Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan’s Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Immerse in Island Idylls
Dotting the tranquil Seto Inland Sea, the islands provide an escape into a world apart from the bustle of Japan’s major cities. On this luxury expedition cruise, you’ll have the chance to discover idyllic islands that seem frozen in time.
One highlight is Ine, a unique fishing village on the northern coast of Kyoto Prefecture’s Miyazu Bay. Here, funaya boat houses line the shore, with the top floor acting as the living quarters for generations of fishermen and the bottom floor storing their boats. Taking a funaya cruise lets you glide through mangrove thickets in this scenic area designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty by the government.
The island of Shiraishi is home to Kosanji Temple, whose thatched roof stands out beautifully against the blue sky. Dating back over 1,300 years, this Buddhist temple lets you immerse yourself in quiet contemplation surrounded by ancient cypress trees. Inside, marvel at the colorful ornamentation before stopping to feed the swans at the neighboring pond.
On Shodoshima, olive groves spread over hillsides once dotted with soybean fields. At the Olive Park, stroll under the trees and visit the olive-oil themed shops and restaurants. This island is also home to a replica of Italy’s Angel Road, a narrow sandbar connecting to Kanka Island that disappears at high tide. At low tide, cross over to explore this tiny islet.
Another highlight is Omishima Island, home to the Omishima Museum of Art. Focusing on modern Japanese ceramics, it provides a contrast to the island’s traditional rural scenery. Nearby Oyamazumi Shrine has centuries-old camphor trees shading its approach. Housing national treasures, it provides an intimate look at Japanese religion.
Throughout the cruise, stops on small islands let you soak up scenic coastal scenery. On Okamura Island, known for its camellias, stroll through Mushiage Park to see native plants and majestic pines. Watch local women dive for oysters and seaweed near Kure Island. At Mimaura, explore sea caves carved by waves.
What else is in this post?
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Immerse in Island Idylls
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Discover Historic Port Towns
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Savor Fresh Seafood Delicacies
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Marvel at Majestic Castles and Shrines
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Unwind in Natural Hot Spring Onsens
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Explore Off-The-Beaten-Path Gems
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Witness Living Traditions and Folk Arts
- Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Cruise in Comfort and Style
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Discover Historic Port Towns
The port city of Matsuyama on Shikoku Island dates back over 400 years. Its crowning jewel is Matsuyama Castle, one of Japan’s twelve original castles. Perched on Mount Katsuyama, its iconic black walls and structures seem to grow out of the misty greenery. Ride the cable car or chairlift up and wander through the castle grounds, peeking at artifacts in the smaller turrets. The main castle stands proudly on the peak, providing panoramic views over the city.
Another highlight is Mitarai, a small port town on the island of Oshima. In the Edo period, it flourished as a commercial distribution center. Today, historic storehouses still line the main street leading to the waterfront. Inside the Samurai Residence, you can glimpse what life was like for the warriors, merchants, and townspeople. Quieter than other destinations, this area provides an intimate look into traditional Japan.
The port city of Imabari lies at the base of the Kurushima-Kaikyo Bridge, connecting Shikoku to Honshu. This modern suspension bridge doesn’t detract from Imabari’s old-fashioned appeal. Historic buildings downtown house cafes, shops, and the Imabari Towel Museum detailing the origin of this local craft. Nearby is the preserved streetscape of Kogakkan, showcasing a 19th century school. Students come to pay respects at the memorial to war victims who once studied there.
On Shiraishi Island, Kochi was an important castle town for centuries. Kochi Castle has an original keep, unlike many reconstructions around Japan. Climb to the top floor for panoramic views and explore the artifacts showcasing feudal history. Nearby are preserved streets like Namba-machi, still seeming frozen in time. Wander past traditional buildings and through Nichiyo-ichi Market to browse local foods and goods.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Savor Fresh Seafood Delicacies
The Seto Inland Sea is a bountiful source of fresh and delicious seafood, much of it caught each morning by small fishing boats and brought directly to shore. Savoring the catch of the day while cruising through this aquatic wonderland is a highlight for many travelers.
On a luxury sailing trip, you’ll likely dine on exquisitely prepared seafood platters almost daily. Your expert chef will transform the mackerel, amberjack, blowfish, octopus, shrimp, crab and shellfish of the Seto Inland Sea into culinary masterpieces. Meals feature artistic presentations with a focus on letting the natural flavors shine through. You may start your day with a Japanese breakfast spread of grilled fish, tamagoyaki omelette, rice and miso soup. At lunch, feast on sashimi so fresh it seems to shimmer. Come evening, sit down to multicourse tasting menus artfully infused with regional ingredients.
