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The Top Ten Reasons Why to Cruise Japan and the Ryukyu Islands

21 July 2016 No Comment

Japan, Hong Kong & the Ryukyu Islands Cruise

The rarely visited Ryukyu Islands form an archipelago that stretches from the southern tip of Japan’s mainland to within 70 miles of the east coast of Taiwan. It’s a 55-island chain brimming with historical, cultural and natural wonders many travellers don’t even realize exist.

Home to the breakout destination of Okinawa, the Ryukyu Islands present a vast array of opportunities to explore, discover, and relax in an unspoiled paradise. Here’s a look at just ten stops in Japan and along this exotic archipelago, which taken together form a destination not to be missed.

Suspension bridge crossing river; Yakushima, Japan

1. Yakusugi National Park

Imagine strolling through an ecosystem so distinctive and beautiful it was selected a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on tiny Yakushima Island, just off the southwest tip of the Japanese mainland, this park enchants visitors with a central mountain surrounded by a primeval temperate rainforest rich in biodiversity. Nearly 2,000 species and subspecies of plants, mammals and birds have been identified here. But the park’s most distinctive feature is its massive Yakusugi – Japanese cedars, many more than 1,000 years old, including the 3,000-year-old specimen called Kigensugi.

Japanese macaque baby and mother; Seibu Rindo Forest

2. Seibu-Rindo Forest Path

Providing shelter to the elegant Yakushima deer, the Seibu-Rindo Forest is dense, verdant and inspiring. A winding road takes visitors through a landscape of dynamic topography, featuring hillsides that soar up to 1,000 feet where giant Gajomaru trees can be seen with their air roots hanging down. While most of this UNESCO World Heritage Site can only be accessed by car, there are also inviting opportunities for active trekking. In higher elevations, you may spy the famed Yakushima macaque, also known as the snow monkey.

Amami Kinsakubaru Virgin Forest

3. Amami Kinsakubaru Virgin Forest

On the island of Amami-Oshima, there lives the Amami rabbit (actually a hare), a highly endangered “living fossil” only found here — and just one wild denizen of a diverse and beautiful island that has justly been called “Japan’s Galápagos.” Visitors may set out on guided walks through a lush rainforest punctuated by great clusters of giant ferns in hopes of sighting the elusive bunny, or simply relax on the island’s white-sand beaches, splashing in the gentle waves that caress this pristine paradise.

Miyako-jima Island, Okinawa

4. Miyako-jima

If stretching out on beaches of sugar-white sand and snorkeling in warm, crystal-clear waters amid swarms of colorful tropical fish sounds appealing, Miyako-jima is the destination for you. Situated south of Okinawa, this small volcanic island offers experiences as active as swimming with sea turtles and as tranquil as a ride on a glass-bottom boat.

Wooden Uwajima Castle

5. Uwajima Castle

For a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past, when shoguns presided over a 250-year era marked by peace and prosperity, visit Uwajima Castle. One of only 12 Japanese castles dating to the Edo period (1603-1857) still intact, its graceful pagoda-style architecture hearkens back to the time of the samurai, when the traditional arts of music, painting and calligraphy still flourished. Elsewhere on Uwajima Island, you may visit a working pearl farm, historic Daikakuji Temple and the immaculately manicured Tenshaun Garden.

Nakijin Castle

6. Nakijin Castle

Dating to the 13th century, Nakijin Castle commands a section of Okinawa once ruled by Aji kings whose descendants still live in the area. Visitors walking among the ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site — which may bring to mind Ollantaytambo in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas — enjoy a relaxed atmosphere made possible by low population density and lush nearby forests.

Shuri-jo Castle and Park

7. Shuri-jo Castle & Park

Located on Okinawa, this UNESCO World Heritage Site dates to the 13th or 14th century. Its stunning red walls witnessed the rise and fall of the medieval Ryukyu Kingdom, for which it served as capital. It stood at the crossroads of history again in the 20th century, when it was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army who engaged invading Allied forces in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, a conflict that left the castle in ruins. Fortunately, visitors today find it fully restored to its past glory.

Shiza statue

8. Taketomi

Of the many stops along the Ryukyu chain that can help a traveller understand the culture of the region, the traditional Ryukyu village on the island of Taketomi is perhaps the most endearing. Here, the red-tiled roofs of local residences are adorned with small but fierce-looking shiza statues, which, like the gargoyles of medieval Europe, are intended to ward off evil spirits. Looking much like it did when before the fall of the Ryukyu kings in the 19th century, scenes around the village include local farmers with their bounty for sale and carts being slowly pulled through the streets by massive oxen.

Hiroshima Peace Park Museum Atomic Dome

9. Hiroshima Peace Park and Museum

Few places in the world can provide such a solemn perspective on the cost of war as this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes the Memorial Cenotaph, with its traditional Shinto design. Beneath its sheltering arch is a registry listing every person known to have perished when the first atomic bomb ever used in conflict was dropped on this resilient city on August 6, 1945. The Atomic Bomb Dome (Genbaku Domu), an iconic building left standing after the devastating attack, can also be viewed, a silent reminder to future generations.

Korakuen Garden, Okayama

10. Korakuen Garden

No visit to the region could be complete without a visit to a Japanese garden, and few gardens have garnered as much renown as the world-famous Korakuen Garden. Widely ranked as one of Japan’s top three garden experiences, it was built during Japan’s Edo period (1603-1857) and reproduces well-known Asian landscapes in miniature, using ponds, stones, trees and manmade features, which visitors can stroll through at leisure on a network of convenient footpaths.

Discover these and other wonders of the Ryukyu Islands aboard luxurious, exclusively chartered ‘L’Austral,’ when you join Phil Otterson, president of A&K USA, on Japan, Hong Kong & the Ryukyu Islands Cruise: A Special President’s Journey (16 days, from $16,995 was $19,995). This stylish A&K Luxury Expedition Cruise includes pre-cruise sightseeing stays in Osaka and Kyoto, as well as visits to Taipei and Hong Kong.

The post The Top Ten Reasons Why to Cruise Japan and the Ryukyu Islands appeared first on Inside the Ampersand.

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