;" your guided visit includes a walk through the exquisitely maintained gardens, a calligraphy demonstration and a tea ceremony. A third choice includes a visit to a series of danbata (terraced fields) that form a "staircase" on a steep mountain slope, appearing to roll right down the hillside and into the sea; and a walk through the forest to a beautiful waterfall in Yakushidani Canyon outside Uwajima. This evening, Le Soléal sails for Hiroshima.
In your next port of call, Hiroshima, you'll set off on a morning sightseeing tour and visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and sites associated with the WWII atomic bomb blast of August 1945. After lunch at a local restaurant serving regional fare, you can choose to visit the iconic Miyajima-Itsukushima Shrine that seems to float on water (a photographer's dream); or take a tour of the local Mazda factory. This evening, set sail for Uno Ko.
Art, bicycling & beer in Uno Ko & environs
Anchor in Tamano and travel to the old merchant town of Kurashiki for a walking tour of its historic quarter, where warehouses, shops, and mills remain virtually unchanged by time, and weeping willows line a koi-filled canal. Another Kurashiki treasure, the Ohara Museum of Art, reveals a great collection of Western art, including works by Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, El Greco, and Pollack. After lunch onboard L'Austral, you'll have a choice of three activities this afternoon. On one, you'll ferry to the unique little island of Naoshima, exclusively devoted to art installations and the work of the world-class architect Tadao Ando. Wander through the Art Houses Project, traditional houses transformed into stand-alone art projects; the Ando Museum; and the Benesse House Museum, designed by Ando to express and explore coexistence among nature, art, and architecture. Another choice is a bicycle ride through Uno Ko. Beer is considered by many to be the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan... and your third choice today is a visit to Kirin Yokohama Beer Village, one of nine factories of the Japan Kirin Group. Your tour winds its way around parts of the factory, offering views from above through observation windows of various parts of the manufacturing process. As you watch, thousands of cans and bottles of beer shoot through factory machines at incredibly high speeds... and some 2,000 cans of beer are filled and packed every minute! Near the end of the tour, you arrive at the tasting bar, where you can sample your choice of several varieties of Kirin beers. Back onboard ship, enjoy your captain's farewell dinner tonight as Le Soléal sails for Osaka.
Disembark Osaka & Bullet Train to Tokyo
Disembark Le Soléal in Osaka, and take a ride on the Bullet Train to Tokyo, where you'll arrive in time for lunch at a local restaurant. After checking in at your premier Tokyo hotel, join your local guide for a walking tour introducing you to the city's famed luxury shopping district of Ginza. Enjoy dinner and time to check out Japan's inimitable capital city on your own this evening.
From shrines to sumo in Tokyo
Plunge into an eclectic day in cosmopolitan Tokyo with a visit to the Meiji Shrine, plus a guided tour of the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Lunch is at a local restaurant before an afternoon of poking around on your own. Finish the day in style with our farewell reception and dinner at Happo-en with traditional music and what's sure to be a highlight of your cruise adventure in Japan, an unforgettable sumo wrestling demonstration that has to be seen to be believed.
Tour ends: Tokyo. Fly home anytime. A transfer is included from the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, the Shangri La Hotel, Tokyo or the Palace Hotel, Tokyo to Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport. Allow a minimum of three hours for flight check-in.