Japan Travel Updates is a publication of the Los Angeles Office of the Japan National Tourism Organization.
For more information, or for promotional opportunities, e-mail: info@jnto-lax.org

Tokyo Sky Tree Opening Date Announced
Tokyo's massive new tower, the "Tokyo Sky Tree", has announced its official opening date. The tower will open to visitors on May 22, 2012. The 634-meter tall tower, found near Oshiage Station just northeast of Asakusa, will be one of the world's tallest free-standing towers upon its completion. Built mainly to accommodate new antennas for Digital and "One-Seg" TV and content broadcasts, the tower will also incorporate observation decks and a shopping complex on its lower floors.

"Tokyo Transport Pass" Launched
For those of you looking for even more ways to save money while traveling - and let's be honest, who isn't? - you'll be happy to learn that another discount pass for travel around Tokyo is making its debut. The "Tokyo Transport Pass" will allow visitors to Tokyo from overseas to travel on all JR, Toei Subway, Toei Bus, and Tokyo Metro Subway lines in Tokyo for one price - 2,500 yen for two days and 3,000 yen for three days. Passes for youth are also available for half price. The tickets can be purchased from the JR ticket offices at either Narita or Haneda Airport. As a bonus, the passes come with a Visit Japan Discount Card, good for discounts at retailers across Tokyo.

The Tokyo DomeMLB Announces Japan Exhibition Games for 2012
Japan's passion for the sport of baseball is legendary, which explains why our next story is so buzz-worthy: the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics will be opening their 2012 Season in the center of Tokyo at the Tokyo Dome. The teams will be playing twice - on March 28 and March 29 - and will feature some of Japan's most legendary players: Hideki Matsui of Oakland, and Ichiro Suzuki of Seattle. Japan's pro leagues also begin playing in late March, so if you are a baseball fan, this is your best chance to experience Japan your way!


Japan Airlines Wins CAPA "Airline of the Year" Honors
Sydney, Australia-based aviation marketing and data firm CAPA has officially awarded Japan Airlines as their "Airline of the Year" for 2011. According to CAPA Executive Chairman Peter Harbison, the award recognizes the success of the restructuring of Japan Airlines that began in 2010 and hails their return to profitability in the face of many challenges. The airline has restructured its work force and is decommissioning its larger planes in favor of small to medium-sized wide body aircraft. An official press release about the award can be found here.

"Travel Volunteer" Contest Winners blog across Japan
Earlier this summer, Ishikawa Prefecture-based travel agency The Real Japan held a contest in which the winners would win the chance to travel to all of Japan's 47 prefectures (yes, all of them!) and blog about their experiences. A British couple won the contest and have subsequently begun blogging about their journey. Their stories from the road can be found here. Their trip ends in December.

We have a bit of a special feature in the Festival Schedule this month: a look at some of Hokkaido's biggest and most popular festivals happening during the iconic Sapporo Snow Festival. Check out that feature below, but first - a look at some noteworthy events happening outside Hokkaido.

Yamayaki - January 28, 2012
Mt. Wakakusa, Nara City, Nara Prefecture

If the idea of a snowy winter makes you long for a warm campfire, this is the festival for you! This traditional grass burning on the side of Mt. Wakakusa started over a territorial dispute between two of Nara's most famous temples - Kofukuji and Todaiji - and continues today as one of the biggest winter festivals in the Kansai area. The burn lasts thirty minutes and is accompanied by a fireworks display. Good views can be had from many of the temples on Nara's east side, but come early, dress warm, and bring binoculars because it can get crowded! Once you arrive, get a warm snack from one of the many festival food stalls, find a comfy spot, and enjoy the show.

Yokote Kamakura Festival - February 15-16, 2012
Yokote City, Akita Prefecture
Imagine being invited to someone's home for snacks and a hot drink on a snowy day. Now imagine that home is an igloo, and you'll get an idea of why Yokote's Kamakura Festival has become one of Japan's most popular winter festivals. Created with ample seating space and shrines to the gods of water, Yokote constructs over 100 kamakura - or snow igloos - for this festival, along with thousands of smaller kamakura with candles inside them that illuminate the riverbanks of this quiet mountain town. Locals invite visitors in for grilled rice cakes, a sweet rice drink called amazake, and a bit of conversation. The views alone make this festival well worth a visit, but it's the hospitality shown towards visitors that makes the experience unforgettable.

Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri - February 18, 2012
Saidaiji Kannon-in Temple, Saidaijinaka Ward, Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture

The word "spectacle" barely begins to describe this eccentric festival, whose name is often translated as "The Naked Festival." Started 500 years ago, the main attraction of this festival is when the temple priest tosses lucky sacred sticks into a crowd of 9,000 men - who are wearing just loincloths - and the men struggle to capture them. The main event takes place close to midnight, but other events are held at the shrine leading up to the tossing of the sticks and other lucky items by the priest. It's really fun to watch, but we wouldn't recommend joining the competition - 9,000 men in loincloths who don't mind the cold weather are a force you don't want to mess with.

