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Far from the crowds in Japan

Far from the crowds in Japan
Irish Times - Nov 26, 2011

(Riding high: a kite-surfer on the Japanese island of Miyako)

WITH international tourism numbers declining in light of its nuclear disaster, why not divert to Japan's southern islands for a slice of the country you will not find in any tourist brochure? Turquoise water and stunning coastal scenery will show you there is far more to Japan than the tourist-heavy mainland. When you think of Japan, people usually conjure up romantic images of picture-perfect gardens, geishas walking neatly through Kyoto or vast swathes of neon lights illuminating the Tokyo skyline. Well, there is a different Japan. A Japan where the intense heat is tempered by cool winds and sand so soft, and water so turquoise, that you question your preconceived images of the country. (Irish Times)
Japan, but not as we know it
Sydney Morning Herald - Nov 26, 2011
(Deep blue ... a white-sand beach on Zamami, Okinawa.)

After a three-hour flight from Tokyo to the main Okinawa island - called, simply, Okinawa - my day starts early with a hearty fish and rice breakfast at a small inn run by a local architect in the picturesque village of Yomitan, on the western coast. Under clear, blue winter skies, I set off with confidence on an old bicycle lent to me by the inn owners who assure me it is impossible to get lost in such a small place. It takes only 10 minutes to become disoriented after cycling past identical rows of sugar cane and flower fields, with the sparkling blue South China Sea in the distance. It takes significantly longer to find any signs of human life until finally, an old man in a cap appears and after much confused pointing and waving, turns his bike around and leads me to my destination. Murasaki Mura is a village with old wooden houses capped by distinctive red-tiled roofs, winding stone paths and walled flower gardens. Time appears to have stopped several hundred years ago; it's difficult to shake the sensation that I'm an extra in a swashbuckling period drama. In fact, the entire village was constructed less than 20 years ago as the set for a six-month Japanese TV drama. (Sydney Morning Herald)

The Urbanist's Tokyo
nymag.com - Nov 20, 2011

(Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.)

This spring, the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest broadcast tower (with restaurant, of course; this is Tokyo), is set to open: an apt symbol of the capital getting back on its feet after the gravity-altering March earthquake. But following two decades of economic malaise and a revolving door of prime ministers-six in the past five years-it'll take a lot more than a 2,000-foot tower to set things right. Still, economic growth is up for the first time since the quake (alas, for visiting Americans, the yen is high too; at press time it was at 77 to the dollar), and there is a sense that things are finally starting to get back to normal-even as, notes one salaryman, TV network "NHK has been broadcasting a radiation map of Tokyo every day." (nymag.com)

Japan safe, tourism leaders insist
Travel Weekly - Nov 24, 2011

Japan's embattled tourism leaders have delivered a fresh appeal to stay-away consumers by insisting the country is safe and free of radiation risk. The Japan Tourism Agency (JTA) took the step at the Japan Travel Mart yesterday of producing radiation readings in key Japanese cities - although significantly not Sendai, one of the closest cities to the Fukushima power station - and comparing the levels to six other cities around the world. The JTA claimed the levels of airborne radiation in Japan "are well within safe levels and in fact lower than many other destinations". According the Japanese Government, all cities measured in Japan on October 3 - Sapporo, Chiba, Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa - had levels below that of New York, Beijing, Berlin, Seoul and Singapore. (Travel Weekly)

Sky Tree takes opening reservations
Japan Times - Nov 23, 2011

The operator of the 634-meter-tall Tokyo Sky Tree going up in Sumida Ward started accepting entrance ticket reservations Tuesday, six months before the planned opening of the world's tallest antenna structure. By 11:45 a.m., more than 300 groups had already sent application forms by fax to the operator's office in Tokyo. The tower, which has been registered by Guinness World Records, is already popular with locals long before the grand opening on May 22. (Japan Times)

Beyond the temples: Touring arty Japan
CNN - Nov 21, 2011

When it comes to visiting or touring Japan, we tend to read (and write) an inordinate amount about the historical and traditional sides of the country -- from temples and rituals to festivals and food, and rightly so; their variety is frankly amazing. Still, the fact that so many travelers are first attracted to Japan by its art and design makes it clear the more disparate, artistic aspects of the country deserve closer inspection. Here are half a dozen (very free-form) alternative tours for the artistically inclined visitor or cultural explorer. Tokyo, of course, has the whole range of galleries and museums, from small basements-for-hire to the 52nd- floor Mori Art Museum, but a short trip to neighboring areas will reward you with some very good local museums. (CNN)

Japan's Capsule Hotels Go High Tech and High Style
New York Times - Nov 18, 2011

Evening was falling in the old Japanese capital of Kyoto, and I was tucking myself into a container slightly larger than a refrigerator. I pulled down the shade and, after a bit of contorting, lay down, the wall a few inches from my feet. It was a dainty little space, about 3 ¼ feet wide and 6 ½ feet long, charmingly traditional with rice-paper latticework and two woven-reed mats. I felt like an origami crane as I folded my 6-foot-2-inch frame into this "tatami capsule." The eight units at Capsule Ryokan (204 Tsuchihashicho, Shimogyo-ku; capsule-ryokan-kyoto.com) go for 3,500 yen a night, about $46 at 76 yen to the dollar. You don't get a lot of real estate for your yen, though the box had plenty of modern conveniences: a small LCD TV, high-speed Wi-Fi, dimmable lighting and a wall-mounted alarm clock. (New York Times)

