Now is not too soon to plan a cruise to Japan in 2020. No doubt the cabins for 2019 are already booked, with waiting lists. Japan is a popular cruise itinerary for its beautiful scenery, welcoming people and, of course, cherry blossoms. The cruise lines must have a secret cherry blossom almanac, which they use to schedule cruise itineraries to capture the best of the blossoms. Simply pick your ship and be transported to cherry blossom heaven.
Cherry blossoms bloom for about three days. Catching blooms at their peak is a chance happening. In anticipation of following the blossoms, cruise itineraries start in Tokyo and go north, as if to follow the blossoms. In a year when you catch the current, each port will be blossoming anew.
If you hit the right temperature, at the right time, wandering through the cherry blossoms, or floating down the moat of a fort of the emperors, is the experience of a lifetime. It is worth the gamble to try for good timing.
Japan is a string of islands, running north and south. The temperatures cool, and the blossoms come later, the further north the port. The northernmost island was late to come under control of the emperors. It was the land to which native people of the southern islands were removed, to live in a most underdeveloped landscape.
Not until the 19th century, when Russia looked with interest at the northern island, did Japan take active management and defense of the island seriously. Hirosaki fortress, at the northern tip of the large island, from the port of Aomori, looks north to Fort Goryokaku in the port of Hakodate, at the southernmost tip of the north island. Once Japan established its dominion over the area, forts became museums to the military era. Thousands of cherry trees were planted.
Today Hakodate and Aomori are favorite cruise ports from which to wander among cherry blooms. At Hirosaki, from the port of Aomori, wander over the classic Japanese fairy tale red lacquer bridge, to view the palace of emperors. Then picnic under a grove of cherry trees, the blossoms of which hang low over the ground and frame the moat. Look up over the blossoms and pine trees to the mountain peaks. Snow white, green and pink have been the palate of artists for thousands of years.
Fort Goryokaku is best viewed from the tower, reached by a fast elevator, managed by elegant hostesses in flight uniforms. The star shaped fort is reminiscent of French Vauban forts of the 18th century. Today the moat is traversed by gondolas with visitors floating along the tree-lined banks, washed in blossoms. Around the fort, in groves of cherry trees, people come to the grounds early to stake out their picnic spot for large gatherings. Locals and visitors share the space in a habitat of beauty and solace.
If you arrive late to the blooming season, petals will fall around you like snow. The grounds are beautiful year around, even in winter snow. There is always a reason to return to Japan.
Read all the Cruise through History© stories on Japan, China, Korea and the North pacific in Itinerary XV coming soon. Read all the CTH story books, available on amazon.com.