Smart & Cheap Japan Travel


October 11, 2011

The Japanese Ministry of Tourism announced that it will be offering free flights to 10,000 foreigners wishing to visit the country in 2012. This initiative intends to increase tourists after the sharp decline in tourism after the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March.

THe application is not out yet, but stay tuned to the Japan National Tourism Organization website:

Japan Travel Destination: Kanazawa

September 5, 2011
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Kanazawa City, part of the Ishikawa Prefecture, is located approximately 180 miles on the North western side of Tokyo. The city is situated adjacent to the Sea of Japan, bordered by the Japanese Alps, Nato Peninsula and Hakusan National Park. It lies between the Asano and Sai rivers, with a climate similar to that of Tokyo although slighlty rainier.

Kanazawa is well-known as a tourist destination in Japan because visitors get to enjoy a part of the country preserved perfectly as it once was. It is also known as one of the castle towns of Japan. The famous Kanazawa Castle was constructed in 1583 and for many centuries it has been the feudal Maeda Clan headquarters. Today, the castle forms one of the major tourist attraction sites in Kanazawa and in Japan. The castle has been renovated over the years enabling it to regain its grand facade after the various earthquakes and fire damages, while still truthful to the country’s traditional architectural style. In 2001, a major renovation exercise reached completion creating a better and newly looking castle. The current castle which has a double earthen wall stands 17.3 meters above a stone base. It is large enough to serve as a hall and currently serves as a command post. Perhaps the most unique feature about the Kanazawa Castle is its white roofing tiles. The lead-made tiles make the castle remain impervious to damage by fire. In the past they were built so that they could be melted to make bullets in case of an attack.

Another popular attraction in Kanazawa is its landscape garden called Kenrokuen, which used to be the exterior garden of the Kanazawa castle. It is considered one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan – that is saying a lot. Worth a visit.

Reaching Kanazawa is the easiest from Komatsu. There are regular flights from Tokyo to Komatsu from where you can board a bus to Kanazawa, which will take you there in less than 50 minutes. There are also direct buses from Tokyo to Kanazawa (one way trip takes about four hours and costs about 13,000 Yen). By train, you will need to ride the bullet train from Tokyo to Echigo-Yuzawa Station and transfer there. The city has a myriad of traditional hotels as well as budget guesthouses, all with exceptional Japanese hospitality.

FujiQ Highland

August 17, 2011
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One of the happiest places in Japan is FujiQ Highland, a theme park for all ages. Located near Mount Fuji, a two and a half hour drive west of Tokyo, FujiQ Highland is known for its intensive, high-flying roller coasters as well as its cartoon-based rides for the little ones. Twenty-four major attractions can keep the average visitor busy all day, with more to be found for the youngest to enjoy.

One of the more popular roller coasters is the Eejanaika, the 4th dimension coaster. This hanging coaster (your legs dangle) boasts the highest number of spins in the world. The spins can be categorized into three areas: spins of the seat forward and backward, loops and flip-flops through the air, and twists. Another bloodcurdling attraction is the Fujiyama: King of Coasters. This particular roller coaster hits a maximum speed of 130 km/h (81mph). It also takes passengers 79m (259 ft) off the ground. Although the Fujiyama does not have any twins, loops or flip-flops, the sheer height and huge drops featured, alone, satisfies all thrillseekers.

In addition to the raging coasters available at FujiQ, the theme park also provides young visitors with tame rides and attractions. One favorite part of the park is Thomas Land. This is where children can immerse themselves in the world of Thomas, the Tank Engine. Youngsters can go on a train ride pulled by Thomas, Percy, or James. They can also watch a 3D movie, ride a mini roller coaster, go on a cruise, or engineer their own trains by taking control of Thomas and his friends.

At FujiQ, restaurants and shops are also major attractions for visitors. The park features 14 restaurants or eateries. The restaurants serve a myriad of foods, including crepes, burgers, pizza, and Dippin’ Dots ice cream. Even a Turkish restaurant, Doner Kebab, is on the list of eateries. There are just as many shops as there are restaurants at FujiQ Highland. Visitors are able to shop in specialty stores such as the Warner Brother’s Studio Store, Natural Choice, or the Gegege no Yokai Shop, which features goods from that anime series.

