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Japan's tsunami debris attracts travelers in new yacht cruise

Cultures mingle amid Atami's hot springs
Japan Times - Dec 18, 2011
(Sea the sights: A short walk from Atami Station, up a narrow road that takes you through a tunnel,
rewards those who forsake the town's more material delights with beautiful views such as this of Sagami
Bay and wooded headlands on the lip of an extinct volcano falling away steeply into the ocean.)

She was on a train from Tokyo to Atami in the summer of 1959 when the English travel writer Ethel Mannin "saw what I had read about and been told about but felt unable to accept until I had seen it for myself." What the mortified Ms. Mannin beheld was the passenger in the seat opposite her stand up, remove his trousers and shirt, and then settle down for the rest of the journey in short underpants and a singlet. Though the days of blithely peeling off layers of clothing on trains may have gone, shedding garments is what Atami is all about. And, given the countless opportunities it offers to soak in its scalding waters, a stay at this major hot-spring resort in Shizuoka Prefecture presupposes a degree of exposure. (Japan Times)
Japan's tsunami debris attracts travelers in new yacht cruise
maritime-executive.com - Dec 16, 2011

At the end of October, the STS Pallada discovered a 20-million-ton mass of tsunami debris from the mega 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Sendai, Japan in March. Since this discovery, scientists have been studying, and tracking the contents of the giant floating mass, and now, they are inviting the public on an exclusive ride to see the floating spectacle aboard a 72-foot sailing yacht. Very few people have seen the tsunami debris trolling the ocean except for scientists and ship crews. The mass being tossed by ocean currents in the North Pacific is laden with remains from houses, entire motor vehicles, household appliances, and televisions is potentially as large as the US state of California. And in May of 2012, Pangaea Explorations along with the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and 5 Gyres Institute will launch a two-leg tour of ocean debris to paying customers aboard the 72-foot sailing yacht, the Sea Dragon. (maritime-executive.com)

Japan's tourism industry looks forward to a bright, trouble-free 2012
The Star - Dec 15, 2011
(The giant Buddha is one of the top tourist sights in Kamakura, a former capital of Japan.)

The Japanese capital is all dressed up for the holidays and people are bundling up to head out and enjoy the sights. Many flock to the brick-lined Yebisu Garden Place to see its solar-powered Christmas tree, hear live music, and marvel at the Baccarat Eternal Lights chandelier. Five-metres tall, three-metres wide, and adorned more than 8,400 crystal parts and 250 lights, it's a mesmerizing display, symbolic perhaps of the hopes people here have for the future. After the pall that fell over this country following the March 11th disaster, most are looking forward to a brighter 2012. That includes the folks who work in tourism. The Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) says foreign visits dropped 73% in the days after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident. But with time, and thanks to a Herculean effort to salvage a $19.4 billion (CAD) industry, travelers are returning. As of October, visits were only down about 15% overall. (The Star)

Light shows go on, bring ray of hope
Yomiuri - Dec 15, 2011

They might not be shining for as long as usual, but winter illumination events across the nation are going ahead--albeit with a host of energy-saving techniques in place--to bring a ray of hope and inspiration to people at the end of a year unlike any other. The Kobe Luminarie light festival has been held every December since 1995 to commemorate the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated the city in January that year. The festival's organizing committee usually starts making arrangements for the event in April, but this year, in consideration of the victims of the March 11 disaster, views were split on whether Kobe Luminarie should even be held. In July, the organizing committee eventually decided the event would go ahead. (Yomiuri)

Japan celebrates its 47 brave samurai
majirox news - Dec 13, 2011
(The 47 samurai)
(The graves of the 47 samurai at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo)

The graves of the 47 samurai can still be found, well tended, at Sengakuji Temple in Tokyo. Dec. 14 is the anniversary of the 47 samurai's revenge. The bare bones of the story are these: In 1701, for reasons unclear to this day, Asano Naganori, head of the Asano daimyoate (powerful territorial lord), pulled his sword on Kira Yoshinaka and slightly wounded him. Most versions of the argument between them have Kira demanding outrageous bribes to teach Asano the basics of Edo Castle protocol, of which he was put in charge - and Asano refusing. Asano was forced to commit seppuku the next day, which is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment (stomach cutting), and Kira escaped without punishment. The Asano Han (feudal domain) was abolished, throwing hundreds of Asano samurai out into the street as ronin wandering samurai with no master. (majirox news)

