• 川から見る、少し違った東京

    [From August Issue 2014]

    Practiced in Japan from the Heian era (8-12th century), boating is sailing on a river or a pond for pleasure. In addition to river cruises, all kinds of boating can be enjoyed all over Japan. In Tokyo, you can rent the “Riverboat Mizuha” for your private use.
    Tokyo is on the Bay of Tokyo where, during the Edo era (17-19th centuries), large cargo was always transported by ships. Tokyo still has many rivers and canals that were used in those days. “You can forget your everyday routine just by pushing off from the shore and being rocked by the water. You can experience this in the middle of a metropolis,” says SATO Miho, managing director of Floating Life Co., Ltd., the company that runs Mizuha.
    Though the boat has a small capacity of just ten, these ten people are accommodated on comfortable seats with a large table. The boat also has a toilet and electronic devices. Since the boat was built to sit low in the water, it can pass under low bridges even when the tide is high. Slender lighting fixtures leave enough headroom inside the boat. Since the tablecloths and lighting fixtures are traditional Japanese artisanal objects, the whole interior of the boat resembles a showcase in which everything can be seen and touched.
    Typical rental periods are for 60-120 minutes leaving you free to choose your route and to have a good time with your family or close friends. If you indicate your preference for “a route with beautiful nighttime views” or “a route that gives a sense of Tokyo’s history,” suggestions will be made depending on the hour and season.
    Customers vary: some hire the boat for a parents’ anniversary, sometimes all three generations of a family enjoy the cruise, and some are small parties on a company outing. A family with small children doesn’t have to worry about bothering other passengers. People have commented that it was good to laugh out loud and enjoy talking knowing the noise they made on the water wouldn’t disturb anyone.
    On other trips, you ride with strangers. “Tokyo Landmark Boating” and “Dusk/Early Evening Boating” (about 60 minutes) are trips that take you through Nihonbashi River and Kamejima River – unchanged since the Edo era – along the Sumida River visiting Rainbow Bridge and the Tokyo Tower area. You can see the contrast between canals that still retain vestiges of their old banks, narrow waterways, and the Sumida River – also called the “big river.” In addition to Tokyo Skytree, you’ll also enjoy the many unique bridges that span the Sumida River. In the evening, the reflections of bridge lights on the river’s surface are particularly romantic.
    Sato says, “I’m delighted if it stirs up thoughts such as: ‘I wonder why the scenery looks so different from the river?’ or ‘Was Tokyo such a cool town?’” It’s possible to embark from three locations: Nihonbashi (Chuo Ward), Kachidoki (Chuo Ward), and Azuma-bashi (Sumida Ward). On such sightseeing boats, it’s often forbidden to bring along your own drinks and food on board, but on Mizuha it’s permitted without incurring extra charges. If you request catering, it’ll be provided. English tours are available.
    Funaasobi Mizuha[2014年8月号掲載記事]

    「いつも見ている風景を川の上から見るとどうして新鮮に感じるんだろう? 東京ってこんなにかっこいい街だった?と思っていただけるとうれしいです」と佐藤さんは話します。日本橋(中央区)、勝どき(中央区)、吾妻橋(墨田区)の3ヵ所から乗船できます。このような観光船は飲食物の持ち込みが禁止されているところが多いのですが、みづはは持ち込み可能ですし持込料もとりません。頼めばケータリングしてくれます。英語でのガイドが可能です。

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  • とんぼりリバークルーズ

    [From July Issue 2014]

    This popular cruise plots a course under the nine bridges that span the Dotonbori River in Osaka. From the boat you can look up at the area’s iconic neon signs. During the approximately 20 minutes’ time spent on board, it is also pleasurable to listen to the crew make light banter in their unique Osaka accents (in Japanese). Because it is permitted to bring food and drinks onboard, many people bring along takoyaki and drinks sold around the boarding area.
    Boarding reception: five minutes’ walk from Namba Station (Midosuji Subway Line / Sennichimae Subway Line)
    Boarding dock: Tazaemon-bashi Bridge Wharf
    Price: 700 yen for adults (junior high students and over)
    Cruise schedule
    Weekdays: 1pm – 9pm
    Weekends/holidays/high season: 11am – 9pm
    Departs every 00 and 30 minutes past the hour. 5pm and 5:30pm Services suspended on weekdays.
    (Service subject to suspension due to weather conditions, oceanographic phenomena, tide levels)
    Tombori River Cruise[2014年7月号掲載記事]


