Omotenashi Tokyo: Volunteer tourist guides available for foreign sightseers, with special branded uniformsWritten by: William on June 8, 2015 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
We try to avoid ranting on this site since no one wants to read consistently negative content. However, we haven’t made any secret of our cynicism about the upcoming 2020 Olympics, whose plans currently exist of wholesale ignoring the problems in Tohoku to build a ton of real estate in the bay area, knocking down one perfectly good stadium and replace it with a calamity, and AKB48 potentially set to represent Tokyo at the opening ceremony.
And now comes these new Tokyo sightseeing volunteer guide uniforms, set to be worn by unpaid tourist guides. Inbound tourism from Asia is booming, as any trip to Shinjuku or Ginza will reveal. As part of various schemes to enhance tourist services, a new team of volunteers will be available in certain Tokyo districts to offer guidance. The name Omotenashi Tokyo was chosen from 882 proposals.
Introduced by a beaming Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, we think the volunteer guides’ uniforms look like costumes from a manga set in a Japanese fantasy version of a 1950’s English boarding school. There’s even a hat and an inexplicable bag. And don’t even ask us about the clownish tie. Oh, and of course the obligatory Japanese “rising sun” motifs and the “Omotenashi” — the Olympic buzzword — branded on the back.
Designed by Tamaki Fujie, there are two types of uniforms. From June 19th male and female pairs of volunteers (can Tokyo not afford professionals?) will be manning the streets of Tokyo offering multi-lingual guidance to lost tourists, initially as a trial run only on Fridays and weekends in Shinjuku and Ueno. From 2016 the areas where you will be able to see the uniformed volunteers will increase to include popular tourist destinations like Asakusa.
So… what do you think? Terrible uniform design or fun and effective?
A prefecture so unoriginal that it shares its name with its capital city.
A prefecture confined in the popular consciousness to being an extended suburb of Tokyo.
A prefecture usually only visited by Tokyoites when they go to see a concert at Saitama Super Arena.
Even women suffer for the ignominy of being residents of Saitama: a few years ago they were revealed (not literally) to have the smallest busts in Japan (*NSFW).
While we thought Ibaraki already had the dubious honor of being Japan’s “least appealing” prefecture, apparently Saitama is a closer runner for the title too.
Hence some creative residents have manufactured the “Saitama pose”.
To go with the meme-waiting-to-happen (or not, as the case may be), they have also launched a website, So!daSaitama.com (“That’s right, Saitama”).
In a nutshell, you put your fingers together in an “okay” sign and cross your arms.
Media reports claim it is “buzzing” online, though we suspect this is a pure fabrication at this point. There is a golden rule in the digital age: call it a meme and it will become a meme. Things are announced as “trends” by the Japanese media often long before they genuinely become a “thing”.
So!daSaitama.com features pictures of currently 21 mayors (over half the cities in Saitama) and young local girls (a guaranteed way to get clicks) all adopting the signature pose, which is apparently inspired by the Saitama official bird, the Eurasian collared dove. Your hands become the bird’s “wings” while the linked fingers form a ring (a reference to the “tama” of Saitama, which means ball).
It all started last September with this music video. The lyrics play on the prefecture’s reputation for being dasai (uncool).
The video features 837 people from 46 local businesses and organizations.
It was marketed in the same vein as the Kanagawa Prefecture “Koi suru Fortune Cookie” AKB48 video that was a hit with netizens (4 million views), though ultimately Saitama’s is stuck at a so-so 75,000. Close, but no cigar, as they say.
The whole PR campaign is the brainchild of Tenka Jaya, an online design agency based in — you’ve guessed it — Saitama.
While we can’t help raising our eyebrows at the earnestness of the campaign, it is certainly a welcome change to the usual yuru-kyara strategies.
This article by Tiffany first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
It’s past midnight, and you just missed the last train. A hotel is out of the question, much too pricey, but you definitely want more privacy than a tiny cubicle in a manga cafe. What’s a cheapo to do?
That’s where the capsule hotel comes in. First built by Kisho Kurakawa in Osaka in 1979, a capsule hotel consists of pod-like rooms—if you can call them rooms, as they’re more like compartments—stacked together, providing the bare minimum in terms of space and amenities. Inside, there’s just enough room for a person to crawl inside, lie down, and sit up (but if you’re too tall, even this might be impossible). Basic amenities include a light, an air conditioner, and alarm clock, but some capsule hotels may also provide a TV, power outlet, and/or radio. There are no locks, only a shutter for you to get some quiet and privacy—which isn’t always guaranteed, as you may have the misfortune of sharing the hotel with rowdy guests.