Age of low-cost flights
Japan Times - Nov 12, 2011

It appears that Japan is finally entering the age of low-cost flights. All Nippon Airways has set up a joint venture, Peach Aviation, with a Chinese investment fund and plans to set up another joint venture, AirAsia Japan, with AirAsia of Malaysia, a leading low-coast carrier (LCC) in Asia. Japan Airlines, now undergoing rehabilitation, has decided to launch an LCC joint venture, Jetstar Japan, with Australia's Qantas group and Mitsubishi Corp. Peach Aviation will use Kansai airport as its base airport, starting flight operations in March 2012. AirAsia Japan will use Narita airport, starting flight services in August 2012. Jetstar Japan plans to start business in 2012. At present, nine overseas LCCs are flying to and out of Japanese airports. (Japan Times)

Is post-Fukushima Japan safe for tourists?
Time - Nov 10, 2011

When Lady Gaga came to Japan for a benefit concert for tsunami victims in June, she found herself taking on an unfamiliar role - that of tourism promoter. In characteristic Gaga form, she didn't hold back anything, either, saying at a news conference she wanted "to run around Tokyo, enjoy the beautiful city and kiss all the beautiful little monsters and scream at the top of my lungs that everyone should come visit this beautiful place." The country could certainly use a pop-star plug. Japan's international tourist numbers have plunged this year, hit by the double whammy of a record-breaking high yen and the lingering radiation concerns from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. (Time)

Undressing Paintings: Japanese Nudes 1880-1945
Japan Times - Nov 11, 2011
News photo
("Nude" by Busho Hara (1906))

The nude may now be a common and popular subject for artists, but in Japan, depicting a naked person was considered immoral and obscene during the early Meiji Period (1868-1912). This exhibition explores how modern Japanese artists such as Seiki Kuroda and Busho Hara struggled to introduce Western art aesthetics to Japanese culture. In the West, depictions of the naked body had been made acceptable through artworks based on mythology. But such art was unfamiliar to the Japanese, and those who sought to paint nudes were considered scandalous. In fact, the painting of nudes became so controversial, artists' activities often attracted the attention of the police. (Japan Times)

Iran loans U.S. masterpiece for first exhibition in Japan
Yomiuri - Nov 10, 2011

A masterpiece by American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock valued at about 20 billion yen has been brought to Japan for the first time--courtesy of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art. The Iranian museum holds a superb collection of contemporary art work nurtured by then Empress Farah Pahlavi during Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's reign from 1941 to 1979 in an underground storage area. As Empress Farah loved contemporary art, the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art accumulated more than 300 works by famous artists, including Edouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cezanne, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Iran agreed to loan "Mural on Indian Red Ground," a masterpiece by Pollock (1912-1956) for exhibition in Japan. (Yomiuri)

Japan to waive visa fees for visitors to disaster-hit areas
nikkei.com - Nov 8, 2011

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will temporarily do away with visa fees for foreign tourists visiting Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures during their stays in Japan. For five years starting Nov. 15, the 3,000 yen fee for general visas and the 6,000 yen charge for multiple-entry visas will be waived for foreign nationals who apply to go as tourists to any of the three prefectures devastated by the March 11 earthquake disaster. It does not matter whether these prefectures will be the first destination for the visitors. (nikkei.com)

Keikyu, Monorail battle for Haneda passengers
Yomiuri - Nov 7, 2011

With the opening of Haneda Airport's international terminal a year ago, the two railway operators connecting the airport with central Tokyo are battling fiercely to attract more passengers. Both Keikyu Corp. and Tokyo Monorail Co. have stations connecting the airport's international and domestic terminals. Last year, about 92,000 passengers used Keikyu's two airport stations daily, compared to about 74,000 passengers who used Tokyo Monorail's three stations. The number of passengers using Keikyu's stations has increased about 2.7 times since 1998, when it extended its line to the airport, shunting Tokyo Monorail into second place over the past six years. (Yomiuri)

Autumn in Tokyo: Japan at its best
wnem.com - Nov 1, 2011

Many travelers, from first-timers to old-hand Japanophiles, consider the autumn months the single best time to visit Japan. The punishing heat and humidity of summer have burned away, and there's no threat of drenching rains. But for locals, there are two more important reasons to welcome fall: koyo and shun-no-aji -- the "changing of the leaves" and the "flavors of the season." While spring cherry-blossom viewing parties are better known, Japanese treat the changing of the leaves with equal reverence, particularly in places where they form a beautiful backdrop for temples and shrines. In the Tokyo area, the leaves generally begin to change in late October, with colors peaking in mid-November and lasting until early December. (wnem.com)

By TS on Nov 29, 2011
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Author:T. SATOH