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  • 効率よく観光できるバスツアー

    [From June Issue 2014]

    This year is the 65th anniversary of Hato Bus – one of Japan’s best-known sightseeing tour bus companies. It not only offers tours to Japanese customers, but also runs a variety of tours aimed at foreign tourists. The guides on foreign language tours are all state licensed interpreters.
    A popular option is “Dynamic Tokyo;” a tour of the metropolis with an English language guide. You can take a walk in a Japanese-style garden and try out a version of the tea ceremony that has been simplified for non-Japanese. Also, you can enjoy food cooked on a steel plate made with lava from Mt. Fuji. Everything is a highlight; from the Imperial Palace, to a cruise on the Sumida River to the final destination in Asakusa. The attraction of Hato Bus is in the efficient way it tours round the major sightseeing spots.
    HASHIZUME Mai has nine-year’s experience working as a tour guide and says, “Trying to book the itinerary yourself would be too much even for a Japanese person.” If you go by car, it won’t be easy to find a parking space. You can save time with Hato bus because we have our own private parking spaces. If there are foods you can’t eat, because of allergies, or for religious reasons, or if you are vegetarian, we can accommodate you if you let us know in advance.”
    Time spent travelling can be a good opportunity to learn about Japan’s culture and history. Mexican Hemia CISNEROS, who participated with a Japanese friend, says, “It’s a good thing that I can learn about today’s Japan through the bus window. Tokyo is a big city and I don’t understand the language. Visiting many places by bus is far more practical than planning and going on my own.” It’s the best way to show friends from abroad around, as the guides, who possess an in-depth knowledge of Japan, can comprehensively answer their questions.
    The one-day “World Heritage Mt. Fuji & Hakone tour” tour of Mt. Fuji – registered as a World Heritage Site in 2013 – and its surrounding area is also popular. Other than Mt. Fuji, you can also enjoy a pleasure cruise of Lake Ashi and a Western-style buffet lunch at Hakone Hotel Kowakien. In summer, you can climb up to the fifth station of Mt. Fuji to enjoy a magnificent view.
    Canadian Jacques BOUCHER, who went on a tour with his wife and son, says, “I came because I wanted to compare Mt. Fuji with a mountain we have in Montreal. It’s spectacular and graceful. The best view I’ve had in my life.” Guide INABA Atsuko says, “I make it a rule to talk about things we Japanese see in our everyday life, such as clean streets.”
    There is also a half-day tour of Tokyo and a tour to enjoy Tokyo Skytree tower. Shuttle services are also available to pick customers up from their hotels in Shinjuku, Shinagawa, and other parts of Tokyo Prefecture, to be taken to the departure terminal in Hamamatsu-cho. It’s possible to enjoy a safe, pleasant trip that will give you a sense of Japanese-style hospitality.
    Hato Bus Co., Ltd.
    Tel: 03-3435-6081
    Text: IZAWA Taiichi[2014年6月号掲載記事]


    Tel: 03-3435-6081

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  • 地域をより知ることができる民泊

    [From June Issue 2014]

    “Private lodging” – accommodation in a private residence – is getting an increasing amount of repeat custom. Many start out as regional exchange or development schemes to supplement the incomes of families whose livelihood is based on the farming, fishing or forestry industries. Recently they’ve been attracting attention because of their charm; they provide something that can’t be found on a typical sightseeing trip.
    “The charm of private lodging lies in becoming better acquainted with a region through interactions with locals,” says KAWAGUCHI Susumu, “Shiosai-juku” in Goto, Nagasaki Prefecture, has been operating for three years. Made with local produce, his regional dishes are extremely popular. Another big attraction of private lodging is the real-life experience you have with locals.
    Since Goto is next to the ocean, fishing and messing about on the beach are popular activities to experience. While visitors to Shiosai-juku are mostly in their 50s or 60s, more and more schools are giving children the opportunity to get a taste of staying at a private residence as part of an educational program. For children who have no opportunity to spend time by the seaside in the course of their everyday lives, finding out about the diversity of sea creatures can be the catalyst for raising awareness about the Earth’s environment. Visitors from overseas are still rare, but Kawaguchi expects that the number of Korean tourists will increase if the Catholic church in Goto is registered as a World Heritage Site.