While capsule hotels used to primarily have salarymen as their clientele, tourists have also come to appreciate capsule hotels for their cheaper rates compared to most regular hotels, as well as the novelty of staying in something thought to be unique and futuristic. Capsule hotels are no longer just places to spontaneously spend the night in, but also accommodations that people purposely intend to stay in. But before you start booking one, here are some things you might not know about capsule hotels:
1. They’re not necessarily cheaper than a hotel or hostel.
The average rate per night at a capsule hotel ranges from ¥2,000-6,000. While ¥2,000 is definitely cheap, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a hotel that charges that cheaply for a night, there are some budget hotels and hostels that can offer you a room for about ¥3,000-6,000 a night. Here’s an example for comparison: some branches of the popular budget hotel chain, Toyoko Inn, have a midnight-time service, which means that checking in past midnight can get you a room for ¥4,500, about as much as a room in some capsule hotels. Some hostels even have private rooms that cost about as much, or are cheaper than, capsule hotel rooms. If you’re looking for a comfortable stay that’s on a budget but not dirt-cheap, and aren’t after the capsule hotel experience, you might be better off in a cheap hotel or hostel.
2. They’re more than just pods stacked together.
Don’t worry; capsule hotels are not that sterile and impersonal. The capsule hotel I stayed in had a bath and sauna, vending machines, a manga library, some arcade games, massage services, a communal space for watching TV, and even a restaurant. Not all capsule hotels have that many facilities and amenities, but you can rest assured that capsule hotels provide more than the rooms. The least that they provide are bathing facilities, lockers (usually one locker area for shoes, and another one for other belongings), and a lounge. While capsule hotels don’t exactly exude the social vibe that hostels are known for, who knows—you might be able to make some friends at a capsule hotel lounge! Also, note that baths tend to be communal (but still gender-segregated, of course), and that those with tattoos are usually not allowed into the baths and saunas.
3. Many capsule hotels are only for men.
This is said to be for women’s safety, but nowadays, capsule hotels are offering the more sensible solution of catering to women but keeping the floors or areas segregated by gender. Guests usually need a special key to access the sleeping quarters.
4. You have to check out for each day of your stay.
Capsule hotels aren’t really meant for long-term stay. That doesn’t mean that you can’t stay in a capsule hotel for, say, a week, but you’ll have to check out then check in again every day. Check-out time is usually at 10:00 am, but you can extend for a small fee, usually ¥300-500 per hour.
Recommended Capsule Hotels in Tokyo
All the capsule hotels listed here are open to both men and women.
1. Nine Hours Narita Airport
Welcome to Japan! Are you stuck waiting for a connecting flight? Did you arrive past midnight? If so, this capsule hotel in Terminal 2 of Narita Airport is a godsend. The hotel has lockers, showers, and a lounge. Toiletries are also provided. Overnight prices start at ¥3,900, but vary depending on the season. Currently, a standard plan costs ¥4,900 a night on weekdays, and ¥5,900 on Fridays and weekends, although the price drops to ¥4,400 or ¥5,400 if you stay for more than a night. Checking out each day doesn’t seem necessary here. A plan with a breakfast coupon is also available for ¥5,440 on weekdays and ¥6,440 on Fridays and weekends. Hourly rates are also available for those who just want a short rest: it’s ¥1,500 for the first hour and ¥500 for each succeeding hour.
Address: 1-1 Furugome, Narita-City, Chiba 282-0004
Check-in: 12:00 pm-5:00 am | Check-out: 10:00 am
2. First Cabin Haneda
Photo by Meredith P used under CC
Not to be beaten by Narita, Haneda Airport also has a capsule hotel of its own, inside Terminal 1. As the name implies, this is fancier than your average capsule hotel. In fact, their rooms are called “cabins” rather than “capsules,” and they, indeed, have much more space and actual beds, making their rooms look more like mini-hotel rooms than capsule pods. Size aside, the only other reminder that you’re not in a regular hotel is the lack of a lockable door. An overnight stay here costs ¥6,000 a night (¥6,300 on Fridays and Saturdays) for a first-class cabin, while it’s ¥5,000 (¥5,300 on Fridays and Saturdays) for a smaller cabin. The only difference between first and business class is size—the former has more space for your luggage. Short-term stays are also available for ¥800-1,000 an hour for business and first class, respectively. Toiletries and earplugs are provided.
