Ride the Shinkansen Bullet Train! It's Awesome!
A train ride is not only a means of transportation, but also an experience in itself. Riding the Shinkansen bullet train is definitely a ‘must do' during your next trip to Japan.
Shinkansen, literally meaning ‘new trunk line,' started operation in 1964 between Tokyo and Osaka (320 miles) and has expanded its network to 1300 miles nationwide.
Shinkansen's merits are: Speed, Punctuality, Frequency, Comfort, and Safety.
The maximum speed of the Shinkansen was 130 miles per hour in 1964, but now it is 190 miles per hour. This speed allows you to go to Kyoto from Tokyo (300 miles) in just 2 hours and 20 minutes. (Compare this to Amtrak's Acela service from New York to Washington, D.C. --225 miles-- taking 2 hours and 50 minutes.)
The trains run from 6 am to just before midnight and every 10 minutes during the daytime, departing and arriving on time to the minute. The reclining seat is comfortable and the seat pitch is wide enough, but if you want more comfort, the green car (first class) is the choice that gives you all the business class comforts. In addition, since its inauguration in 1964, there has been no fatal accident involving passengers.
With this speed, you can visit Kyoto as a day trip from Tokyo (though I'm not recommending it as Kyoto is not a place you can fully enjoy in a day). The first Shinkansen leaves from Tokyo at 6 am arriving at Kyoto at 8:11 am. If you get on the last Shinkansen from Kyoto at 9:34 pm, you can return to Tokyo at 11:45 pm. From Kyoto, Hiroshima, famous for its A-Bomb Dome, and Miyajima Shrine, both World Heritage sites, are within easy reach. It takes only 1 hour 40 minutes one-way, and you'll have an ample 11 hours to explore Hiroshima.
During the ride, you may not have time to sleep because beautiful scenery unfolds from metropolis to countryside. When you go to Kyoto from Tokyo, I strongly recommend you take a window seat on the right hand side so that you won't miss a stunning view of Mt. Fuji approximately 40 minutes after leaving from Tokyo.
Although there is no restaurant car on the Shinkansen, cart service is available for you to buy food and beverages. However, I suggest you buy ekiben at the station before boarding. Ekiben means lunch box and costs $10-20 USD. Ekiben have so much variety that it is hard to choose one.
Between Tokyo and Kyoto, there are three types of Shinkansen trains with lovely names: Nozomi (meaning Hope), Hikari (Light), and Kodama (Echo). Nozomi, the fastest, makes only 3 stops taking 2 hours 20 minutes; Hikari trains stop at 5-7 stations taking 2 hours 50 minutes; and Kodama trains make 14 stops taking 3 hours 40 minutes. From Tokyo to Kyoto, the fare is $135 USD (approx.) each way.
Shinkansen-type high-speed trains are now more than ever attracting global interest since they are not only convenient and speedy but also environmentally friendly. President Obama announced in April that the U.S. government would invest in high-speed passenger rail lines to reduce traffic congestion and improve the environment.
For travelers taking railway trips throughout Japan, Japan Rail Pass is a convenient and reasonable option. There are several types based on class and duration as follows:
||Green Car (First Class)
*The above prices are yen and the actual cost in local currency is calculated at the time the Exchange Order is issued.
The pass is valid for all the Japan Rail (JR) lines and some private railways, EXCEPT Nozomi trains. (You can take Hikari and Kodama.) Fees are payable for seat reservation (approx. $5-7 USD) and sleeper services (fee dependent on routes and sleeper categories).
You need to buy a Japan Rail Pass voucher before you leave the U.S. at designated travel agents and exchange the voucher for the Rail Pass at major JR stations in Japan and validate the starting date.
No time to go to Kyoto? Why not try a 20-minute ride to Shin-Yokohama from Tokyo? It costs only $13 USD (approx.) each way. Getting off at Shin-Yokohama, you may want to walk to Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum (http://www.raumen.co.jp/ramen/) where you can choose your favorite local ramen noodle dishes from 9 shops.
For information on the Shinkansen, its timetable and Japan Rail Pass, please visit: http://www.japanrail.com.
