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Setting sail from Osaka
Osaka, Japan's third largest city, is a pulsating commercial hub, famous for its food and its fiercely independent spirit. This is where the conveyor-belt sushi restaurant was first invented, and the cityscape rivals Tokyo for neon-lit futurism. If you need respite from the urban sprawl seek out Osaka Castle and the surrounding Nishinomaru Garden, a particularly pretty spot during the cherry blossom season.
Said to be Japan’s sunniest city, Okayama is situated on the northern shore of the Seto Inland Sea, near to the bridge that links the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. The city is known for its impressive black castle, which overlooks the stunning Koraku-en gardens.
On 6 August 1945 the world witnessed the terrifying power of nuclear weapons for the first time, unleashed on the unsuspecting Japanese city of Hiroshima. The modern city's sobering Peace Memorial Park commemorates that fateful day, which left more than 140,000 dead.
The friendly southern Japanese city of Kagoshima enjoys a balmy climate, and sits just across the bay from the very active Sakurajima volcano, which erupts so regularly that an ‘ash forecast’ is included in local weather reports.
Three days after Hiroshima was flattened by an atomic bomb, Nagasaki suffered the same horrifying fate. The reconstruction of both cities has been quite extraordinary; Nagasaki today is a vibrant, cosmopolitan place, with a fascinating history that goes back a lot further than 1945.
South Korea: Busan
Busan is South Korea’s second biggest city and one of the world’s busiest container ports, but it’s an easygoing place with a discernibly different character to Seoul. Haeundae beach is a popular summer holiday destination for Koreans, while the pungent Jagalchi market sells every type of fish and sea creature imaginable.