    At “Yururiya” and “Tomaryanse” residential lodgings, in the village of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, roughly half of the visitors are Japanese and half foreign. Owner ERA Yoko says she wants them to come with the mindset of someone who’s about to do a homestay.
    She sometimes has a hard time communicating in English. “One winter’s day, I thought the bathroom was too cold, so I left the shower running in order to warm it up before some high school students from Singapore took their bath. They must have thought it was customary in Japan to leave the shower running. They left it running for a long time after their bath. It was very difficult for me to explain this later,” Era laughs.
    A popular activity is to get a hands-on experience of farming by doing things like harvesting rice and vegetables. If it’s not possible to do any farming because of the rain, visitors prepare food – sushi wrapped in rolls of seaweed, and so forth – with her. Foreign visitors are especially pleased to get the chance to experience making Japanese dishes. Era says she feels very sad when people who have stayed for more than two days leave, as they begin to feel like family. She often continues friendships with them by swapping email addresses.
    As well as being cheap, private lodgings provide foreigners with a chance to get a taste of the Japanese lifestyle, and for this reason they may become popular in the future. They also offer Japanese city dwellers an invaluable experience.

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi[2014年6月号掲載記事]




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  • リニア・鉄道館

    [From June Issue 2014]

    This is an interactive railway museum that both children and adults can enjoy in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture. Focusing mostly on the Tokaido Shinkansen; from steam locomotives to magnetic levitation trains, there are 39 original vehicles on display. The shinkansen driving simulator allows you to experience operating a train in a life size driver’s cab while watching a big screen (Users are selected by lottery). The railway diorama is one of Japan’s largest and is both impressive and popular.
    Nearest train station: Take the Aonami Line at JR Nagoya Station and get off at “Kinjo Futo Station.” Then it’s a two-minute walk from the station.
    Admission: 1,000 yen for adults. 500 yen for elementary, junior and high school students. 200 yen for small children (preschool children over three).
    Opening hours: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm (entry allowed up until 30 minutes before closing time)
    Closed days: Every Tuesday (the following day if Tuesday is a national holiday). December 28 – January 1.
    SCMAGLEV and Railway Park[2014年6月号掲載記事]


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  • 大谷資料館

    [From May Issue 2014]

    Oya Ishi is a museum that archives rocks. Using manual labor, rocks have been mined in Oya Town, Tochigi Prefecture since the Edo period. A display of tools shows how that process has become automated in modern times. Thirty meters below the surface are the remains of a massive 20,000 square meter underground mining site. With its fantastic atmosphere, this space is also used for art exhibitions and concerts.
    Nearest train station: JR Utsunomiya Station. From there take the Kanto Bus bound for Oya/Tateiwa. It’s a seven minute walk from Oya Shiryokan Iriguchi bus stop.
    Admission: 700 yen (general/high school students and above), 350 yen (elementary and middle school students)
    Museum hours: 9:00am-5:00pm (last entry at 4:30pm)
    Days museum is closed: not fixed
    Oya Shiryoukan (Oya Museum)[2014年5月号掲載記事]

    最寄り駅:JR宇都宮駅より 関東バス大谷・立岩行きにて

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  • サンシャイン水族館

    [From April Issue 2014]

    This popular aquarium is located above the rooftop in a 40-meter-high building. In its outdoor area there is a two-meters and 30-centimeters-tall donut shaped water tank in which sea lions can be seen swimming overhead. Also fun are the underwater displays of divers feeding fish and up close sea lion performances. There are also plenty of indoor tanks in which coral reefs and jellyfish are displayed.
    Nearest Train Station: Ten minutes’ walk from Ikebukuro Station (JR, Seibu Line, Tobu Line)
    General Admission: 2,000 yen (for high school students and above)
    Business Hours: November to March 10 am to 6 pm
    April to October: 10 am to 8 pm
    Latest admission one hour before closing
    Sunshine Aquarium
    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko[2014年4月号掲載記事]

    営業時間:11月~3月 午前10時~午後6時
    4月~10月 午前10時~午後8時

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  • 外国人を対象にした宿のオリジナル企画

    [From February Issue 2014]

