Although festivals can be seen year-round in Japan, summer festivals are perhaps the most enjoyable. This is a good time to see people wearing Yukata (summer kimono), experience traditional festival games, eat at vendor stalls, and see brilliant fireworks displays. These festivals are held all over Japan, but the most famous are the five major Tohoku Festivals in August, held in the Tohoku region to the north of Tokyo.

Please encourage your clients to attend a festival during their trip to Japan --they will experience a unique part of Japan and will surely thank you for your recommendation. Most of these festivals are attended by over a million people, so it is important to make travel arrangements as early as possible, and to not to try to see them all in one trip.

Aomori/Hirosaki Nebuta Festivals
   (Aug. 2 - 7 @ Aomori, Aug. 1 - 7 @ Hirosaki)

Gigantic papier-mâché floats that depict Japanese gods, warriors, and historical figures are the main attraction in these weeklong festivals. Each brightly colored float is lit up from the inside as it is paraded around the city by the jubilant, sweating volunteers underneath. Hirosaki's Neputa Festival is slightly smaller in scale than Aomori' Nebuta festival, and has a section of the parade in which children pull smaller Neputa floats by rope.

The Nebuta floats will land on American soil on August 19, 2007 in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo (details to come in future updates).

Akita Kanto Lantern Festival (Aug. 3 - 6)
Men wearing traditional "happi" coats balance candle-lit lanterns (using no hands!) on bamboo poles as they march past the nervous crowd. The largest of these "Kanto" bamboo poles weighs over 100 pounds and is nearly 40 feet tall. Since this is a harvest festival, the balanced lanterns are arranged to resemble a rice plant or Japanese cedar.


Yamagata Hanagasa Flower Hat Festival (Aug. 5 - 7)
A total of 10,000 dancers wave their flower-covered hats around as they dance down the streets of Yamagata (A Tohoku-region City that is relatively close to Tokyo). The over 300,000 spectators shout along with the dancers to the beat of taiko drums.


Sendai Tanabata Star Festival (Aug. 6 - 8)
Tanabata Festivals are held all over Japan (many in July), but Sendai boasts the largest and most extravagant. Colorful streamer decorations decorate the entire city, especially areas around shopping arcades. Parades, concerts and fireworks add to the festivities. Also called the Star Festival, Tanabata is based on an ancient Chinese legend about lovers reuniting.

O-bon (Mostly mid-Aug.)
O-bon is a Buddhist holiday for honoring the spirits of one's ancestors. Many people who have moved to the countryside will return home en-masse to be with family and participate in O-bon festivities, many of which coincide with the above-mentioned festivals. Travel and accommodations are as crowded as they are during Golden Week so advance reservations are strongly recommended. The timing of O-bon varies by region, but travel is expected to peak on and around August 11 - 15.

Tokae (Aug. 6 - 15)
The ancient capital of Nara is lit up by tens of thousands of candles in this recently launched (since 1999) annual event. Light up is from 7:00 P.M until 9:45 P.M.

Other Festivals (Jul. & Aug.)
Unfortunately, there is not enough space to mention all of the many summer festivals, but here are some of the more notable ones in July and August: Kyushu's rough and tumble Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, Wakayama's Buddhist-memorial Koyasan Candle Festival, Kyoto's gorgeous and historic Gion Festival, Osaka's land and boat Tenjin Festival, Tokushima Prefecture's Awa-Odori Folk Dance Festival, Kyoto's mountain-burning Daimonji Bonfire, and Aichi Prefecture's Giant Lantern Festival.

Fireworks Shows
Fireworks shows are a big part of summer and festivals in Japan. It would be impossible to list them all here, but here are a few of the most popular:

Hiroshima Prefecture's Miyajima Floating Fireworks Festival (Aug. 14): The picture speaks for itself - Fireworks next to one of Japan's "3 most beautiful sights" make for a spectacular show. (5,000 rockets + 200 fireworks shot from the water).