Famed Chinese scroll to make overseas debut in Japan
Asahi - Dec 13, 2011
(A section of China's most renowned art work, Qing Ming Shang He Tu
(The Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City))

China's most renowned state treasure, the Qing Ming Shang He Tu, will be shown for the first time abroad in January when a special exhibition is held in Tokyo to mark next year's 40th anniversary of the restoration of ties between Japan and China. The Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City notified Japan on Dec. 12 of the authorities' decision to allow the exhibition of the masterpiece by Zhang Zeduan, a picture scroll from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). The special show, "Two Hundred Selected Masterpieces from the Palace Museum, Beijing," will be held at Tokyo National Museum in the Ueno district from Jan. 2 to Feb. 19 with the Qing Ming Shang He Tu as its centerpiece. The silk scroll will be on display only from Jan. 2 to Jan. 24. (Asahi)

Japanese island overrun by rabbits, tourists
CNN - Dec 13, 2011
(Sure, he looks cute, but just wait till those sneakers catch his eye.)

Okunoshima, a small island floating in the Inland Sea between Hiroshima and Shikoku, used to be a top-secret military site manufacturing poison gas. Not exactly the kind of place you'd think to spend an idyllic afternoon. Of course, that was before the rabbits took over. In 1971, a group of schoolchildren released eight rabbits on the island. The rabbits did what rabbits do best and now the 700-square-meter island is home to more than 300 of their floppy-eared descendants, earning it the nickname Usagi Shima, or Rabbit Island. While the Okunoshima museum chronicling Japan's use of poison gas has been drawing school groups for decades, the island has more recently joined the ranks of cat cafes and dog-rental shops as a destination for Japan's pet-less cravers of cute. (CNN)

'Lady Kaga' women use star power in resort's video
Yomiuri - Dec 13, 2011

Beautiful women starring in a hit video featuring catchy dance music and a wide array of distinctive costumes--sounds like Lady Gaga? Not quite: Try "Lady Kaga." A promotional video for the Kaga hot spring resort in Ishikawa Prefecture that features dozens of local women has become a hit since it went online in November. The video stars about 60 women aged 20 to 45 who work at the Kaga resort, including guest service staff at inns and geiko entertainers. The women, who are wearing their work attire, smile as they bow on a station platform and shyly wave in the video. (Yomiuri)

Chilling out in a warm Kume Island way
Japan Times - Dec 11, 2011
(New Kumejima, sister ship of the ferry Naha, off Tonaki Island. Both boats serve Kume Island from Naha.)
(Easy does it: The view from a room at the Eef Beach Hotel.)

The first thing a good beach does is immediately make you want to take your watch off. But what makes a really great beach is when you do that - and then kick off your shoes as well. That's exactly what I did when I arrived at Eef Beach on Kume Island, Okinawa. The university near Naha on Okinawa Island where I teach on Tuesdays and Fridays canceled classes on Tuesday, Oct. 24 for a students' "Career Day" - meaning that, as my weekends are usually free, I was looking (with delight) at a windfall four-day break. Pacing my pleasure, though, I spent the Saturday taking care of this and that, and the Sunday sleeping in, resting up and checking out where to go, and how. I opted to take the ferry named Naha from Naha's Tomari Port to Kume Island, about 95 km to the west in the East China Sea. (Japan Times)

Spring Airlines to launch carrier in Japan
atwonline.com - Dec 7, 2011

Shanghai-based Spring Airlines, the most successful Chinese low-cost carrier, is preparing to launch a carrier in Japan to gain a deeper foothold in the Japanese market. Spring spokesman Zhang Wu'an said the carrier has registered a company in Japan; however, since foreign investors can hold no more than a one-third stake in a Japanese airline, it is looking for a Japanese partner. Zhang said Spring is negotiating with potential investors in the new entity (ATW Daily News, July 12). According to Zhang, Spring also plans to explore other international markets. To that end, it will open new routes to Thailand and South Korea next year. (atwonline.com)

Swiss man nears end of tourism trek
Japan Times - Dec 6, 2011

A Swiss man who has been on a solo hike across Japan to promote tourism reached Fukuoka Prefecture on Monday morning after hitting the road in Hokkaido on Aug. 1. Thomas Koehler, 44, a former travel agent from Switzerland, embarked on the self-funded journey after seeing a steep drop in foreign visitors after the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters. "I want to help people in disaster-hit areas by telling the rest of the world how people I've met on the road have been nice and that Japanese food is safe," he said upon reaching Fukuoka Prefecture. (Japan Times)

Exploring Yanagawa's watery world
Japan Times - Dec 4, 2011
(Pole position: Yoji Masamori, our singing boatman who fortunately kept a cool head.)
(All aboard: Boats wait to take people cruising on Yanagawa's maze of canals.)