    The Park Hotel Tokyo (Shiodome, Tokyo) has “Artist Rooms” in which sumo wrestlers and Zen characters painted in ink seem to dance dynamically. These rooms are for foreigners who make up 60% of the hotel’s guests. These rooms were created as part of a project to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the hotel. “In this space, it’s possible to experience the Japanese aesthetic,” general manager HAYASHI Yoshiaki says, explaining the project.
    Each Artist Room has been entirely produced and designed by a single artist. “More than just painting, they’re creating a room,” says Hayashi. The project has been a fascinating one for artists, too. They can not only express their world view with an entire room, but can also leave the PR to the hotel. He says that there are many applicants, although the remuneration only covers the cost of the materials.
    Four Artist Rooms were created in 2013. Black ink was used in all of them. There are plans in the future for rooms with color. “With nine more being created in 2014 and 2015 respectively, eventually we’ll have 31 rooms. We’re planning to transform the 31st floor, where all the Artist Rooms are located, into an Artist Floor where the Japanese aesthetic sense will be on display along corridors and in a private lounge,” says Hayashi.
    As the hotel wanted to appeal to foreigners in particular, accommodation information on Artist Rooms is only available in the English version of its website. Currently, Artist Rooms are more popular with foreign guests than with Japanese guests and sumo designs have been particularly well received. The hotel also has some rooms in which relaxing videos of colored carp can be seen. Those rooms are popular with both non-Japanese and Japanese.


    Nagashi Soumen (Utanobori Green Park Hotel)

    At Utanobori Green Park Hotel (Esashi Town, Hokkaido), the selling point is rustic charm instead of stylishness. Tour groups travel the four hour bus journey there from Sapporo eager to enjoy the hotel’s attractions which gives them a taste of Japanese culture.
    “This time, it’s a tour of five days and four nights including Sapporo and Otaru, but Utanobori is the main attraction,” says Sarisa RASRICHEAM, a Thai guide. “We offer all sorts of Japanese experiences that are not possible to acquire on regular tours. It’s also possible to get to know the Japanese countryside.”
    After arriving at around 6:00 pm, female tour guests change into a yukata and the men into a jinbei. They watch “iai” (the art of drawing one’s sword, cutting down one’s opponent and sheathing the sword in one motion), experience flower arrangement and make sushi on their own. Between meals, they can enjoy a shooting gallery – typically found at country festivals – try their hand at “kendama” (cup and ball game) and enjoy “nagashi-soumen noodles.” After dinner, they have the option to go by bus to a night safari. In winter time, it’s possible to enjoy kamakura (snow huts).
    “They must come to enjoy our ‘anything goes’ parties,” says vice general manager SHOJI Kazunori. As the number of direct flights between Bangkok and Shin-Chitose has increased, he’s been creating package holidays aimed at Thais together with a Thai travel agent. It’s been four years since the first tour.
    The attractions are mostly performed by employees using handmade materials. They cost next to nothing. “Our guests are wealthy Thais. Since we’re in the countryside, it’d be pointless competing by trying to match the fancy things they’ve seen around the world. That’s why we decided to simply entertain them.”
    Although the hotel caters to guests from Thailand, only one employee is fluent in Thai. Most employees communicate with guests in English, with gestures and by using the few Thai words they’ve picked up during their four years’ experience. “Even so, we’re sometimes told ‘your service was as good as that of a three-star hotel,’” says Shoji, who’s encouraged by this response. He’s also thinking of offering tour packages to tourists from other countries.


    Capsule Ryokan

    The Tour Club, a Kyoto guest house that opened in 2000, has been a pioneer in the field of accommodation aimed at foreigners. While a student, the owner SHIMIZU Keiji traveled around the world staying at guesthouses. This experience gave him the idea of running guesthouses aimed at non-Japanese – there were virtually none in Japan in those days – thus transforming Japan into a country in which backpackers from all over the world could visit.
    His business proved successful and more and more guesthouses opened in Japan. Shimizu himself opened another guesthouse and a furnished hotel for foreigners staying for longer periods. During this time, he began hearing comments from guests like: “I’d like to stay at a capsule hotel” and “Instead of a private room at a youth hostel, I’d like to stay at a low-cost ryokan that has a shower and toilet.”
    “Capsule hotels and ryokan are a kind of accommodation that is unique to Japan. I thought of creating accommodation aimed at foreigners that would combine the two and be available at a low cost,” says Shimizu, explaining how he hit upon the unprecedented idea of the “Capsule Ryokan.”
    Regular capsule hotels are tightly packed with mass-produced capsules. However, bearing in mind the proportions of tatami mats, it was difficult to use such capsules. He also was determined to create a comfortable space. “With a measuring tape in hand I went around checking the toilets of bullet trains and camper vans; places in which a small space was used efficiently,” he says, recalling the days when the original concept of Capsule Ryokan was taking shape.
    His Capsule Ryokan opened in 2010. One room is for capsules only, but is only fitted out with eight capsules – less than in a regular capsule hotel. Each capsule is furnished with a tatami (straw mat) floor and comfortable futon. The latest check-in is 10:00 pm. Since no one comes in or goes out at night, it’s not as noisy as regular capsule hotels. Lockers large enough for backpacks and suitcases are available. There are also small rooms that sleep two furnished with tatami and equipped with a high-tech shower and toilet.
    “Guesthouses can be found all over the world and I’ve been striving to popularize them in Japan. I think that my next step will be to popularize this new business model all over the world.” Just as expected, this globally unique style of accommodation became hugely popular with foreign guests soon after opening. As videos were taken of the interior of the building and uploaded to video sharing sites, its reputation continued to grow. And so, in 2011, it was chosen by foreigners as the No. 1 hotel in Japan on the word-of-mouth travel site Trip Advisor, beating luxury hotels.
    Shimizu’s dream of transforming Japan into a country that is accessible to backpackers is coming true. “However, although Japan’s sightseeing spots have plenty of charming attractions, there aren’t enough signs or displays in English; this makes it hard for foreigners to discover the good points,” he says. There’s room for improvement in services that allow foreigners to fully experience the best of Japan.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年2月号掲載記事]