There is never a dull moment at FujiQ Highland, one of the most popular theme parks in Japan. Other parks are also open to visitors in Japan. The Nagasaki Huis Ten Bosch is a park that imitates Dutch villages and is located in the Nagasaki prefecture. Nagashima Spa Land is a theme park located in the Nagahima Resort, which boasts a sports facility, hot spring, and the longest coaster in the world. Tokyo also houses a Disneyland theme park, geared toward children of all ages.

Japan Travel Destination: Okinawa

June 16, 2011
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The birthplace of karate, home to rich culture and traditions and magnificent architecture, Okinawa consists of a 1000 kilometers long chain of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands that can be divided into three main groups: Okinawa Islands, Miyako Islands, and Yaeyama Islands. There is plenty to explore and enjoy in this region; its sandy beaches and breathtaking coral reefs offer a both relaxing and lazy vacation and thrilling adventurous aquatic sports.

Okinawa is the home of the Ryukyuan people. The customs and traditions show influences of Chinese, Thai and Austronesian cultures. Karate is one the most infamous cultural gift to the world, developed originally in the Ryuku Islands. Eisa dance depicts the fun and frolic aspect of the culture. Okinawans do not follow Buddhism like most of the Japanese. Rather, they have their own religious beliefs and believe in ancestor worship, and are devoted to the gods and spirits of the natural world.

The Okinawan diet is very sparse on calories. The nutrient rich food, genetic inheritance and environmental factors have made Okinawa a place with one of the highest life expectancy levels in the world. Traditional diet includes of lot of green and yellow vegetables. Sweet potato is also among the main ingredients. Other well-known specialties include the Okinawa “Soba” (buckwheat noodles), mango, a bitter version of a melon called “Goya,” black sugar, sea grapes, and much more. Okinawans eat a small amount of fish as well. The tastes you experience are quite different from what you would get in typical Japanese food.

In Japan, Okinawa is known for its optimal conditions to enjoy water sports. The archipelago in Okinawa is the best diving destination in Japan. Divers and snorkelers find heaven in the waters as they are home to more than 400 types of corals, five types of sea turtles, and numerous types of tropical fish, in addition to manta rays, hammerhead sharks and whale sharks. Surfing is another famous aquatic activity in Okinawa. Surfers come across some quite challenging waves. Offshore fishing can also be enjoyed in the region. Some of the fish species that can be spotted all year round in the waters are mahi mahi, tuna and marlin.

A Pink Light at the End of the Tunnel

April 6, 2011
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After a disastrous and tragic month of March this year in Japan, among the ongoing efforts to rebuild and accommodate for the dislocated hundreds of thousands, the blossoming cherry trees of April make us realize that life goes on. Impressive large cherry or “ume” trees are covered with mesmerizing pink flowers, their petals occasionally branching off and swaying peacefully in the warm spring breeze. Their breathtaking beauty provides a sense of hope for Japan’s future.

This time of year is most popular for visiting Japan, and for good reason. Locals and tourists alike flock to witness the “Sakura” or cherry blossom. During this time the Japanese host an exceptional nature event that goes by the name of “Hanami,” literally meaning flower viewing or observation. Hanami consists of picnics and feasts held under Sakura or cherry trees. It is said that “Hanami” began back in the 8th century during the Nara period. It was the Heian period when Emperor Saga himself started holding these flower-viewing parties. For a while the custom was limited to the ruling elite, and events were held in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. However, Hanami spread to Samurai society in the Edo period. It was further encouraged by Tokugawa Yoshimune who planted cherry blossom trees in various areas throughout Japan. The tradition continues to this day, and every year families and friends festively gather under Sakura trees from Okinawa in January to Tokyo in April to Hokkaido in May. Hanami during nighttime is known as “Yozakura.” In Okinawa, for example, you will find Sakura trees decorated with hanging lanterns for this occasion.

You will find cherry blossom trees all over the country, though there are few specific places that are notable for holding the Hanami event. One place that should be there on your list is Yoshino-Yama located in the central part of Nara Prefecture. It is a mountainous region with over 30,000 Sakura trees. Also, the castle town of Hirosaki is notable for its Sakura Festival. Finally, if you are visiting Japan in the month of April, you should not miss out on the cherry blossom viewing tunnel at the Japan Mint in Osaka. This week long event draws hundreds of travelers.

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    About the Author

    Born in Tokyo. Lived, worked, and traveled in Japan for over a decade combined. Author of the book, "All-You-Can Japan: Getting the Most Bang for Your Yen" -

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