Over the last six years, on my frequent visits to Japan, I bemoaned even the thought of pulling my always over-stuffed suitcase through Tokyo Station. This was not only because the place is massive - with 3,000 trains passing through every day, but because it was a disastrous construction zone. I wondered what they were doing for so long and when it would finally be completed.
Since the devastating earthquake of March 11, 2011, tourism to Japan’s Tohoku (literally “northeast”) region is slowly coming back. In October 2012, I joined a group that visited Aomori, Akita, Iwate, and Miyagi, four of the six prefectures that comprise the 25,825 square mile region that is approximately the size of West Virginia, but with a population of 9.3 million. While we were there, we experienced wonderful tourist attractions, so many of which targeted children, and we met numerous children everywhere enjoying themselves
One of the most populous cities in the world, Tokyo is also a thriving center of economy, culture and industry. The Japanese capital consists of the southwestern part of the Kanto region, the Izu Islands, and the Ogasawara Islands. Twelve million people live in Tokyo. When the Shogun Tokugawa established a government there in the early 17th century, the area started to develop, spreading out around his residence, Edo Castle. Most of the city was devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and then again by the bombing in the WWII, however, Tokyo was able to achieve a remarkably rapid recovery both times.
VIP travel buyers from Australia, China, Canada, France, Germany, Korea, Russia and the U.S. participated in the First Annual Japan Luxury Travel Forum (JLTF). The Forum’s mission, which was sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry, and supported by members of the Japanese luxury travel industry specializing in inbound travel, was to increase awareness of Japan as a destination for international luxury travelers. In addition to travel with Japan Air Lines (JAL), JLTF provided luxury accommodations in Tokyo, appointments with 24 exhibitors in Shinagawa, Tokyo’s intercity, and evening programs.
The site,www.jltf.jp, contains information regarding participating tour operators and a list of diverse accommodations to help agents fulfill luxury clients’ needs.
Arriving in Tokyo, Tetsuya Furukawa, Director of Sales at the Four Seasons Marunouchi, conducted a site inspection of the well-appointed areas and rooms. The boutique hotel, located in the heart of the finance and government districts, has business, fitness and spa centers (the spa has a lounge, shower, sauna and steam room) open 24/7–services that are in great demand by busy travelers.www.fourseasons.com/marunouchi
Japan is buzzing with excitement for 2010 Visit Japan Year (VJY). The target goal is 10 million international visitors by the end of this year, with the largest push for visitors this fall with time-limited special offers at cultural attractions, accommodations and shopping venues between September 1 and November 20, 2010.
The objective behind VJY is promoting Japan’s uniqueness. One aspect is Japan’s numerous and very specialized festivals. A calendar with description of major festivals can be found on the VJY website atwww.vjy2010.jp/event/. Click on the month in the left-hand column to get specific information by date.
Here is a scenario that may sound familiar: you have chosen to come to Japan for a much-needed vacation. You’ve found a lovely Japanese inn (or ryokan) in the historic mountain village of, let’s say, Kusatsu; famed for its natural hot springs (onsen). Just two hours outside of Tokyo by train or bus, you can feel your worries dissipating as you begin to connect with your environment. Everything is carefully laid out in the traditional fashion—including the rules. Shoes off, breakfast at 8 o’clock sharp—sure, they’re little things, but this is a vacation after all. Well, there are a number of Japanese hoteliers who are starting to take notice. Enter the new “hybrid hotels,” or something that, is starting to be called “Neo-Ryo.” These are Japan’s latest efforts to combine the old-world luxury and hospitality of traditional Japanese ryokan with the modern comforts of Western-style guest rooms.
Japan is world-renowned for its upscale and expansive train system, which has a reputation for handling a high passenger volume with great efficiency. It was only in the wake of the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami on May 11th of this year that Japan’s advanced train system stopped. Then, almost immediately, Japan Rail began work to restore the train lines, and by April 29, in time for the important “Golden Week” holiday (April 29-May 8), all train lines across the Japan Railway system were restored. This included JR East Railway’s service on all Tohoku, Yamagata, and Akita Shinkansen lines running to Northeastern Honshu (albeit slightly more slowly than normal). They even restored the special Tohoku Series E5 “Hayabusa” Shinkansen train, which had only debuted on March 3, just a week before the earthquake struck. The Hayabusa can operate at more than 186 miles per hour and travel the nearly 420 miles from Tokyo Station to the newly opened (December 10, 2010) Tohoku Shinkansen terminus at Shin-Aomori Station, 50 miles north of the former terminus at Hachinoe, in just 3 hours 10 minutes (allow slightly more time due to post-earthquake maintenance).
Nearly one year since the Great Kanto Earthquake, Japan is coming back. Occupancy at hotels is back up. At press time, I am currently in Japan, and many hotels are telling me that occupancy is about 80% back to what it was before the earthquake. The only problem is there are very few Americans. This is true even in areas in Western Japan where the earthquake was not even felt. I walked around Kyoto, an area of Japan where Americans accounted to the number one international visitors before “March 11th” (what they call their tragedy). I went up to people whom I thought might be Americans, but almost all of them turned out to be Australian.
A number of hotels are offering value added packages to attract foreign guests back. In Kyoto, the Hyatt Regency, is offering a fourth night free when booking three nights. At the HOSHINOYA properties in Karuizawa (a resort town just over an hour north of Tokyo by bullet train, in the Japan Alps) and Kyoto, they are offering value-added packages for select travel agents. These include a coupon for a free meal for your clients.
In the Kanto Region, including Tokyo, Chiba, and Saitama the earthquake was heavily felt. However, although buildings shook, there was hardly any damage. Bullet trains were stopped, but there was no injury or loss of life. Tokyo is 128 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant, and in fact, there is less radiation in Tokyo than in New York. Life is back to normal, and hotels and tourism attractions want foreign travelers back.
In Tokyo, Chiba, and Saitama there are many forested nature areas laden with religious culture. Especially now, these areas are promoting themselves as spiritual retreats for local urbanites and for travelers.