Japan and South Korea: From Kobe to Hokkaido

Gardens, Temples, and Historical Sites aboard the Silver Explorer


The Japanese have a saying, “One life, one encounter”: Embrace the moment and live this life to its fullest. This fascinating cruise begins in Kobe, Japan, sails around the southern tip of the main island, across the Sea of Japan to Busan, South Korea, and up to Hokkaido. Both ultra-modern and deep with ancient history, Japan is a colorful contradiction. Meander through the incredible Koraku-en Garden in Okayama and the Ritsurin Garden in Shikoku, one of the most beautiful strolling gardens in all of Japan. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a powerful place to reflect, as are the Hagi Castle ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Explore the “museum without walls” in Gyeongju, and the Bulguksa Temple, a religious architectural complex considered a masterpiece of Far Eastern Buddhist Art. In the small harbor town of Otaru, traditional stone and brick warehouses have been converted to gleaming new restaurants and boutiques in true Japanese style—honoring the past while embracing the moment.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Day 1, Jun 7, 2020
Kobe, Japan

Located on the calm waters of the Inland Sea, Kobe has served as an important port town for hundreds of years. It was one of the first harbors to accept foreign traders in 1868 when Japan was just emerging from its centuries of isolation. What followed was a surge of Western trade and exports. Today, Kobe is quite multicultural, with expatriates from 98 different nations in residence, providing a cultural diversity most easily visible in restaurants serving every kind of cuisine, including the now world famous Kobe beef. The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 set back Kobe’s development, but not for long. Kobe emerged more vibrant than before—with additional attractions, hotels and urban redevelopment, and only a few remnants of the extensive damage. It is a cosmopolitan place with lively shopping arcades, interesting museums, great restaurants, and a port that is still at the heart of things. Kobe is well known for its nightlife, in an intimate quarter of neon lights, cosy bars and sophisticated nightclubs. It also serves as the gateway to the ancient Japanese capitals of Kyoto and Nara.

Day 2, Jun 8, 2020
Okayama, Japan

Okayama is an important transportation hub and one of the largest cities of the Chugoku Region. It is famous because it has one of Japan’s most significant gardens. Although the “Korakuen” Garden was severely damaged by bombs in WWII, the descriptions and paintings from the Edo period permitted an exact reconstruction. It is one of the “Three Gardens of Japan” and has been designated a “Special Scenic Location”. Known formerly as the centre of rice-distribution in the Okayama area, many old warehouses next to the preserved canal have been converted into museums, boutiques and cafes. Another attraction is the Ohara Museum, which was the first Japanese Museum to permanently exhibit Western Art. Specializing in French Art at the beginning, it has an eclectic mix of paintings and objects by El Greco, Renoir, Gauguin, Pissarro, Degas, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Rodin, and Picasso, as well as pieces from Jackson Pollock, de Chirico and Jasper Johns.

Day 3, Jun 9, 2020
Takamatsu, Japan

Takamatsu city is the capital of Kagawa prefecture which is Japan’s smallest prefecture. This city is a vibrant blend of natural beauty and cosmopolitan functionality with a population of 420,000 people. The port of Takamatsu used to be the main gateway to Shikoku Island until the opening of the 37km long Seto Ohashi Bridge in 1988. Takamatsu city has flourished along with the Seto Inland Sea since 17th century when Matsudaira family, the relatives of the Tokugawa Shogun, ruled this area. Matsudaira family has completed the famous Japanese “Ritsurin Garden”. It took more than 100 years to complete this spacious garden with 75 hectares of land which features 13 landscaped hills, 6 ponds and many stone arrangements that have been placed in perfect balance in front of a vast green vista of Mt. Shiun. This garden was constructed as a villa of Matsudaira family and it attracts many visitors from all over the world. Furthermore, Takamatsu is a great place to find fresh seafood and famous Sanuki Udon noodles.

Day 4, Jun 10, 2020
Miyajima Island / Hiroshima, Japan

The small island of Miyajima (“The Shrine Island”) is known for the Floating Torii Gate, which is one of “The Three Most Beautiful Views” of Japan. Built in the water, the Torii Gate leads to the Itsukushima Shrine and at high tide it seems to float. The Torii Gate is one of the most photographed sites in all of Japan. There are many more shrines and paths on Miyajima that are inviting to walk. Mount Misen has a cable car leading partly up to the top with nice views and wild monkeys and deer roaming the trails.

History buffs will want to write home about Hiroshima. Despite being devastated in 1945, this Japanese city is known to all for its commitment to peace—its ruin on the 6th August 1945 led to the end of the war and today, the Peace Memorial (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) , is a constant reminder of the destruction that war brings. A walk in the leafy boulevards of Peace Memorial Park brings quiet contemplation. The Flames of Peace—set in the park’s central feature pond—burn brightly and will continue to do so until all the nuclear bombs in the world have been destroyed. There are many other inspiring messages of hope around the city too; the Children’s’ Peace Monument just north of the park is a homage to little Sadako Sasaki, who was just two in 1945. When she developed leukemia in 1956, she believed that if she folded 1,000 paper cranes—a symbol of longevity and happiness in Japan—she would recover. Sadly she died before she finished her task but her classmates finished the rest. It is impossible to ignore the events of 1945 in Hiroshima, but this is far from a depressing place. The great efforts that have been made in rebuilding of the city over the years have given Hiroshima a vibrant, eclectic edge, with the downtown shopping area and street food stalls being well worth a visit. The proximity to Miyajima and its iconic, impressive, Torii gate should not be overlooked either. If you are lucky enough to visit during the unpredictable and short-lived Sakura (cherry blossom) season, then the extraordinary sight of the delicate pink blossom floating across the water to the red gate, means you can consider yourself one of the luckiest people on the planet.

