2007.7-2
In this Issue:
News Updates...
- Customs Declaration
Form Updated...

- United Upgrades
Business Class...
Upcoming Festivals and Events...
Japan Tour Updates...
Hotel Updates...
How to Get Yen (Currency in Japan)...
Lost in Translation? (Communicating in Japan)...
Local News...

Customs Declaration Form Updated
On July 1, 2007, the Customs Declaration form will be updated to increase processing speed and ensure that restricted items do not enter Japan. All travelers are asked to complete the form before arriving at customs. The new form lists prohibited and restricted items and requires passengers to declare certain effects. Passengers with unattended articles (such as luggage mailed separately) must fill out a duplicate form detailing the contents. The new form is available online here in English, Chinese and Korean. Log on to http://www.customs.go.jp/english/summary/passenger.htm or contact your nearest Consulate General of Japan for complete Customs procedures.

At United, the world is truly flat
This fall, United's international premium cabins will begin a remarkable transformation, featuring the first 180, lie-flat business class seat to be offered by a U.S. airline.

Tori-no-Ichi (Rake Fair)     Nov. 11, 23
Tori-no-ichi comes twice this year (which is a good thing, since legend has it that years in which it comes three times there will be a fire). During this festival, colorfully decorated bamboo rakes called kumade are sold to those who want to "rake in" more wealth. It is customary for the buyer and seller to clap their hands rhythmically together during the purchase, and many go just to see this. Held in shrines all over Tokyo, particularly Otori Shrine in Asakusa.

Shichi-go-san (7-5-3 Celebration)     Nov. 15
Visitors to shrines and temples on November 15 (or on the following weekend, Nov. 17 & 18) will be able to see the adorable sight of Japanese children dressed up in kimonos. Boys celebrate it when they are 5 years old, girls when they are 7 years old, and both boys and girls celebrate it when they are 3 years old. 7, 5 and 3 are lucky numbers in Japan, and Shichi-go-san is to celebrate their growth through the difficult phases of childhood.

New Year’s Eve     Dec. 31
The New Year's Eve holiday is celebrated rather differently in Japan than it is in Western countries. Most people will go to a temple or shrine to witness a ringing of the bell (108 times for each of the worldly attachments) and to make an offering or prayer for the New Year. A few special regional celebrations include Kyoto's Okera Mairi Festival, in which medicinal herbs are burned to cast away evil energy and ensure health in the following year, and Oga Namahage Festival, in which people dressed as frightening deities dance around town, reminding children to work hard and obey their parents.

Aberdeen Tours "Japan Hida Takayama Shirakawago Hot Springs 7-Day Tour"
Cosmic Tours, Inc. "Japan Grand Tour 9 Days" - Tokyo, Atami, Hakone, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe.
HIS International Tours, Inc. "Tokyo Summer Maximum" - Trip highlights: Tokyo Game Show 2007, Japanese Cultural Experience.
Japan Travel Bureau USA "Seven Cities & Seventy Teas" - Nov. 1st to Nov. 9th, 2007
Trip highlights: Tours of tea factories, tea museum, tea garden & teaware manufacturer, admission to the World O-Cha (Tea) Festival 2007 & more.
Pleasant Holidays "Handa Dashi Festival" - 6 nights from $2945
The Handa Dashi Festival provides travelers a unique cultural experience. Join Pleasant Holidays for an exclusive opportunity to participate in the parade by assisting in the pulling of floats down the parade route.

Tokyo Disney Resort
The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel, the third Disney Hotel in Tokyo Disney Resort (after Disney Ambassador Hotel and Tokyo DisneySea Hotel Mira Costa), will open on Tuesday, July 8, 2008. The new hotel will mark its grand opening during the Tokyo Disney Resort's 25th Anniversary celebrations.

Although credit cards are becoming more and more widely accepted, Japan is still largely a cash-based society. Here is a breakdown and comparison of the various ways to get yen.

Currency exchange in the U.S.
Exchanging a small amount of currency ($300-500) in the U.S. saves time upon arrival in Japan and the rate at banks here is usually good. Some U.S. banks do not have yen constantly on-hand, so it's best to call beforehand (most can order yen and have it ready within one week or so). Currency exchange centers also usually offer good rates. Exchange centers at airports in the U.S. are best avoided due to poor exchange rates and/or high service charges.

Currency exchange in Japan
It is possible to exchange foreign currency into yen at the airport, (check respective airport websites for hours: NRT KIX NGO) and rates are reasonable but not the best in Japan. Major hotels also offer currency exchange services. The best rates, however, are found at banks (some smaller or rural banks are not authorized to change money). Post Offices in Japan also offer currency exchange services at good rates and can be found in all 47 Prefectures. Their website contains a list of all branches equipped to handle currency exchange and cash travelers checks.

