Most of Japan is back to normal following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on 11 March. Many parts of Japan, including popular holiday destinations such as Hokkaido, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Mt. Fuji, Nagasaki and Okinawa, incurred no disruption to infrastructure and everything in these areas has continuously operated as normal.
Tokyo is back to normal with trains once again running like clockwork, water safe to drink and the beer and yogurt shortages now over (yes, there were temporary shortages due to packaging factories having been in the earthquake-hit region!).
The FCO has said it is safe to travel to Tokyo and beyond in Japan since 5th April, yet UK visitors to Japan have dropped by around 50%. With the full reopening of the Tohoku bullet train line on 29 April, the situation for visitors is virtually back to normal in all of Japan, including most of the Tohoku Region (the area in northeast Japan where the earthquake and tsunami occurred).
Japan is a fantastic destination for a truly memorable holiday and many people in the country rely on tourism for their livelihoods. Here we give you just 10 of the many great reasons to holiday in Japan this summer.
1. Discounted hotel rates – the big drop in visitors following the earthquake has lead to many hotels dropping their rates and launching attractive promotions. For all the latest offers follow Japan National Tourism Organization on Twitter ( @experiencejapan) or see the latest offers page on their website, www.seejapan.co.uk.
2. Help Japan through volunteering – InsideJapan Tours has a 4 day ‘Volunteer for Japan’ package which enables non-Japanese speakers to get up to Tohoku to assist in cleaning-up and rebuilding. This can be done on its own or added into any self guided/tailored itinerary.
3. Geisha beer gardens – From July until early September, visitors to Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto can kick back and relax in the company of geisha at a number of beer gardens. An evening with a geisha is usually a pricey luxury, but in a beer garden all it costs is the price of a few drinks and snacks.
4. Hiking – Japan is famous for its bustling modern cities – but it’s also home to some of the world’s most stunning areas of natural beauty. Oxalis Adventures offer holidays combining the best of Japan’s cultural destinations with off-the-beaten-track walking or hiking. From village-to-village walking along the Kiso Valley or hiking the volcanoes of Kyushu, travellers can experience Japan’s nature up-close. Walking in Japan is made all the more enjoyable by the abundance of natural hot springs and the freshest Japanese food, beautifully prepared by your hosts. For more see www.oxalis-adventures.com.
5. Bullet trains – 2011 is an exciting year in Japan for train enthusiasts. The final section of track linking Japan’s bullet train network from the southern tip of Kagoshima to Aomori in the north opened in March. Also in March, the new Hayabusa E5 shinkansen – Japan’s fastest bullet train to date – launched on the Tohoku region route. Services were temporarily suspended after the quake, but the full line has been back up and running since 29 April. Visitors to Japan can enjoy unlimited journeys on the trains using the money-saving 7, 14 or 21 day Japan Rail Pass.
6. BA now flies to Haneda Airport – British Airways resumed its new London to Tokyo Haneda Airport service on 30 May, after temporarily suspending the service following the earthquake. BA is the only airline that offers direct flights from London to Tokyo’s central Haneda Airport. The airport is located within Tokyo, and it only takes 19 minutes by train to get to the city centre. To find out more about BA’s services to Tokyo’s Narita and Haneda airports, visit ba.com.
7. Beaches – Visiting Japan doesn’t have to mean giving up your summer beach holiday. The 160 islands of Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture boast a subtropical climate, coral reefs, emerald seas and sunny skies. Its rich cultural heritage differs markedly from that found in mainland Japan. For those without the time to travel that far, great beaches can be found just an hour-and-a-half by train south of Tokyo on the Izu Peninsula.
8. Relaxed locals – Summer is when you’ll find the locals at their most laid back. Like London, people take time off, work shorter hours and celebrate the warm weather in beer gardens. This summer workplaces in Japan are introducing “Super Cool Biz” relaxed dress codes to decrease the need for air conditioning. So this summer, more than ever, Tokyo will be in relaxation mode.
9. Festivals – Every town, village and city has at least one festival a year. In summer you can choose from music, firework and more traditional cultural festivals. Some of the top ones are:
* Fuji Rock Festival (29-31 July) – this year’s line-up includes Glasvegas, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Beach House, CSS, Warpaint and Mogwai);
* Summer Sonic (13-14 August) this year featuring Jessie J, Yelle, Ne-Yo, Friendly Fires, Tinie Tempah, The Strokes, Beady Eye and the Village People).
* Tokyo’s Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (27 August) – unlike fireworks displays in most other parts of the world, many in Japan are a competition held between rival pyrotechnic groups. Each group tries to out-do the last, and the result is an incredible variety of fireworks, not just in different colours and patterns, but forming shapes as complicated as characters from Japanese animation or kanji.
* Kanto Matsuri, Akita – A spectacular festival featuring young men balancing huge 60kg lantern poles on their shoulders, foreheads, hips or hands.
10. Climb Mt. Fuji – This 3,776 metre high dormant volcano is world-famous as a symbol of Japan. July and August is the official climbing season. During these two months the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild, access by public transportation is easy and the mountain huts are open. To enjoy Mt. Fuji at a more leisurely pace, the best thing to do is spend a night in a ryokan in Hakone or the Fuji Five Lakes area and enjoy its splendid views from a rotenburo (outdoor hot spring spa).