Our guide to Japan cruises
A picturesque setting in which traditional culture is seamlessly fused with modern life, Japan offers a cruising experience unlike any other.
Explore the country’s vast, ancient history, immerse yourself in culinary delights, experience futuristic, neon-bathed streets or visit breathtaking, expertly curated Japanese gardens.
Our comprehensive cruise guide will help you to get the most out of your voyage to Japan.
Why choose Japan for a cruise?
Japan cruise routes
Cunard cruise itineraries to Japan range from roundtrip explorations from Yokohama to voyages from Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Whatever your route, every journey to this region is special and full of surprises.
The southern Japan coastline holds many typical ports of call – your cruise may take you to locations such as Kobe, Kochi, Hiroshima, Kagoshima, Nagasaki or Fukuoka. Further north, you may stop at Hakodate and Aomori. Other Japan itineraries venture out of Japanese waters to locations in Eastern China, Russia, or even across the Pacific to Alaska.
Japan cruise highlights
Japan has a diverse offering of sights, sounds, tastes and smells to excite every sense. There are several unforgettable experiences that you shouldn’t miss on a cruise to Japan, so ensure your itinerary includes these essential highlights.
Japan cruise sightsEvery port in Japan is a new world, with its own history, scenery and shopping to experience. Here are some highlights you won't want to miss. Kyoto – Immerse yourself in history with Kyoto’s traditional temples and ancient architecture with sites like Nino Castle and the Kinkakuji Temple, or visit one of the most famous religious sites in Japan: the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Osaka – A popular destination due to its magnificent Osaka Castle (pictured) and world-famous cherry blossom gardens in spring, Osaka also boasts a range of idyllic temples and fine dining.
Food highlightsJapan is one of only two countries in the world where the cuisine has UNESCO cultural heritage status. You may be familiar with more famous Japanese offerings like sushi, but Japan has so much more to offer in terms of culinary experiences. Sample high-end options with Kaiseki dining through multi-course and multi-dish experiences that include delicious local ingredients, from fresh crab or eel to beef or sake sashimi – all depending on the chef’s preference on the day.
Japan shore experiencesExcursions in Japan are as unique as they are exhilarating. Stroll through picturesque bamboo forests in Kobe, explore enchanting castles in Osaka or immerse yourself in history with atomic bomb museums and memorials in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Cunard offers a hand-picked selection of signature experiences for you to enjoy on shore. Hosted by local guides, our tours and activities take you to main attractions and hidden gems and can even be tailored to give you a fully unique perspective of Japan.
Japan’s cherry blossom seasonSpring in Japan is a magical event, with the iconic cherry blossoms transforming the Japanese landscape with soft, pink hues. Sadly, cherry blossom season is short-lived, beginning at the end of March or the beginning of April and lasting around two weeks, although the blooms can come and go sooner or later depending on their location.
Japanese festivals and events
Japan plays host to a surprising number of festivals and celebrations throughout the year, so no matter what time of year your cruise takes place, you are likely to experience an exciting event.
In winter celebrate Yuki Matsuri, or the “Sapporo snow festival”, where amateurs and professionals alike come together to create hundreds of magical statues crafted from snow and ice. Spring sees the emergence of the famous cherry blossoms and the two week-long Omizutori Buddhist festival which has been an annual ritual in Japan for more than 1000 years. July plays host to Gion Matsuri, Japan’s most famous festival which takes place in Kyoto, and September heralds the Kishiwada Janjiri Matsuri which is similar to a harvest festival with locals praying for a good autumn bounty.
Japan cruises throughout the year
You might assume that spring and summer are the most sought-after seasons to visit Japan, however autumn and winter both have their own distinct appeal, with each season providing unique experiences as well as visual and cultural delights.
Japan in winter (December, January and February)
Winter months in Japan tend to bring with them chilly temperatures and snow, but also play host to some spectacular seasonal events and celebrations and are a popular time for local travel, with temperatures hovering between 35 - 53 degrees Fahrenheit.
Japan in spring (March, April and May)
Cruise in the spring for your chance to bask in the natural beauty of the cherry blossom trees, with mild temperatures and calmer seas, spring is an opportune time to visit Japan. Early spring is cooler than the latter half, with temperatures around 41 degrees Fahrenheit steadily rising to around 73 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of May.
Japan in summer (June, July and August)
Summer in Japan brings with its hot temperatures and a fair amount of rain towards the beginning of the summer. Summer tends to be hot and humid all season long with temperatures reaching around 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which you may wish to consider if you’re planning on walking long distances or visiting outdoor sites with little shade.