Niigata Prefecture's Nagaoka Fireworks Festival (Aug. 2, 3): One of Japan's largest fireworks festivals in an otherwise quiet town.

Akita Prefecture's Omagari Fireworks Competition (Aug. 25) The top 30 fireworks makers in Japan compete to come up with the most unique and technically difficult fireworks displays. Considered the highest quality fireworks show in Japan.

The largest fireworks display in Tokyo is the Sumida River Fireworks Display (Jul. 28).

For more information on fireworks shows throughout Japan, please visit Infomap Japan (info from 2006) or Japan Fireworks.


Airlines
Japan Airlines is set to join the One World Alliance on April 1, 2007 along with five of its associated airlines - JALways, Japan Asia Airways, JAL Express, J-AIR and Japan Transocean Air. This means that the Yokoso! Japan Fare, which allows those who take their international flight with JAL to take domestic flights for just 10,000 yen, will now apply to anyone who flies on a One World flight (including American Airlines). Press Release

ATM's
U.S. visitors to Japan will no longer have to carry around large wads of cash, since withdrawing money will soon be as easy as going to one of Japan's ubiquitous 7-11 convenience stores. Japan's Seven Bank, the bank related to the 7-11, will begin to accept foreign-issued ATM and credit cards as of July 11, 2007. Cards with VISA/PLUS, MasterCard/Cirrus, American Express, JCB, or China Union Pay logos on them will all be accepted to withdraw yen from the machines. Language options for the ATM screen and receipts will include English, Korean, Chinese, and Portuguese.

Other ATM's in Japan that Accept Foreign Issued ATM Cards
Those with a Citibank account may withdraw yen from Japanese Citibank ATM's without incurring a surcharge. Details here.
One option that will be useful for travelers all over Japan, including the countryside, is Yucho, Japan's postal savings bank. Yucho ATM's, located in most post offices throughout Japan, take foreign-issued ATM cards and have English menus.
Note that ATM's outside major cities in Japan are usually not 24-hour, and may shut down at night or charge extra for after-hours withdrawals


The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo opens March 30, 2007 (800-241-3333)
The Ritz-Carlton Tokyo occupies the top nine floors and the first three levels of Midtown Tower, a 53 story skyscraper in the Roppongi Area of downtown Tokyo.

The Peninsula Tokyo (866-382-8388)
Scheduled to open September 2007, located opposite the Imperial Palace and Hibiya Park in the Marunouchi district

Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa
opened December 2006 (800-233-1234)
Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa is located in Gora, Hakone, Kanagawa prefecture, an area well known for its natural hot-springs (onsen).

Utoco Deep Sea Therapy Center & Hotel opened July 2006
(011-81-887-22-1811) email: info@utocods.co.jp
Shu Uemura, a renowned makeup artist, has opened a 17-room deep-sea water spa hotel in Kochi, Shikoku Island. Related article: http://www.travelandleisure.com

Shinagawa Prince Hotel (Tokyo)
Shinagawa Prince Hotel will change the names of its towers on April 1, 2007. Please see their website for more details on the name change, updates on room renovations, information on their new Aqua Stadium aquarium and dolphin show, and new high speed internet access options.

 

Outdoor Japan Magazine is a good source of information about all types of outdoor activities in Japan. Both the website and magazine are in English as well as Japanese.

Climbing Mt. Fuji
As the Japanese proverb goes, "He who does not climb Mt. Fuji is a fool, but he who climbs Mt. Fuji twice is also a fool." An ascent to Japan's highest peak (3776 m) is a once in a lifetime experience that most do not want to repeat. The mountain is officially open only during the months of July and August. Climbing during any other time can be very dangerous and requires police permission (details).