Luxe Guide for Women
Feast your eyes & stomach on world famous fashion brands in GINZA!
With Gucci, Armani, and Shiseido to name a few, Ginza is widely known as a shopping heaven for fashion lovers! But how many of you actually know that these international brands no longer design merely their fashion items in Ginza, but also some beautifully decorated dishes in stylish restaurants today?
In Ginza, also known as Tokyo's Fifth Avenue, you can feast your eyes and stomach on the exquisitely made world's top designer dishes which you cannot not find anywhere else in the world!
Giorgio Armani's flagship store in Ginza presents the world's first Armani / Ristorante on its 10th floor with a spectacular view of the city. The lacy gold-mesh screens divide the space into pods of tables, and Armani-attired waiters march back and forth with perfect service and elegantly decorated dishes. The restaurant offers original Italian cuisine by Enrico Derflingher, former personal chef to Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Ease yourself into a fantastic dining experience with glossy black-lacquered tables, gold finishes, and delicious Italian food filtered through Japanese aesthetic, and you will feel the beautiful mixture of Japanese culture and Italian cuisine.
Gucci Café is located on the fourth floor of Gucci Ginza building. Opening up to a grand view of the Ginza cityscape, this world-famous brand also provides an elegant environment in which to relax in between your shopping trips. Gucci Ginza is the first ever Gucci flagship store to be housed in its own building, conceived specifically to compliment Tokyo shopping culture. Gucci lovers should be fascinated by the menus covered with Gucci leather and their food… served with the Gucci logo on top!
Getting full with all these luxurious meals & settings? Save space in your stomach for the exquisitely made cakes and chocolates served by Shiseido Parlour, owned and operated by the Japanese cosmetic giant Shiseido. Having a great reputation with its lunch and dinner menu on the 4th & 5th floors of the Shiseido building, it is also very famous among sweet lovers for its wonderfully decorated desserts served at Shiseido Salon de Café, located on the 3rd floor of the same building. The artistically decorated sweets with seasonal fresh fruits will heal your legs, undoubtedly tired from strolling for hours around this huge shopping heaven of Ginza!
Great Hotels You Haven't Seen in Travel Magazines: Sado Bellemer YH
Have you ever heard of Sado Island? In my opinion, the island is one of the best places to experience rural Japan. Located in the Sea of Japan with over 1,000 years of history, farmers and fishermen on the island are still living in their unspoiled village. In recent years, however, the island was chosen as the stage for the international triathlon for the past 21 years in a row. Many athletes come back again and again to this island because of the island's unique charm. Artists are drawn to the island, too, such as Kodo, well-known taiko drumming performance group. On August 16th-18th, the 22nd Earth Celebration 2009 is lead by Kodo so please check their website!
Sado Bellmer Youth Hostel is located on the western edge of the island. You need to cross the island and drive up the coast line to get there, but this place deserves a visit. Pine forests meets the Sea of Japan, and the hostel is just on the pier. In the summer, walk the backside path of the hostel to the sea at night. Under a sky full of stars, stir up the surface of the sea so you will see glistening noctiluca. At dawn, you'll see numerous lights of squid-fishing vessels. The sunset view from the hostel is one of the best in Japan, and here fried squid, grilled bearded clams and grilled fish are served with rice, soup and salad, prepared with the heart-warming hospitality of the host family.
To Sado Island, take a bullet train or coach from Tokyo to Niigata, and ride a ferry from Niigata-port to Ryotsu-port in Sado. From Ryotsu-port, you can take a bus or drive an hour to the hostel.
Price: YH member 5,380 yen ($56 USD*) w/ breakfast and dinner. Also open to non-YH members.
Address: 369-4 Himezu, Sado-City, Niigata-Prefecture 952-2134 JAPAN
Tel: +1-259-75-2011 Fax: +1-259-75-2071 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://sado.bellemer.jp/ (Available only in Japanese) or http://www.visitsado.com/en/05plan/03accom/inn-find-id.php?id=a030083
(* Conversion Rate $1=97 yen (June, 2009))
Anatomy of Japanese Travel: JNTO Staff Survey
Are you interested in knowing how much Japanese travel in Japan and what places we like most? We conducted a survey on the best destinations in Japan among the JNTO staff. In this issue, we will show you the result of the survey, for your reference for planning your next visit. In this issue, let us start with Tokyo and discuss shrines and temples.