Address: 1F Haneda Airport Terminal 1 | 3-3-2 Haneda Airport, Ota-ku, Tokyo
Check-in: 7:00 pm | Check-out: 10:00 am
3. Green Plaza Shinjuku / Le Luck Spa
This capsule hotel complex goes above and beyond the bare minimum, what with its saunas, outdoor bath, hot springs, massages, napping room (for those looking to unwind after a bath), lounge, and restaurant. The complex’s facilities are segregated by gender, with a standard room costing ¥4,500 a night for men and ¥5,200 a night at Le Luck Spa for women. For that price, men get a TV, alarm, and radio, while women get all that plus Wi-Fi and power outlets. For men, an upgraded room is ¥5,300-5,400, the latter price consisting of everything previously mentioned plus a LAN cable. Early-morning stay plans and spa-and-sauna-only plans are also available. Le Luck Spa promises a full range of amenities for women, so this is a place to visit for some pampering.
Address: 1-29-2 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shinjuku Station
Phone: 03-3207-5411 (men), 03-3207-4921 (women)
Check-in: 3:00 pm | Check-out: 10:00 am
4. Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel
Photo by Dom Pates
Also close to Shinjuku Station’s east exit is this hotel, which has a 24-hour bath and sauna, and a business-and-relaxation lounge with Wi-Fi and PCs. The hotel also has a restaurant and coin laundries. A room costs ¥3,500 on average, but this hotel regularly has discounted plans. For 2015, the first 10 women to book a room for any given day can do so for only ¥2,000 a night, and male job-hunters who can present a valid Japanese school ID can book a room for ¥2,100-2,800 a night. Otherwise, it’s ¥2,500-3,800 a night for women, and ¥2,600-3,600 a night for men. All rooms come with Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Address: Touyo Building 3/F, 1-2-5 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shinjuku Station
Check-in: 4:00 pm | Check-out: 10:00 am
5. Hotel Asakusa & Capsule
Hotel Asakusa & Capsule’s rates are pretty cheap, at ¥2,200 a night. Students can get a capsule for ¥1,700 a night. A bathhouse, coin laundries, PCs,vending machines, and microwaves are just some of their shared amenities. If you’d rather get a room, their rooms are also quite inexpensive at ¥4,400 a night, or ¥3,300 for students. Remember to present a student ID for proof!
Address: 4-14-9 Kotobuki, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Access: Asakusa Station
Check-in: 4:00 pm | Check-out: 10:00 am
6. Capsule Value Kanda
Located near Akihabara, Capsule Value Kanda is owned by the same people behind Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel. Its price range is similar, and you can also expect the same quality of rooms and facilities. A standard room costs ¥2,900-3,400 a night, but they also have discounts and promos. Those under 30 can get a room for ¥2,400-2,900 a night, as long as proof of age can be shown. The first 7 guests to book on any given day can get a room for only ¥2,100. Moreover, those who book online can get ¥100 off their reservation. Like their sister hotel in Shinjuku, all rooms have Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Address: 1-4-5 Kajicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Access: Kanda Station
Check-in: 10:00 am | Check-out: 10:00 am
Read more and see maps at Tokyo Cheapo
Fancy a spot of Kabuki before you step onto a plane?
Yes, if you want your taste of traditional Japanese at the airport, from this spring you can.
Narita International Airport Terminal 1’s South Wing will host the Kabuki Gate, featuring costumes, props, and other Kabuki-themed items.
Strangely, it’s actually located in the area after you have passed through immigration for departures. So only people who are leaving Japan (i.e. tourists who already spent time there or Japanese passengers) will get their chance to experience the Kabuki Gate. The logic of this feels peculiar to us: surely you want to enchant tourists coming into Japan, so as to encourage them to go see the real thing?
There are tablets in the Kabuki Gate where you can take your picture and then match it to Kumadori Kabuki makeup. The final image of yourself as a Kabuki star can then be sent to your own phone.
Of course, there is also a shop selling Kabuki merchandise and the costumes will be changed seasonally. Unfortunately you can’t try on the costumes or any actual makeup. Instead, for this we recommend the Kabuki Face Pack series, which also has the added benefit of helping your skin (ironically, also sold at Narita Airport — or otherwise on Japan Trend Shop).
The Kabuki Gate opens March 27th and is free to enter.
As we head towards the 2020 Olympics, expect to see more and more of these overtly “Japanese” initiatives everywhere as the powers that be attempt to present their preferred image of the nation to everyone.
Roppongi has its fair share of bright lights and other-worldly experiences, though this is certainly something new.
Finnair is sponsoring a stimulated aurora experience event at Tokyo Midtown on November 7th and November 8th.