Travelers Checks
Travelers checks, in yen or dollars, are a safe way of taking larger sums of money to Japan. However, they are not widely accepted in retail locations and must first be cashed at a bank, post office or major hotel. Interestingly enough, some banks offer a better exchange rate for travelers checks in U.S. dollars than they do for U.S. dollars in cash. Identification (Passport) is required to cash travelers checks.

Credit Cards
Credit cards can be used (where accepted) to make purchases at a fairly good exchange rate, but some cards will charge a percentage (usually 1-3%) of each transaction. Flyerguide.com Wiki has a page comparing the rates of different cards, though all travelers should contact their own financial institution for exact rates. Cash advances using credit cards should be avoided if possible, since cash advance fees are high and most credit card companies begin charging interest from the day of withdrawal (no grace period). Cash advances almost always require a pin number, which must be set up in advance.

ATM's
ATM's are perhaps the best option for getting yen. Although there are usually two service charges applied (one from the ATM and one from the card issuing institution), the exchange rate offered is usually quite close to the true (mid-market) exchange rate. To avoid multiple service charges, it is best to take out larger amounts each time. One important thing to note is that most ATM's in Japan are open only during regular banking hours, though in larger cities there has been a trend toward 24-hour ATM's.

Seven Bank: As of July 11, Seven Bank, Ltd. has made all of its ATM machines compatible with foreign-issued cards. This is significant for travelers because there are over 12,000 Seven Bank ATM's located all over Japan (35 prefectures), many near hotels and tourist attractions. This makes getting yen as easy as finding a 7-11 convenience store (most, but not all 7-11's have Seven Bank ATM machines). Another great advantage is that Seven Bank ATM's can be used 24 hours (subject to individual store operating hours). Service is available in English, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean.

Citibank: Citibank ATM's in Japan accept foreign-issued credit cards and are open 24 hours, but tend to be confined to the larger cities only. Americans with a Citibank account can withdraw funds at Japanese Citibank ATM's without a surcharge (foreign exchange fee of 1% - 3% applies). Service is available in English.

* Another option is Post Office Banks (Yucho)

A perceived language barrier is one of the three largest barriers (along with perceived distance and cost) that keep American tourists from visiting Japan. Some have even commented that the Japanese language is "scary" or that they are "afraid" of getting hopelessly lost and not being able to communicate and get help. Here are some facts that should help calm your clients' fears and increase your sales to Japan.

1. English is ubiquitous in Japan
Airports, train stations, highway road signs and major tourist attractions all have signs in English. Very rural areas have less English signs, but many still successfully travel through these areas with limited or no knowledge of Japanese. This is possible because of reason #2:

2. All Japanese study English for at least six years
English is taught as part of compulsory education, so all high school graduates in Japan have had at least six years of English lessons. However, most tend to be better at written English and grammar than actually speaking, so if your clients have trouble making themselves understood, they can always write a question down. Another technique is to look for a businessperson or student.

3. Plastic food models - just point and eat
Many restaurants in Japan have realistic-looking plastic food displays at the front of their restaurants. This makes ordering easy for those who can't read the menu. Travelers who can't get enough of this "plastic food" can buy the actual models as souvenirs at Kappabashi Street in Asakusa, Tokyo.

4. Volunteer Guides break the language barrier - for free!
Organizations of Systemized Goodwill Guides (SGG) have sprung up all over Japan in cities that receive a lot of foreign tourists. This gives the locals a chance to practice their English while at the same time providing the foreign tourist with a knowledgeable guide and translator. (It is customary to pay for the guide's entrance fees, transportation and meal(s) if applicable)

5. Japanese language handbooks available from JNTO
JNTO has compiled a phrasebook to help English-speaking travelers communicate while in Japan. They can either pronounce the words themselves or point to the expressions they want to use. Please call our office if you would like some phrasebooks for your clients (available in limited quantities).

Nebuta Floats Come to Little Tokyo     Aug. 19 (8 p.m.)
Full-sized Nebuta floats shipped from Aomori, Japan will be the highlight of this year's Nisei Week Japanese Festival Grand Parade in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. This is the first time that the monumental floats (30 feet wide, 24 feet long, 17 feet tall) have been brought to the U.S. mainland. Taiko drums, pipers, and hundreds of Haneto dancers will accompany the floats along the parade route.

VJC to Attend Autumn Moon Festival     Sep. 22 - 23
Visit Japan Campaign (VJC) will participate again this year in the Autumn Moon Festival Street Fair in San Francisco's Chinatown district. Japan, like China, traditionally used the lunar calendar and still celebrates the Autumn Moon Festival with the tradition of Tsuki-mi (see last month's newsletter for details). Please come see us at the festival if you are in the San Francisco area.


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.
* 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.

 

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 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