In port, get a taste of seafood prepared by local chefs and fishermen. On Ikuchi Island, visit the Itokazu Shoten fish market to see the morning's catch laid out in wooden boxes. Chat with the vendors about that day's treasures before selecting your own ingredients for them to grill on the spot. The just-caught fish prepared simply with a bit of salt epitomizes the Japanese concept of umami.
In Saikazaki, wander the marketplace to glimpse wriggling octopus, glittering squid and strange creatures of the deep before settling on the perfect seafood skewers from Meoto Hikiyose's stall. Their warm hospitality matches the cheerful atmosphere as fishermen banter over meals. Order the mentaiko spaghetti dotted with marinated pollock roe for a local twist on a noodle classic.
For a leisurely multicourse seafood extravaganza, book a table at Umiichi in Fukuyama city. Chef Hiroshi Fukuda elevates seasonal seafood into exquisite cuisine reflecting French and Japanese influences. His regularly changing omakase menu may feature hamaguri clam chowder, tilefish with lime foam or tender abalone grilled with butter. Everything is cooked to enhance natural flavors and textures. With its intimate atmosphere and dazzling flavors, Umiichi offers an unforgettable fine dining experience.
In Marugame sits Kappou Kenji, a small restaurant renowned for serving the area's famous sanuki udon noodles with delicious seafood toppings. Slurp up plump tempura shrimp resting atop a mound of steaming noodles, or try mentaiko cod roe and shiso for an umami flavor bomb. The homemade udon's delightful chewy texture makes for the perfect hearty lunch.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Marvel at Majestic Castles and Shrines
Upon drifting through the island-speckled seas, majestic castles and tranquil shrines rise up along the shores of the Seto Inland Sea. These stunning historical structures transport you back through centuries of culture and tradition unique to this region.
Stepping ashore on Shodo Island, you’re greeted by the impressive white walls and soaring black roofs of Matsuyama Castle. Constructed over four decades in the early 17th century, this was one of a chain of castles built by the daimyo lords to protect their clans. A ride up the hillside via chairlift provides panoramic views of the layered stone walls hugging the slopes. Within the castle grounds, you’ll discover picturesque turrets housing artifacts that bring Japan’s feudal history to life. The main five-story castle stands proudly on the peak, its stark white contrasting beautifully with the surrounding greenery. Gazing out over miles of red-tiled rooftops in the city below evokes the power these fortresses held over ancient strongholds.
Inland near Hiroshima floats Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its iconic vermillion torii gate that seems to float on the waters at high tide. First built in the 12th century, the shrine’s pier-like structures and pagoda blend harmoniously into the natural backdrop of sacred Miyajima Island. Walking the wooden corridors lined with ornate lanterns, you’re transported back through centuries of spiritual history. Nearby, the majestic five-storied pagoda contrasts beautifully with the shrine’s understated elegance.
On Shiraishi Island, the thatched roof and ancient timbers of Kosanji Temple transport you to a simpler time over 1,300 years ago. Surrounded by towering cypress trees, the main worship hall exudes a profound serenity. Inside, marvel at the ornate golden altar and brightly painted ceiling before meandering through tranquil gardens with lily pad-dotted ponds. Feed the swans gliding across the glassy waters as you reflect on the temple's eight centuries of heritage.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Unwind in Natural Hot Spring Onsens
After days spent exploring historic sites and marveling at scenic vistas, unwinding in a rejuvenating onsen is the perfect way to restore body and mind. Natural hot spring baths have been treasured for centuries in Japan for their therapeutic mineral waters. While public bathhouses can be found across the country, the Seto Inland Sea boasts over 700 onsen resorts and baths to soak your cares away.
Onsen waters contain minerals like sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride and iron that can relax muscles, improve circulation and treat skin conditions. Bathing in an onsen’s naturally-heated waters feels intensely soothing. At Yutoku Inari Shrine on Ikuchijima Island, bathe in open-air rocky pools filled from a sacred ancient spring believed to have healing powers. Let the heat seep into weary bones as you gaze out at verdant cliffs and crashing waves.
Many onsen resorts offer stunning seaside settings. Utsukushima Onsen on Aki Island has open-air baths on terraces overlooking the Seto Inland Sea. As the sun sets in hues of coral and gold, relax in tranquility and reflect on your journey. At Shiroyama Hotel in Saikazaki, bath in stone pools as the sea breeze caresses your skin. Stay in a Japanese-style guestroom for the ultimate rejuvenating retreat.