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  • 温泉地に出現した「モンスターハンター」の世界

    [From February Issue 2014]

    Located in the northeast of Nagano Prefecture, Shibu-Onsen is a spa resort where hot spring water bubbles up as soon as you start digging into its soil. The history of this spa town stretches back over 1300 years, and it is now attracting fans of video games. Events are being held there in which it’s possible to experience the world of the hunting action game “Monster Hunter.”
    Monster Hunter is a series of games released by Capcom Co., Ltd. and the latest, “Monster Hunter 4,” is now on sale. The player makes a living as a hunter in a dramatic natural setting. Players improve their skills by completing missions – so called “quests” – to hunt down monsters and so forth.
    The project began because the scenery around Shibu-Onsen resembles that in the game. “We now have visitors from the younger generation who didn’t know about Shibu-Onsen before,” says YAMADA Kazuyoshi, representative director at Shibu Hotel. “That being said, I got worried when Capcom first came to us with the idea. I had absolutely no idea what kind of visitors would come, or in what kind of numbers. I was afraid of alienating our original customer base, too.”
    The town has inherited an “in any case, let’s give it a go” attitude from its ancestors. With this driving them, they got going, with the companies involved working in cooperation with a local association of young people. Numerous discussions were held concerning how the town could more closely resemble the world of the game, while making the most of its hot springs and natural resources.
    Decorations made in collaboration with Monster Hunter hang from doorways and Monster Hunter statues have been put up, involving the whole town in Monster Hunter. The footprints of monsters are painted on the floor of eateries which serve up monster themed food or drink. Depending on the season, during the event periods visitors can enjoy different attractions, such as bon-odori (traditional dance) and fishing competitions in summer, mushroom picking in autumn and illuminations in winter.
    “After the first event was held in 2010, we got a lot of feedback from the spa community praising the way it brought people together,” says Yamada. “It wasn’t only people working in hotels and eateries that chatted to the hunters (visitors), but also the townspeople. It’s just an ordinary thing for us to do, but they are so delighted that I’m amazed.”
    Most townspeople, including Yamada, don’t play video games. He says that he had had the erroneous idea that gamers were loners. “But after greeting the hunters in real life, our image of them changed drastically. There are many groups of friends or families and furthermore, they all greet us cheerfully.”
    Including repeat custom, the number of visitors to Shibu-Onsen is increasing year on year. Yamada says, “The great thing about Shibu-Onsen is the quality of its spa water and the town’s long tradition of unity. One of the biggest bonuses for me is experiencing the joy that comes from receiving guests from the younger generation. I think the same thing could be said about receiving visitors from overseas. You never know what might happen until you try.”
    “Monhan Shibu no sato” official page
    Text: HATTA Emiko[2014年2月号掲載記事]



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  • 梅田スカイビル空中庭園

    [From January Issue 2014]

    This skyscraper is 40 stories up and 173 meters high. Two skyscrapers are joined together to create this building and on top of them is an open air viewing platform. To ascend, visitors take a see through escalator from the 35th floor. From the observatory there is a 360° panorama of the city. Staff are on hand to assist you with taking photographs and suchlike.
    Closest train station: seven minutes on foot from JR Osaka Station
    Admission: 700 yen for the general public
    Opening hours: 10:00 am to 10:30 pm (no entry after 10:00 pm)
    Subject to seasonal changes.
    Floating Garden on Top of Umeda Sky Building[2014年1月号掲載記事]


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