With over 2 million visitors a year, Sapporo's annual Snow Festival is arguably one of Japan's biggest festivals, filling the streets of Hokkaido's urban center with snow sculptures, illuminated ice towers, and revelers from all over the world. However, Sapporo isn't the only Hokkaido city that celebrates the winter in style! Here's a look at the Sapporo event - as well as some other festivals in Hokkaido you'll want to check out at the same time.

Sapporo Snow Festival - February 6-12, 2012
Sapporo, Hokkaido
As Hokkaido's largest city, Sapporo doesn't skimp on the space for this massive festival, in which the city's main "Odori" thoroughfare is filled with snow and ice sculptures - many of which rise multiple stories in height and are illuminated at night. Previous festival sculptures have included replicas of castles, famous cartoon characters, snow murals, and more. Sapporo's Susukino area also features numerous ice sculptures next to their many shops and restaurants, keeping them illuminated until midnight. If you want to partake in a few thrills while visiting the festival, check out the snow and ice slides in the Tsudomu Area.

Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival - January 27-February 12, 2012
Chitose, Hokkaido
Just a bus ride away from Sapporo, this festival takes place next to Lake Shikotsu near many lakeside onsen hotsprings, giving visitors a unique opportunity to unwind after sightseeing. The festival grounds feature illuminated ice sculptures, a stage with entertainment, and even (for one night only) a fireworks display. You'll definitely want to check out the bright green moss cave replica seen at the top of this issue, but if you have the kids along (or people who are kids at heart), be sure not to miss the numerous ice and snow slides sculpted just for them.


Asahikawa Winter Festival - February 8-12, 2012
Asahikawa, Hokkaido
Not to be outdone, Hokkaido's second largest city hosts their own Winter Festival, which has a unique charm all its own. Japan's largest snow sculpture is built here, as are a bunch of other unique features: a set of giant snow domes you can hang out in, a huge terrace made of snow that overlooks the grounds, a stage (also constructed of snow), a "cosplay" costume contest, a fireworks display, and a whole lot more. Snow and ice sculptures line Asahikawa's shopping plaza as well. Finally, for those of you with some pent up frustrations you need to take care of, the festival also provides a designated area exclusively for snowball fights.


We've been taking a look at destinations in Japan that are considered "off the beaten path" - places where you'll rarely see a tour group, but are still relatively close to Japan's major cities. These locations are presented in two categories: "Off" the path for places that some tourists see but most skip, and "Way Off" for places where visitors are rare. In our final edition of Day Tripping, we take a look at some interesting places just a short distance from Nagoya, the largest city in Central Japan.  

Iga Ueno, Mie Prefecture

Have you ever wanted to be a ninja? Maybe not, but tucked away in the mountains of Mie Prefecture is a place where you can feel like one. Iga Ueno is the birthplace of the Iga school of ninjutsu - a fact that the town takes a lot of pride in. Visitors can wander rows of old samurai homes before stopping at the Iga Ninja Museum, where guests can try their hand at the throwing star and other ninja arts. The centerpiece of the town is the majestic Iga Ueno Castle, which acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa used for filming his masterpiece Kagemusha. Whether you love history or just want to see if you have an aspiring career as a stealthy assassin, this is a detour well worth taking.

Access: 2.5 hours from Nagoya on the Kintetsu Osaka Line to Igakambe Station; Iga Railway to Uenoshi Station.

Lake Hamana-ko, Shizuoka Prefecture

If your idea of a vacation includes relaxing with a beer as much as it involves sightseeing, Lake Hamana-ko is the place to be. Located right on the sea, this brackish lake is surrounded by natural scenery and hot springs where guests are invited - and expected - to relax and enjoy views of the lake. Most of the action is centered around the Kanzanji Onsen area, a hot spring and hotel area where visitors can explore numerous gardens and the lush grounds of Kanzanji Temple. Speaking of views, you can take a ropeway cable car over the water to the top of Mt. Okusa for a top down view, or share the view from the ferris wheel at the Pal Pal Amusement Park with someone special. If you're looking for something more subdued, there are rural campgrounds and small bed and breakfast inns in other areas surrounding the lake.

Access: 35 minutes from Nagoya to Hamamatsu on the Tokaido Shinkansen; 40 minutes from Hamamatsu to Kanzanji Onsen by bus.