For a luxurious hot spring experience, stay at Yamatoya Honten on Miyajima Island, famous for its momiji manju maple leaf-shaped cakes. Guests indulge in multi-course gourmet feasts featuring ingredients from the sea and mountains. Afterward, unwind in their ultra-modern spa with regionally-inspired treatments and soaks in hinoki cypress baths. With its exquisite hospitality and rejuvenating waters, Yamatoya Honten is an unforgettable place to restore your spirit.
While many onsen resorts limit baths to same-sex guests, cruise travelers can indulge in private onsen experiences. At secluded Iwashiro Onsen, reserved bathing times let couples and families soak together in utter tranquility. Outdoor baths built of aromatic cypress wood feel like a personal oasis. For onshore luxury, book an onsen kaiseki experience in Imabari. After a relaxing soak and spa treatment, indulge in a multicourse meal of the area's finest seafood delicacies.
Public bathhouses known as sento also offer a memorable cultural experience. At Shikoku Mura Village on Shikoku Island, bath in gender-separated indoor tubs infused with mineral-rich hot spring waters. After your soak, explore this peaceful village showcasing traditional architecture, crafts and performing arts.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Explore Off-The-Beaten-Path Gems
Though many know of Japan's dazzling cities and famous sites, hidden gems sprinkled across the Seto Inland Sea beckon off-the-beaten-path travelers longing to glimpse authentic local life. Venturing beyond tourist hotspots rewards intrepid explorers with experiences that delve deep into traditional culture. From sleepy fishing villages to UNESCO-listed agricultural regions, the backroads and rural islands of this aquatic wonderland offer untouched vistas of everyday Japanese lifestyles.
On Takeshima Island, uncover a rarely-seen side of Japan wandering through olive groves while sampling fruity green oils. At Olive Park, learn first-hand about revitalizing this marginal island’s agriculture through olive cultivation. Stroll under trees dotting seaside cliffs for views that look plucked from the Mediterranean. Trying olive ice cream at the café is a must.
Near Matsuyama, the restored buildings of Uchiko preserve the atmosphere of a prosperous 19th century Japanese town. Wander narrow lanes like Omicho lined with houses belonging to former soy sauce barons. Inside Uchiko-za, a traditional kabuki theater, you can glimpse performing arts heritage through exhibits of elaborately painted backdrops and mannequins dressed for the stage. Beyond town lies the Yokaichi Plain, whose ingenious irrigation system earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. Seeing the orderly web of canals slicing through green rice paddies feels like gazing back through centuries of agricultural ingenuity.
On Oshima Island, visit coworking space Bamboo Moment’s café tucked inside a 100-year-old house. Sip award-winning coffee on tatami mats beside exposed timber beams. Rustic charm here contrasts with digital nomads busily typing away. The remote island location draws those seeking scenic escapes where they can still plug in.
While many tourists flock to Hiroshima’s atomic bomb memorials, the prefecture’s southern islands hold poignant yet overlooked history. On Ninoshima Island, what was once a quarantine center for European refugees of World War I is now the evocative Camp Traces museum. Inside Japan’s only remaining quarantine facility, glimpse medical instruments along with immigrants’ personal effects like suitcases and shoes. The devastating 1918 Spanish flu amplified hardships for Russians, Jews and others displaced by war who were confined on this island far from home.
Near Takehara on Honshu, walk through the serene bamboo forest of Takehara Bamboo Grove Park. The leafy canopy filters the sunshine into ethereal beams of light. Formed as a preservation effort in the 1920s, this peaceful oasis transports you centuries back with its timeless beauty. Stop at Kosanji Temple to feed swans gliding across the mossy pond.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Witness Living Traditions and Folk Arts
Immersing in the living heritage of traditional crafts and performing arts brings Japan’s rich culture vibrantly to life. Throughout the Seto Inland Sea, artisans carry forward folk arts passed down through generations while festivals let you glimpse sacred rituals honoring the gods. Witnessing these celebrations connects you to the spiritual essence of communities rooted in ages-old customs.
On Suo-Oshima, the vortex of sound and motion that is a Yosakoi dance will enthuse you with its infectious joy. Originating in Kochi, yosakoi fuses traditional dance with modern music in high-energy choreographies. Troupes in colorful costumes dance through the streets waving naruko wooden clappers during summer festivals. As taiko drumbeats and folk songs resound, you can’t help but tap your feet and clap along with beaming dancers parading by. Joining in synchronic dances like the popular “Yosakoi Naruko Odori” forges bonds across cultures.