Japan in fall (September, October and November)
During fall, you can expect to experience milder weather with infrequent rainstorms making it, like spring, a perfect time to travel with average temperatures dropping from around 73 degrees Fahrenheit in September to a cooler 60 degrees Fahrenheit in November. Plentiful festivals and beautiful scenery add to the majestic nature of a fall Japan cruise.
How to pack for a cruise to Japan
DaytimeJapanese culture is more modest than that of the West, with women generally covering their shoulders throughout all seasons, however younger generations are quite daring, and you can expect to see some interesting clothing choices in the main cities. Ensure you have comfortable shoes for walking, such as a sturdy pair of walking shoes or comfortable trainers which are also perfect for when out and about on deck. Remember to bring a couple of swimsuits and flip flops for the pools and spa, as well as sunglasses, a camera and a pair of binoculars for those memorable encounters.
EveningsFor evenings on board there are lots of options, however most people opt for smart and comfortable evening attire. On Gala Evenings, guests go all out and dress to impress, so make sure you pack your favorite suit, cocktail dress or floor-length gown according to the theme of the night: check My Cunard once you’ve booked so you can plan. When it comes to more formal attire, you can let your personality do the talking. Think cocktail dresses and evening dresses, as well as smart shirts and tailoring. Nights under the stars on deck however may be cold, so don’t forget a wrap, pashmina or other cover-up for moonlit strolls.
Clothes for humid weatherOpt for layers that you can remove as needed, as the weather in Japan can change frequently. For warmer days, longer flowing skirts, dresses or shorts as well as jeans or thin trousers matched with light shirts or t-shirts are a perfect choice. Make sure to carry a thin jacket or raincoat, as well as wearing comfortable and easily removable shoes.
Our list for your Japan cruise
- Loose fitting shirts and T-shirts
- Longer style shorts, loose fitting pants or skirts and dresses
- A thin cover up or raincoat
- A slightly heavier coat and scarf for the winter months
- Swimwear for on board and any relevant excursions
- Comfortable walking shoes or trainers
- A comfortable bag or backpack
- Formal attire for Gala Evenings on board
- A cap, sunhat and sunglasses for warmer days
Japan cruise travel tips
For those experiencing Japan for the first time, there can be a number of cultural differences that may seem challenging to navigate. Here are some of the main things to be aware of before you embark on your cruise to Japan.
Japanese customsModern Japanese culture strongly links back to its roots in customs and traditions. Politeness takes precedence, so expect to see locals bowing to one another, dependent on their position and circumstance. While visitors to Japan aren’t expected to bow, many guests like to partake in the traditional custom. Bowing is used when greeting one another, but is also used for a number of other reasons such as expressing gratitude or while offering an apology. The correct way to bow is to bend at the waist, with your feet together, keeping your back and neck straight and your arms by your sides. Women often bow with their hands together in front, around thigh level.
What not to do as a tourist in Japan
Politeness is ingrained into Japanese culture. Avoid causing accidental offense by keeping these tips in mind while in Japan:
- Pointing is considered rude: try to use an open hand to make gestures.
- Try to avoid blowing your nose in public. Instead, find a bathroom or quiet area.
- Taking off your shoes before entering many places is considered common courtesy. If there is a level difference between the entryway and the room, that is a sign you should remove your shoes. Many places will have designated shoe boxes or lockers, and some will provide slippers for you while you are inside. Typically, you would be expected to remove your shoes when entering people’s homes, some restaurants or tea rooms, temples and shrines as well as more traditional stores such as kimono shops.
- If you find yourself on a crowded train or subway, remove your backpack and hold it in your hands if possible, or wear it in front of you as the locals tend to. This helps to avoid blocking the way of other passengers, as well as ensuring your belongings are kept safe and secure.
Useful Japanese phrases for beginners and travelers
It is always considered polite to try and familiarize yourself with a few simple phrases in the local language whenever you travel. Here are a few of the most common phrases that you may encounter during your Japanese cruise:
- Hello: Kon'nichiwa (kon-nee-chee-wah) - こんにちは
- Thank you: Arigato (ar-ree-gah-to) - ありがとう
- Thank you very much: Domo Arigato (do-mo ar-ree-gah-to) - ありがとうございます
- Beer, please: Biru kudasai (bee-ru ku-da-sigh) - ビールをお願いします
- Cheers! Kanpai (ghan-pie) - 乾杯！
- Bathroom: Basurumu (bas-su-roo-moo) - 浴室
- How much? Ikura (ee-ku-ra) - いくらだ？
- Delicious: Oishi (oi-shee) - おいしい
- Beautiful: Kireina (kee-ren-a) - 美しい