By C. James Dale

Photo Credit: Katie Van Camp
TOKYO—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.

"It is recovering rather quickly," says the JNTO's Mamoru Kobori. "Probably by the springtime when we see the cherry blossoms in full bloom we will see almost the same level as the year before (2010)."

If you're considering a trip to Japan, here are some ideas you might want to add to your itinerary.

This is a city of neighbourhoods and parks. Set aside time to walk the small side streets of Ebisu, Daikanyama, Omotesando, Shimokitazawa, and Koenji. You'll stumble upon small cafés, standing bars, boutiques, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. If you're in the city in April, stroll along the river in Nakameguro to see the cherry trees in all their glory. Take a break from pounding the pavement in these great green spaces: Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, Happo-en.

Once the de-facto capital of Japan (1192-1333), Kamakura now is a laid-back beach town. An hour's train ride from Tokyo, go during the week to avoid the crowds. Start with breakfast by the sea at bills restaurant in the Shichirigahama neighbourhood. Then go for a stroll on the sand and watch the surfers ply the waves. After that, see the sights, including the Hasedera Temple, the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and the Great Buddha.

Many of this city's temples and shrines are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But take time to visit some of the smaller places of worship, such as the tiny Daihikaku Sensoji Temple, which is perched on a hill in the western Arashiyama district. You'll be pleasantly surprised. And why just visit a temple when you can stay in one? The Shunkoin Temple offers rooms with private bathrooms and a shared kitchen. Email Reverend Taka Kawakami to make a reservation.

Generations have been coming to this town, located in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, to enjoy hot spring resorts (onsen), the colours of fall, and the cool of summer. Karuizawa is a one-hour high-speed train journey from Tokyo. The old Mampei Hotel, where John and Yoko once stayed, is still open. A modern-meets-traditional resort worth seeing is Hoshinoya Karuizawa, with its public-access onsen and riverside shopping and restaurant village.

The perfect weekend getaway. In summer and early fall, Tokyoites enjoy its beaches, the best outside of Okinawa. Shimoda is one town worth checking out. Consider staying at White Beach Hotel, a place with functional rooms, a fun atmosphere, and good food (plus it's 30 seconds from Ohama beach).

If you're looking for a good day trip from Tokyo, head to this prefecture, Japan's version of the Napa Valley. Yes, Japan makes its own wine with domestically grown grapes, and while it’s not yet on par with New Zealand or California, it’s getting there. Go to the Budo no Oka Center (Grape Hill Center), where for $14.50 CAD you can sample from hundreds of bottles in the "tasting cave." Once your thirst has been quenched, head upstairs and have a barbeque on the terrace, with a view of the surrounding hills and vineyards.

Hoping to give back while you're in Japan? Get in touch with the non-profit organizations that are doing good deeds in the devastated Tohoku region. Christine Lavoie-Gagnon, a Quebecer and long-time resident of Japan, started an international group called NADIA in the days after the disaster. She and her volunteers have been cleaning and fixing up homes in the city of Ishinomaki. Register for trips on their website.

C. James Dale is a freelance journalist based in Tokyo.

See the article on thestar.com.

The latest visitor arrival statistics are posted at: www.jnto.go.jp/eng/ttp/sta/
When comparing November 2011 with the same month last year, the total visitors to Japan is - 13.1 and -11.0% from Canada.


We recently received a very kind and supportive letter from a Canadian traveler.

Subject: Our Visit to Japan, March 11, 2011


Photo credit: Candy Bishop

I just wanted to let you know that my wife and I visited Japan for one month this year (we bought a 21 day Japan Rail Pass) and had an extraordinarily enjoyable experience, although the start was sad - we arrived exactly when the tsunami was taking its terrible toll. Narita was closed, so we landed in Sapporo and stayed there one night. The availability of free long distance telephones and the grace of hotel staff in modifying our reservations without penalty was heart-warming. After a slight delay, we were able to resume our trip to Okinawa and spent one month touring Japan, enjoying the warmth of its people, tasting the delicious food, learning of the country's magnificent history, and admiring its beautiful architecture and landscapes. We truly love Japan and admired the Japanese strength of character and mutual support that were demonstrated during the aftermath of the Tsunami and nuclear plant disaster.