The boatman sings a low-pitched, wistful air as he poles our craft down the watery freeway. Some of my fellow passengers obviously know the melancholic song, and join in on what passes for a chorus as we're propelled otherwise noiselessly down the wide canal. I recognize only a handful of words, though the two that stand out relate directly to my day's adventure. One is unagi (freshwater eel), the first Japanese dish I ever tasted and the one that still makes my mouth water when I spot it on a menu. The other is yanagawa, which means "town on the water" and is - quite appropriately - the name of the city in northern Kyushu on whose numerous canals I am enjoying a leisurely cruise. (Japan Times)

China's skiers lift Japan as tourism defies yen
Japan Times - Dec 2, 2011

Eight months after being turned into refugee camps for survivors of the March 11 disasters and for those fleeing the ensuing nuclear crisis, some ski resorts in Fukushima say bookings for the winter are back to about 70 percent of prequake levels. While the earthquake, tsunami and reactor core meltdowns caused almost 230,000 people to flee the country, hotel chains across Japan are expanding and airlines are adding international flights, betting Chinese tourists will lead a recovery. Arrivals, which slumped 63 percent in April from a year earlier, were down 15 percent in October, with the number of Chinese tourists already back to year-earlier levels, government figures show. (Japan Times)

Chichibu festival among top three for floats
Japan Times - Dec 2, 2011

Japan loves top threes. Since the Edo Period (1603-1867), when it's said Confucian scholar Hayashi Shunsai traveled and wrote his great work "Nihon Sankei" ("Three Views of Japan"), magazines, tourist associations and local governments have captured the public imagination with their own interpretations of gold, silver and bronze. On this week's agenda, is the trio of celebrated "float-based" festivals; the Chichibu Shrine Night Festival, in mountainous western Saitama, earning it's berth alongside Kyoto's Gion Matsuri and the Takayama Matsuri in Gifu Prefecture. With drum beats and flutes to the fore, six huge floats will display their gilded wood carvings, tapestries, and of course - it takes place in the evening after all - lanterns. They will weave through the crowds and toward City Hall, where a 2.5-hour firework display will celebrate their arrival in style. (Japan Times)

Japan easing expressway tolls in major cities and around earthquake zone
Stars & Stripes - Nov 30, 2011

Major changes are slated for toll roads through some of Japan's most booming cities and areas directly affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The temporary changes will impact people traveling in and around Tokyo, Osaka, and the northern region of Tohoku, which was affected by the March 11 disaster, Japanese government and expressway officials said this week. From Thursday through March 31, vehicles equipped with the Electric Toll Collection system will not be charged on expressways in the Tohoku region - specifically between Aomori Prefecture and Mito in Ibaragi Prefecture, which is about 64 miles north of Tokyo. This move is being made to ease access for those assisting in recovery and reconstruction efforts and to boost tourism, according to officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. (Stars & Stripes)

Budget airlines are leading a revolution in air travel in Asia
USA Today - Nov 27, 2011

Carriers such as Jetstar, AirAsia and Tiger Airways are driving demand by rolling out flights to underserved Asian cities. They're forcing full-service Asian airlines to lower fares and, in some cases, launch their own discount airlines. U.S. carriers, in an effort not to be left behind, are beefing up their long-haul services to the region and striking alliances with their Asian counterparts. The moves come as booming economies such as China and India lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. From 1990 to 2008, the middle class more than tripled to 1.89 billion people in developing Asia, which includes China and India. This population, defined by the Asian Development Bank as those spending $2 to $20 a day, is increasingly demanding middle-class trappings: televisions, refrigerators, cars and travel. (USA Today)

By TS on Dec 19, 2011
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Author:T. SATOH