Inagi’s tradition of indigo dyeing produces the deep blue hue favored for Japanese textiles throughout history. At Kobaien, artisans demonstrate centuries-old techniques like hand-binding and fermenting indigo plants. Trying your hand at traditional wax resist designs lets you appreciate the meticulous craftsmanship behind kanoko shibori dots and intricate patterns. Other workshops let you practice Japanese pottery styles and origami arts.
Across the Seto Inland Sea, women free dive without oxygen tanks to rake seaweed, oysters and abalone from seabeds. Watching them surface with baskets brimming with that day’s catch illuminates an ancient livelihood still thriving today. On picturesque Kure Island, female ama divers head out early, returning later to sort seaweed and shellfish at the port. Chat with them during a homecooked lunch to learn about their unique sisterhood.
While visiting temples and shrines, you may catch snippets of ethereal gagaku music or glimpse monks performing ritual bugaku dances. At Konpira Shrine on Shikoku, these stately dances honor the gods through elegant choreography and courtly costumes. The haunting harmonies of wind, string and percussion instruments convey gagaku’s otherworldly beauty. Though originally introduced through Silk Road cultural exchange, it remains integral to imperial and sacred traditions today. Opportunities to experience live performances of Japan’s classical arts prove captivating and rare.
Master craftsmen carry on revered artistic disciplines like Noh theater masks carved from Japanese cypress. Noh’s expressive masks represent roles from spirits to warriors. Yoshikawa Inosuke’s workshop displays his family’s 300-year mask carving heritage. Dramatic colors and designs contrast with white facial features to create striking personas. Trying on these timeless masks lets you look through the outward appearance into profound inner emotions.
Cruise the Calm Seas: Upscale Expedition Brings Japan's Scenic Seto Inland Sea to Discerning Travelers - Cruise in Comfort and Style
Luxury cruising through the Seto Inland Sea elevates sightseeing into a refined affair. On exclusively chartered expedition ships limited to under 100 passengers, exceptional service and amenities cater to discerning travelers longing for intimate, customizable experiences far from crowded mega liners.
Step aboard boutique ships like the 16-suite Coral Adventurer and immediatley feel coddled. With a nearly 1:1 crew to guest ratio, staff quickly learn your preferences, perhaps surprising you with your favorite cocktail or snacks delivered on deck. Cabins feature plush bedding you can adjust for firmness. Book meals privately in your room or on your balcony if the mood strikes. The Executive Chef tailors menus to your dietary needs and whims. Dine anytime in the stylish restaurant or bistro. With open seatings, you never have to stress about missing reservation times after excursions run long.
The captain may detour the ship for impromptu wildlife sightings or to anchor in peaceful bays. Zodiacs shuttle you on exclusive excursions limited to around a dozen guests. A expedition team enriches outings with insights on history, culture and nature. Onboard experts like guest lecturers or master artisans provide interactive workshops. Independent touring is easy with rental bikes ready on shore. Relax knowing guides smoothly handle logistics behind the scenes.
Evenings find live music playing in lounges amid a festive buzz. Socialize with kindred spirits at the bartender’s table sampling Japanese whiskies. On deck, soak in vistas of scattered islands under blankets of stars. With a nearly 1:1 crew to guest ratio, service feels intuitive rather than intrusive. Staff get to know you by name in this convivial ambiance.
All-inclusive rates let you indulge without nickel-and-diming. Enjoy premium wines and spirits anytime without worrying about tabs. On shore, access VIP cultural sites priority entrances whisk you inside quickly. Exclusive banquets at venues like castles showcase refined hospitality and gourmet regional cuisine. You won't see a bill after extravagant multi-course feasts meticulously orchestrated just for your group. Return to find turn-down service with treats on your pillow. With cruise costs covering nearly everything but spa treatments and souvenirs, you are free to fully immerse without distraction.
Luxury cabins ensure you will rest soundly between active days. Nicer suites have bathtubs and balconies for unwinding in privacy. Fall asleep in high thread-count sheets to the lullaby of lapping waves. Wake refreshed to sunrise sea vistas outside floor-to-ceiling windows. If weather turns stormy, curl up with a book in cozy nooks as skies rage safely outside. Arriving back to find your room tidied and bed turned down contributes to the pampered atmosphere.