Tenryukyo Valley, Nagano Prefecture

It takes a while to get to this remote southern part of Nagano Prefecture, but once you board a boat and sail along the cliffs and tree-lined banks of the Tenryu River (as seen in the photo here), you'll realize why the trip is worth it. After exiting Tenryukyo Station, tourists can board a longboat - often captained by an enthusiastic, singing captain - and cruise the rapids that make up this beautiful mountain river. Or head up North to Ina-Yawata Station to board a faster boat that runs through rapids that are guaranteed to splash back at you! Later, hike the banks of the river on foot, or simply retire to your mountain inn or onsen of choice to breathe in the mountain air.

Access: 3 hours from Nagoya - Tokaido Shinkansen to Toyohashi Station; change to the Iida Line to Tenrykyo Station (2 hours) or Ina-Yawata (2.5 hours).


Ono, Fukui Prefecture

Ono might not look like much - just another tiny town surrounded by mountains - but the traces of Japan's past that can be found here (and the fact that even Japanese tourists tend to pass this town up) make it one of the most culturally fulfilling places one could visit. Called the "Little Kyoto"of the region by locals, Ono has a few blocks of remarkably well kept temples and old samurai residences that guests can explore as they make their way to Echizen Ono castle near the center of town. During the warmer months, you can grab a quick bite at the Asaichi (morning market) as you make your way around. After you've explored the cultural sites in town, you can hike through the surrounding mountains to secluded waterfalls and lakes.

Access: 3.5 hours from Nagoya - Tokaido Shinkansen to Maibara, "Shirasagi" Express to Fukui, and the Kuzuryu Line to Echizen-Ono Staion.


The Basics:

Located on the southeast part of Kyushu Island, Miyazaki might not have the glitz of big cities, but thanks to its location, it has one of the mildest, sunniest climates in mainland Japan. Perhaps that is why the area has gained a reputation as a base for luxury resort hotels, surfing, and other outdoor attractions. The western parts of the prefecture feature a little bit of everything, from numerous hot springs to Japan's largest evergreen forest. By the sea, the famous Nichinan Coastline welcomes visitors with spectacular views, shrines, and flower gardens that change with the seasons.

Speaking of shrines, Miyazaki Prefecture's many cultural sites, such as the Saitobaru Burial Mounds and Obi Castle Town, reinforce the importance of the area to Japan's history. Whether you visit to check out shrines hidden on islands and mountainsides, or to play a round of golf on a seaside course, we're pretty sure that Miyazaki will win you over with its charm.


  • Udo Jingu Shrine, a famous Nichinan Coast shrine located in a cave
  • Takachiho Gorge, a mountain river running through cliffs formed by nearby Mt. Aso
  • The Nichinan Coastline, with its many islands, shrines, hot springs and resorts
  • Aoshima Island, known as "the devil's washboard" for rock formations sculpted by ocean waves
  • Obi Castle Town, a restored traditional castle town in Nichinan City


  • Ayu, a fish captured in the traditional manner using a "yana" or false bamboo floor. If you want to watch your fish being caught right before it is prepared for you, visit Nobeoka City.
  • Chicken Nanban, a fried chicken and sauce dish made from locally raised chicken
  • Obiten, a fried fish and tofu cake
  • Hyuganatsu Oranges, a yellow orange with a bittersweet flavor
  • Cheese Manju, a small sweet cream filled cake produced locally

More Information:

See our Guide to Miyazaki or visit the Miyazaki Prefecture Tourism Information website.

We're beginning to see some Spring Tours appear on the list, so if you have clients that are interested in seeing the cherry blossoms, the time to start booking has arrived! The list, please:
All Japan Tours
Japan In Depth Cherry Blossom Tour and Japan Enchantment - 10% agent commission available!

Destination Japan
Tokyo Anime Freedom Tour - $100 off with cash/check payment by January 20, 2012!

Explore Japan by Rail and Tokyo Four Seasons Special

Globus Journeys
Discover Japan Tour - Save $400 per couple on 2012 air-inclusive Asia tours!

InsideJapan Tours
Winter Highlights Tour and Japan Unmasked Tour

Jack's Countryside Japan Tours
Kyoto Temple Flea Markets Tour, March 2012. 10% commission for agents; limit 8 participants.

Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo
Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo is currently offering special promotional rates until December 30, 2011 - Save 20% on 2 nights stay, 30% on 3 night stay, and 40% on 4 night stay!  For further details about this promotion or reservations, please contact the Keio Plaza Hotel Los Angeles Office at 1-800-222-5346 or reservation@keioplazahotel.com


Prince Park Tower Hotel Tokyo
With its own onsen hot spring facility and conveniently located next to the iconic Tokyo Tower, The Prince Park Tower is pleased to announce their Stay 1 Night, Get the 2nd Night Free campaign! Available only to agents via GDS, all booking rates are 10% commissionable. To book, use the following codes:
Amadeus = TYO883, Sabre = 64162, Galileo/Apollo = 21960, Worldspan = 1883
Search and book under chain code "PH"
Rates start at just 29,400 yen/night for a corner double room and 79,600 yen/night for a luxurious garden suite. The best part? Up to five nights can be booked for free with this promotion (for example, if 9 nights are booked, the second, fourth, sixth and eighth nights are free). Promotion is limited to 11 nights. For more details, contact Prince Hotel Group at 1-800-542-8686. Prince Hotels are a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts.


Japan Airlines

JAL proudly presents: The OKINAWA Island Pass!
Although winter may be upon us, it is always warm in Okinawa! When you book your travel, take advantage of JAL's special discount fares for overseas visitors, called the "OKINAWA Island Pass".
Located on the southern most islands of Japan, travelers can fly up to 5 inter-islands routes. And, for an truly comfortable experience across the Pacific, book Japan Airlines. Incredible beaches await you! For more details, visit: http://www.churashima.net/jta/company/islandpass_en.html


If you've been longing to make connections with major suppliers in Japan travel - all while learning about the amazing destinations that Japan has to offer - then mark your calendars! The JNTO is proud to announce our lineup of dates for our annual Japan Showcase Seminars.

These semiars are a fantastic networking and learning opportunity. We'll be joined by airlines, hotels, tour operators, tourism representatives, and other special guests. The dates and locations for the seminars are as follows:

Salt Lake City, UTJanuary 25 (Wed) Marriott City Center
Los Angeles, CA January 26 (Thurs) Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown
Portland, ORFebruary 14 (Tues) Doubletree Hotel
San Jose/Santa Clara, CA February 16 (Thurs) Hyatt Regency Santa Clara
Dallas, TX February 22 (Wed) Sheraton Dallas
Phoenix, AZ February 23 (Thurs) Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort

If you are interested in attending, please contact the JNTO at info@jnto-lax.org OR by calling 213-623-1952.

You can also find the JNTO at the following shows:

This December, come visit us at the 2011 Luxury Travel Expo! Japan Specialist Partners such as Japan Airlines/American Airlines, Shizuoka Prefecture, Hiroshima / Okayama Tourism, Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, JTB USA, IACE Travel, Japan Quest Journeys and Inside Japan Tours will be joining us at our booth, which we'll be operating on behalf of Japan Tourism Agency.

We'll also be holding a special 90 minute Japan seminar, starting at 11AM on Tuesday, December 6!

The Expo will be held from December 6-8, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Come meet with us and find out how Japan can be your client's next luxury destination!

We'll also be visiting the 2012 Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show! We'll be joined by representatives from many exciting destinations and accommodations.

Date: January 14 and 15
Place: Long Beach Convention Center
JNTO Booth Number: #603

We'll be visiting another show in the Los Angeles area as well: the 2012 Los Angeles Times Travel Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center next to the LA Live complex downtown.

Date: January 27-29 (Industry only January 27, Open to Public January 28-29
Place: Los Angeles Convention Center
JNTO Booth Number: TBA

Can't make it to LA to see us? Don't worry - we'll also be visiting the 2012 Bay Area Travel and Adventure Show at the Santa Clara Convention Center in the South Bay area.

Date: February 18 and 19
Place: Santa Clara Convention Center
JNTO Booth Number: #819

Will your customers be able to find you when they click on that link from our website? If you have registered as a Japan Travel Specialist, the answer is yes. Just watch a few educational videos and take three short quizzes to become part of our JTS Program. See the website for details.
You can also contact our office for travel brochures and language handbooks.  Please e-mail info@jnto-lax.org for more information.
* A CD-ROM containing JTS educational material is available by request. Please contact JNTO's Los Angeles office at 213-623-1952 or email info@jnto-lax.org for your copy.

JNTO is here to help! We can provide you with updated information, advice, brochures, and more to make yours a trip to remember. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our office between 9AM and 5PM Pacific Standard Time. We look forward to assisting you!

JNTO Hotline: (213) 623-1952

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Information is provided in this Japan Travel Update as a courtesy to readers of this newsletter. Though JNTO endeavors to ensure the information is accurate, users of the information are to act on such using their own judgment and at their own risk. Neither JNTO nor any holder of a copyright to the information shall be held responsible in any way whatsoever for any loss or misunderstanding, either direct or indirect, that is incurred as a result of utilizing the information.
Publisher: Japan National Tourism Organization, L.A. Office
340 E. 2nd Street, Suite 302, Los Angeles, CA 90012
email: info@jnto-lax.org
website: www.jnto.go.jp or www.japantravelinfo.com