Capt. John Maas not only remembers but can practically still taste his first visit to Japan. He was there in 2017-18 aboard a 131-foot yacht, cruising through the Inland Sea and Sea of Japan and to the nation’s northern- most big island, Hokaido.
“I stayed in a fishing village called Hakodate,” he recalls. “I could walk half a block and go to the fish market with fresh sushi just off the fishing boats, and for $10, I could eat a full three-course sashimi platter with everything. The flavors there, the meat—we picked up the Kobe and the wagyu beef to take back in the freezer. It’s all grass-fed and totally natural and salty from the sea air.”
Those are just some of the experiences Maas hopes to share with charter guests this summer, when he will be leading the crew aboard the 167-foot Northern Sun as the Olympics come to Tokyo. Given that the yacht regularly charters in Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar and Malaysia, he is hoping to book a multiweek charter that will allow guests to experience not only Tokyo and the spectacle of the 2020 Games but also cultural spots such as Kobe and Okinawa in other parts of Japan, as well as regional cruising grounds from Vietnam to Singapore.
“If you had a three-week booking, we could pick up in Singapore, sail to the islands in Indonesia, and then go up to Vietnam and the thousand islands off the coast of Hanoi, and then go to Hong Kong and the south of Taiwan, and the southern islands of Japan with Okinawa—they’re just amazing—and then to the Inland Sea, and you’d stop in Kobe, where the beef comes from, before finishing in Tokyo,” he says. “From there, you could go to a hotel and do the Olympics, or you could stay on the boat. That would really be doing it properly.”
Northern Sun has a berth reserved at a commercial dock set aside for yachts at the games, and it is within shuttle distance of the events, Maas says. He has worked with local agents in Tokyo and says he can order anything Americans, or clients of any nationality, might want.
The yacht is set up to be a home away from home, with all the staterooms above the waterline but one level down from the main deck. (There’s an underdeck for machinery and tanks.) The main deck is mostly taken up by the salon, where guests can socialize together or in smaller groups.
“There’s this little library and games area with card tables where people can sit and play Monopoly, or whatever they like, with fantastic views,” he says. “Then you go back to a full main salon with a TV and sofas. All around are oil paintings and ship models and brass telescopes and Persian carpets.”
The ambience is inviting, he says, much like Japan itself. He does not recommend trying to cruise in and out of Tokyo between events at the games; instead, he says, either charter on the way there or after the big events have ended, to allow time to absorb the sights and culture all around.
“Japan is the kind of place where you want to sit back and relax,” he says. “It’s not like the BVI where you are at one island for lunch and a different island for dinner. What I would probably do is maybe get a hotel for the games and then jump on the yacht and do a 10-day cruise after that.”
Or, perhaps, longer. The yacht, having been built as a research vessel, has a far-reaching range of 12,000 miles. Pretty much whatever itineraries throughout the Far East charter clients can imagine doing, Northern Sun can make happen.
For scuba enthusiasts, there are dive instructors aboard, and for lovers of a good back rub, the stewardess works double-duty as a massage therapist. There are two tenders, each 26 feet: one is a jet boat for playing in the shallows near the sandy white beaches, and the other has retro styling with a classic windscreen. A pair of Lasers, stand-up paddleboards and a waterslide are also in the yacht’s toy box—but no personal watercraft. They are not allowed, Maas says, in the “quiet places that you want to be.”
In Japan, he says, the “quiet places” can include the physical and psychological space between guests and the locals, allowing for a cross-cultural moment of understanding.
“They’ll look and keep their distance,” he says of the locals in smaller villages, “but if you engage with them, then they’re super polite. They try out their English and make you feel very welcome.”