Access:
Bus from Shinjuku (2600 yen each way) is the easiest way to get to Mt. Fuji's 5th Station (halfway up the mountain) where most people start the climb, but train-to-bus options may be cheaper for Japan Rail Pass holders. There are actually 5 different trailheads, the most popular being Kawaguchiko on the north side. See the sites below or JNTO's Practical Guide for details

The Climb:
The hike up from the 5th station takes 5 to 8 hours, and the descent another 3 to 4. The trail consists of fairly steep switchbacks and has people going up and down 24 hours a day. Altitude sickness does affect some people, so many opt to stay in one of the many mountain huts (5,250 yen) and climb to the peak early in the morning to see the sunrise. It is important for all climbers to be properly prepared with the proper equipment and clothing (it can be very cold at the peak even on hot days).

For more information about the climb, please check any of these websites:
Fujiyoshida City's official website Japan Guide Wikitravel Personal Site

Tours:
JTB Sunrise Tours: Challenge! Mt. Fuji Climbing 2 Days Bus from Tokyo; fully guided with mountain hut stay. 34,900 yen; selected departure dates only.

Mt. Fuji Ecotour:
Grand Prize winner of the 2007 Japan Ecotourism Award, Mt. Fuji Ecotour is a series of eco-tours offered by the Whole Earth Nature School. They have a Summer Mountaineering (Fuji climb) 2-day, 1-night package for 15,000 yen (mountain hut and meal fee of approximately 8000 yen not included). They also have a Lava Cave Exploration Tour (3 hours, 4500 yen), a Mt. Fuji Culture & History Tour (2 hours, 4000 yen), and several other tours year round. Their English website is currently down, but you may call them at (+81) 544-66-0152, email them at kokusai@wens.gr.jp, or see their Japanese website for more details. Or, contact JNTO for an English brochure.

Goriki Mountaineering School:
Offers Premium Tours in which others carry equipment for you (88,000 yen), Regular Tours (24,000 yen), and Slow-paced Tours (29,000 yen). Lodging fee (7,350 - 8,400 yen) and interpreter fee (21,000 yen) will be added to all tours.

River Rafting & Kayaking
Rafting in Japan ranges from quiet river tours to grade 4-5 rapids. The most popular spot is Niseko in Hokkaido, also famous for its winter sports offerings. Scott Adventure Sports offers rafting and other adventure tours. Other thrilling options include Gunma Prefecture's Tone River (Northwest of Tokyo) and Shikoku's Yoshino River. Canyons Adventures offers rafting tours to both as well as canyoning, caving, and other adventure sports.

Scuba Diving
Okinawa is the diving Mecca of Japan. Divers will appreciate the clear, tropical waters, the underwater ruins (Atlantis of the East), the vibrant coral reefs,and the sea life ranging from manta rays to hammerhead sharks. Open Coast Travel is a U.S. based tour operator specializing in customized diving tours to Okinawa and other parts of Japan. Due in part to its proximity to Tokyo, Izu Peninsula is also one of the most popular diving spots in Japan. Divers may experience abundant sea life, coral reefs, and even shipwrecks. Those with a sense of adventure may want to try ice diving in Shiretoko, Hokkaido.

Surfing and Windsurfing
If you have clients that love to surf or windsurf, please do not hesitate to recommend Japan. Japan is an island country surrounded by quality waves, so as a result both sports have been gaining in popularity in recent years.

Cycling
Cycling around Japan is a great way to see the Japanese countryside. Most cities have bicycle rental shops at or near the train station. There are also cycling tours:

Intrepid Travel A special interest tour operator that combines the adventure & leisure travel from the neon lights and modern glitz of Tokyo, into the countryside to encounter old-world Japan and myriad opportunities for hiking, biking and sea kayaking.

Oka Tours
A specialist on cycling tours in Japan. Most tours are about a week long and range from intermediate to challenging.

Tokyo Great Cycling Tour
A one-day biking tour to the major sightseeing spots in Tokyo.

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 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 this information.

Publisher: Japan National Tourist Organization, L.A. Office
515 South Figueroa St., Suite 1470, Los Angeles, CA 90071
email: info@jnto-lax.org
website: www.jnto.go.jp or www.japantravelinfo.com