We explained to our friends and relatives in Canada that we were never in any danger and that the disaster was limited to one part of the country. After returning home, I gave photographic presentations in my community and explained that, although the disaster was bad in a specific portion of the country, the media's misrepresentation and over-exaggeration of the impact on the whole country had been a factor in making some people decide to cancel their trips. I continue to praise Japan and, though my wife and I have visited there twice, we would dearly love to visit again.

Best wishes,

Jeff Bishop
Deep River, Canada


We also have a new article from writer Adam Waxman.
For the Love of Soba

With great anticipation I arrive at the impeccable Hoshinoya ryokan in Kyoto, Japan, and head to dinner. Seated in front of the chef's counter, my host welcomes me and begins to prepare fresh soba noodles just for me. Humbly checking if all is to my liking, my waitress asks, "Yoroshii desu ka?" as my eyes glaze over and my mind drifts back to a long ago memory...of soba.

One crisp winter afternoon in Hyogo Prefecture, my co-worker and I drive to Izushi, the traditional home of soba in Japan. Hyogo is well known for its Kobe beef, its ancient castles and its luxurious hot springs, among other notables; but on this day we seek the ubiquitous Japanese buckwheat noodle.

Entering an old restaurant with ambient folk music playing, we sit on cushions, warm up with Uji tea from neighbouring Kyoto, and read from the menu options of ten, twenty, or thirty plates of this regional specialty. Small plates matched with large appetites require a measure of daring. While completing twenty plates would earn us a plaque, thirty plates garners a plaque with a bell. I want that bell.

With unflappable confidence we inhale the first five almost as soon as they arrive. Our waitress diligently returns with two towering stacks of twenty-five plates each. Daunting? Perhaps for the timid. As we twine our chopsticks through each mound and lift the thin noodles to our mouths, we begin to stack up our accomplishments. Gradually, the monotony of buckwheat, scallions and soy sauce sets in. By seventeen I am well past full. These belly-expanding noodles are beginning to prove a challenge. My chew-time has slowed to a turtle pace until plate twenty-five when I can no longer lift my chopsticks. Each bite grows more exhaustive. Leaning on the table and cupping my forehead with one hand, I determinedly and gluttonously shovel the noodles up with the other. My friend/opponent, who is much larger than me, has little difficulty finishing and gleefully taunting me. As time passes, the stupidity of this challenge weighs heavily, but while over-dosing on soba, I remain defiant.

A Polaroid flashes as I force the last noodle into my now green face. I win... The next day, and for about two months following, I make several trips to a hospital in Osaka to nurse the rupture that prevents any further digestion during this time, and which is commemorated by my plaque, dated January 11, 1998...with a bell.

"Yoroshii desu ka?" my waitress asks again. "Hai. Ii desu yo", I blankly assure her while transfixed by the zen-like focus of this chef who kneads, rolls, and cuts soba with masterful care. Like dinner theatre, I watch each stage of his preparation, until I'm offered my own portion. Politely, I accept the al dente serving of noodles presented like neatly spun yarn and very happily admit—this is actually quite good, clean and refined. Typically, freshness makes all the difference. Hoshinoya has made a soba lover out of me...again.

Adam Waxman is a Contributing Writer, and Director at DINE magazine in Toronto. He is also an actor who has appeared on stages from New York to Stratford, and most recently in the Hollywood film Casino Jack.


JR East has unveiled a new 3-day pass for non-Japanese passport holders. The passes went on sale December 1st, 2011 and will be valid for use as of Jan 1st 2012. At ¥8,000 for adults and ¥4,000 for children, the pass allows unlimited use of ordinary cars on all Limited Express, Express, and Local trains in the free area. This includes the Shinkansen bullet trains, Tokyo Monorail Line, Izu Kyuko Line, Fuji Kyuko Line, Joshin Dentetsu Line and Saitama New Urban Transit. The first 1000 customers to purchase the pass at JR East Travel Service Centers will receive a JR East original neck strap.

For details on the JR Kanto Area Pass, click here.


The Japanese Inn Group, a network of 77 Japanese-style inns, has contracted with the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) to offer privileges to over 100 million automobile clubs' members around the world. JAF participates in "Show your Card and Save®", an international discount program led by the American Automobile Association (AAA). Members of clubs associated with Show your Card and Save® are entitled to receive various discounts and/or gifts from over 160,000 partners, including hotels, restaurants and theme parks.