What places do you like best? Tokyo-version.
Ginza wins first place, narrowly over Shinjuku, and the relatively unknown town of Kagurazaka surprisingly secures third place! We surveyed thirteen people on the JNTO staff and asked them to pick their three favorite areas in Tokyo. Here are the results:
|Small street of
#1 Ginza 8 votes
#2 Shinjuku 7 votes
#3 Kagurazaka 4 votes
#4 Shibuya 3 votes
#5 Omotesando & Aoyama tied with 3 votes
#6 Odaiba, Yanesen (Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi), Ameyoko, Shimokitazawa 2 votes
#10 Ogikubo, Kanda used book stores, Tsukishima, Hiroo & Azabu, Komazawa, Meguro, Ueno, Tamachi, Kichijyoji
For Japanese people, Ginza has been a special place for a long time, as it is the most sophisticated downtown area in Japan (or probably in the world). Even in this diversified era, going out to Ginza still creates status. Recently, Ginza has been changing rapidly with waves of luxury brand stores, but you can easily find good old Ginza once you start walking around. Small restaurants and shops are indispensable charms of this town along with big department stores and theaters.
Which train station has the largest number of passengers in the world? The answer is Shinjuku, which is a big hub for more than 7 lines. While Ginza has a single united image of a sophisticated town, the charm of Shinjuku is its diversity and energy, with high-rise office buildings in the west exit, bustling night life in Kabuki-cho, department stores, anarchic small pubs in Golden-gai, or the slum taste of Shonben-yokocho (Pee side street). What chaos!
|These are Shinjuku!
Have you ever heard of Kagurazaka?. It is a hidden gem and it is a surprise to me that this town wins third place. In other words, good job, JNTO!
What makes Kagurazaka unique is the steep slope of its single main street, maze-style narrow paths with traditional houses, and several small, family-owned restaurants preserving Geisha culture. You can easily bump into a traditional Japanese restaurant which was transformed from a residential house or small African food restaurant. And yes, sento (public bath) is available.
Have you ever been there? Temple/Shrine version.
No doubt about Golden Pavilion!
The second most recognized symbol of Japan next to Mount Fuji is…I guess everybody agrees….Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion). And it is true, 14 out of 14 of those surveyed have been here. After Golden Pavilion, other popular shrines & temples include Senso-ji (Tokyo), Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto), Meiji-jingu (Tokyo), Ryoan-ji (Kyoto), and Ise-jingu (Mie). Izumo-taisha's location is not the most convenient, but still half of us visited there. Well, we are in the travel industry, after all.
Ise-jingu (Mie) is the most famous shrine in Japan, as it is the headquarters of countless shrines all over Japan. Ise-jingu has an interesting background. In the Edo era or even earlier, farmers were prohibited to travel beyond feudal state boundaries. But there was one exception to this rule: a pilgrimage to Ise-shrine. Imagine, no cars, trains, airplanes, expedia.com or Google map in Edo era, so traveling to Ise was a once-in-a-lifetime dream and challenge for many farmers, and border guards would let them pass if they claimed they were going to Ise. Yokozuna sumo wrestlers often pay homage by visiting this shrine.
Dazaifu Tenman-gu (Fukuoka)
This is a shrine for Sugawara Michizane (845-903), a poet and scholar in the Heian Era. He was demoted and sent to Kyushu and died there. Later, he was respected as the god of scholarship. It is close to Fukuoka, the biggest city on Kyushu Island, which has been a gateway to the outside world for a long time, as it is close to Korea and China. Indeed, from Fukuoka, Seoul is much closer than Tokyo. Three years ago, the fourth national museum was opened next to this shrine, and an East Asia Summit (China, Korea, and Japan) was held in this new museum. It is a good travel destination with a new museum and old shrines next each other in the heart of East Asia.