Day 5, Jun 11, 2020
Hagi, Japan

Hagi is a former castle town located in the middle of Yamaguchi prefecture along the coast of the Sea of Japan. It is surrounded by the ocean, mountains, and Abugawa River. Early in the 17th century, Terumoto Mori built Hagi Castle at the foot of Mt. Shizuki-yama, and the area served as the seat of the Yamaguchi prefecture government until the middle of 19th century. Around then, Hagi produced many capable men who played a leading role in the construction of modern day Japan, including Hirobumi Ito who became the first prime minister in Japan. You will still see a castle town itself which was built 400 years ago and you can get the feel of what it was like during the Samurai period. Don't miss the Hagi-yaki pottery which was brought from Korea in the early 17th century. Its color is very unique and changes over time due to its porous nature. You can find many craft shops specialized for Hagi-yaki pottery all over the town. Last but not least, do not forget that Hagi is also famous for summer tangerines, and there are several shops which sells soft ice cream with summer tangerine flavor.

Day 6, Jun 12, 2020
Busan, South Korea

White-sand city beaches and hot-spring resorts may not be everyone's first image of Korea, but these are the reason Koreans flock to Busan all year. There are plenty of opportunities for rest, relaxation, retail therapy, and even a touch of glamor every October with the Busan International Film Festival. Busan's beaches are the big summertime draw but there is plenty to be seen year round. Quintessential experiences include soaking up some rest and relaxation at a local spa and exploring the Beomeosa temple complex.

Day 7, Jun 13, 2020
Day at Sea

As you make your way across the sea towards Sakaiminato, take advantage of the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate before you continue full days of exploration.

Day 8, Jun 14, 2020
Sakaiminato, Japan

Sakaiminato is a small city almost totally surrounded by water: the Sea of Japan to the east, the Sakai Channel to the north and Lake Nakaumi to the west. Across the lake are the picturesque towns of Matsue and Yasugi. Matsue is known as the “Town of Water” next to scenic Lake Shinji and Lake Nakaumi. It has one of the very few wooden castles that still remain in Japan. Touring the castle and boat rides on the Horikawa River and the castle’s moat are popular. Yasugi has the Adachi Museum of Art, a private museum that houses one of the finest collections of contemporary Japanese paintings, but also has a 165,000 square meters garden—with plants and rocks collected by the museum’s founder. Six different gardens show different scenarios depending on the season. These gardens have been selected as “Japan’s best garden” for several years.

Day 9, Jun 15, 2020
Kanazawa, Japan

The capital of the Ishikawa Prefecture, Kanazawa, once rivaled Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo) as a town rich in cultural achievements. Kanazawa escaped destruction during World War II and has been able to preserve many of the old districts. The city is famous because of Kenrokuen. Located next to Kanazawa Castle, Kenrokuen is classified as “One of the Three Gardens of Japan”. The garden has an artificial pond, Japan’s oldest fountain using natural water pressure, and a tea house dating back to 1774. Nearby is the Higashi Chaya Gai Geisha District, designated a National Cultural Asset and the biggest of the Geisha districts of Kanazawa. Some of the houses not only retain the original structure, but are still used as Geisha houses. Traditional shops line many of the streets, and many are filled with lacquer ware, Kutani-style pottery, gold-leaf workmanship, and delicately painted silk kimonos.

Day 10, Jun 16, 2020
Day at Sea

Catch up on your rest and reading, relax in the lounge or on one of the observation decks, and reflect on your amazing journey while gazing out at the sea.

Day 11, Jun 17, 2020
Hakodate (Hokkaido), Japan

Facing out on two bays, Hakodate is a 19th-century port town, with clapboard buildings on sloping streets, a dockside tourist zone, streetcars, and fresh fish on every menu. In the downtown historic quarter, a mountain rises 1,100 feet above the city on the southern point of the narrow peninsula. Russians, Americans, Chinese, and Europeans have all left their mark; this was one of the first three Japanese ports the Meiji government opened up to international trade in 1859. The main sights around the foot of Mt. Hakodate can be done in a day, but the city is best appreciated with an overnight stay for the illumination in the historic area, the night views from either the mountain or the fort tower, and the fish market at dawn. City transport is easy to navigate and English information is readily available. Evening departure trains from Tokyo arrive here at dawn—perfect for fish-market breakfasts.

Day 12, Jun 18, 2020
Otaru (Hokkaido), Japan

Otaru is a small harbor city west of Sapporo. Famous for its many hills and nearby ski resort, the town was once an important trade and herring fishing center. A wide canal that led from the port to the old town’s warehouses has been maintained for tourists, and the old stone and brick warehouses have been converted to restaurants and boutiques.



Visit Okayama, home to the beautiful Koraku-en Garden, rebuilt after WWII to its original, exquisite state
Explore the Ritsurin Garden on Takamatsu island featuring six ponds, 13 hills, a waterfall, bamboo forest, tea house, cherry, plum, and pine trees
Pay your respects at the Hiroshima Memorial Park and visit the Peace Memorial Musuem
Tour the Hagi Castle ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stroll through the traditional Japanese-style streets and temples of Hagi
Shop in Kanazawa, known for its lacquerware, Kutani-style pottery, gold leaf workmanship, and delicate silk kimonos


Length: 12 days
Cost From: TBA  
Arrive: Kobe, Japan
Depart: Otaru, Japan
Lodging: 11 nights aboard a 144-passenger expedition vessel
Meals: All meals aboard ship included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Cultural Adventures, Photography, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

12-day cruise, cultural explorations and walking tours
Cruise collection 2020 brochure

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