To find out more, go to Japanese Inn Group.


On a budget and not sure where to look for promotions? The Japan Big Welcome Campaign groups different promotions from all over the country into 5 easy categories: Shopping, Food, Transportation, Activities, & Accommodation.

Find the latest deals at Japan Big Welcome Campaign.


The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) will hold their 12th annual Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Tokyo and Sendai April 16th - 19th 2012.

The WTTC, established in 1990, promotes travel & tourism as a generator of economic growth. Their annual summit is one of the most influential Travel & Tourism events of the year, bringing together over 1000 delegates from around the world to discuss the opportunities, challenges and issues facing the industry. Attendance is by invitation of the Host Committee only and reserved for those who lead Travel & Tourism enterprises or organizations in the private sector, or those who participate in public sector policy and support. Accredited journalists and those who have not previously attended a WTTC summit may apply to be considered for invitation by emailing the appropriate address below.

Journalists & Media Organizations: Media-invitation-Summit-2012@wttc.org
Delegates: Delegates_invitation-Summit-2012@wttc.org

For more information, go to WTTC's website.


Winter is here! And whether you love it or hate it, there are plenty of things to see and do this year to help make it more enjoyable! JR East company has released a Winter Snow Fun Map to let you in on some of the winter fun spots, from scenic Aomori to bustling Tokyo. You can find out about what new events are coming up, when and where they will be held, how to get there and what to do. It's a practical resource for anyone looking to spend the winter in Eastern Japan.

Learn about Eastern Japan's Winter Fun Spots.

For those eyeing some fun a little farther south, Yokohama city also has a guide for upcoming and annual events. Sort by month to find out what’s happening in Yokohama while you're in town.

Find out what's new in Yokohama.


Ever wondered what to do with that extra time between flights? Why not go for a walk? The Chiba Prefectural Government has created the "Osanpo Guide"; a walking guide to the areas around Narita International Airport. Explore Narita city, Sakae-machi, Shibayama-machi, Sawara city and Sakura city, and discover what each of them has to offer. The guide also recommends a few restaurants, Japanese souvenirs, and nearby hotels, and includes a festival calendar and access information.

Take a walk!


Tokyo DisneySea® is making their paranormal Tower of Terror ride scarier than ever! The free-fall attraction, which takes place in an abandoned hotel, has been at DisneySea since 2006. The ride is set in New York circa 1912, as the New York Preservation Society guides you through an array of rare artifacts from around the world. From January 4th until March 16th 2012, a new program will be unveiled for even more terrifying thrills.

For all the frightening details, click here.

In other theme-park news, Universal Studios Japan will be opening their new family-oriented Universal Wonderland in March 2012. It will consist of over 20 facilities, including shops, restaurants and 8 new ride attractions, in an area of approximately 30,000 m2. The area will be divided into 3 distinct zones: Snoopy Studios, Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue, and Sesame Street Fun World. Children can enjoy themselves with facilities like a ball pool, slides, a playland, and athletic equipment.

Learn more about Universal Wonderland.


Welcome to our special New Year's edition of Culture Corner! In this section we give you a picture and a question to test your knowledge about Japan and its culture.


What terrifying demons roam the streets on New Year's Eve?

A.     Otafuku

B.     Namahage

C.     Daruma

Please email your answer along with your name and address to info@jntoyyz.com .

Visit the Newsletter section of our website for previous editions of the newsletter.


Japan's tourism industry looks forward to a bright, trouble-free 2012
A Kind Correspondence
For the Love of Soba
Meet the New JR Kanto Area Pass
Show Your Card and Save
Shop & Save: The Japan Big Welcome Campaign
The WTTC is Coming to Town
Winter Fun
Explore Narita
For the Amusement Park Lover
Culture Corner
JNTO Toronto
What's Happening
About Us
Japan Photo Library
Tourism Statistics

Japan National Tourism Organization
481 University Avenue, Suite 306 Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E9
Tel: 416-366-7140
Fax: 416-366-4530
E-mail: info@jntoyyz.com
Website: www.ilovejapan.ca