Finnair Aurora will showcase various Scandinavian tourist destinations for discerning Roppongi visitors but best of all is the “aurora booth” attraction, which will provide a virtual aurora experience for those who can’t make it to the other side of the planet to see the real thing.
There will also be a booth where you can superimpose yourself over the aurora to create a special commemorative image of your “trip”.
For the linguists out there, there will be customized badges which can be printed using a “Finn Generator” that converts your name into Finnish.
And after all that traveling around the Arctic Circle, no doubt you will be parched. Not to worry, aurora-themed drinks and Glühwein will be one hand, as well as other Scandinavian snacks.
Japanese people really love the aurora and sightseeing trips to the various parts of the world where you can see the light spectacle are very popular. Flights depart for Finnish cities offering vistas of the autumn aurora from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, setting you down in 9.5 hours. (For the unlucky ones without the vacation budget, there are aurora home planetarium devices instead.)
Finnair Aurora is open 13:00-17:00 on November 7th and 11:00-21:00 on November 8th at Tokyo Midtown’s Canopy Square.
When in Rome, as the saying goes. And so when in Kyoto, wear a kimono. There’s nothing pretentious about getting into “costume”, so to speak, and exploring Japan’s old capital in a kimono. It’s fairly common to see both Japanese tourists (men and women) doing it.
But kimonos are not designed for walking fast and are certainly not designed for riding a bicycle — which is a shame, because Kyoto is a city ideal for cycling around, its layout being in the old grid system of Japanese capitals (see Nara).
Enter the KOTO LX-20, a kimono bike — that is, a bicycle designed for riders wearing kimonos.
Its concept might have traditional clothing in mind but the design itself feels retro and pop — not dissimilar to a Brompton — with the bottom bar set very low so your straight and long kimono won’t have issues with the pedals and so on. The chain looks fully covered so getting oil on the kimono also shouldn’t be a problem.
There are current three versions, each in its own wa (Japanese) color: OBOROZUKI (light blue), YUUGAO (white) and KOMURASAKI (purple). Wearing a matching kimono the best effects while cycling around Gion.
The bikes costs ¥48,000 ($440) and come with a snazzy leather saddle and three gears (there are some slopes in Kyoto). The KOTO LX-20 went on sale in April this year in Kyoto — has anyone seen them around the city? — but were recently showcased on Japaan.com and Rocket News 24.
We’re not sure if they are available for rental yet but surely it’s just a matter of time before kimono rental shops and hostels offer them.
Japan is a land full of cyclists, both of the hipster variety, the designer variety, and just the humble mama-chari “granny bike” variety. And so now we have the “traditional” Japanese bike, of sorts.
Here you can see the KOTO LX-20 in action around the old capital.
The sad truth is that sometimes Japanese consumers are a simple bunch. Forget complex marketing strategies or clever stunts. The way to their hearts is just to put a famous person on the front of whatever it is you’re selling.
Hence why there are so many TV commercials and other ads featuring the same gallery of celebrities. Hence why Hollywood films will have some random Japanese model appear at a press conference to promote the movie. And hence why this free 126-page guide for Hiroshima Prefecture tourism has sold out immediately after it hit the shelves.
It was published and released on July 14th but reprints have already been ordered. How come? Well, in order to give the booklet a push, the folk at Hiroshima made the decision to pay a no doubt not inconsiderable pile of cash to have Perfume to appear on the cover, looking cute and pop like the trio of young girls always do.
Within two hours of launching the campaign website, they had already reached the limit for 2,000 reservations, and now the publishers are getting orders from book stores all over the country, desperate to get their hands on the rare booklet. The initial run of 50,000 copies is almost all gone and the next run won’t arrive until mid-August.
The idea to include Perfume in the “Nakeru! Hiroshima-ken” (literally, “Hiroshima Prefecture that will make you cry!”) booklet and campaign is not as cynical as it sounds, since the girls originally hail from the region (it does, though, time in nicely with the release of their latest single). They also appear in a short PR video and are interviewed in the book.
The best place to get a copy in Tokyo is from the TAU Hiroshima Prefecture Store in Ginza, though at time of writing it no longer has any guidebooks left.
We’ve long struggled to understand the popularity of Perfume. On a superficial level, they are hardly what you might think of as glamorous. Rather, like many idol groups, they are presented as “amateurs” and this is reflected in that basically only one could be called beautiful. But it also shows in their ultimately fairly limited abilities to sing and dance, let alone write their own songs. Their managers are savvy folk and know to employ talented people to make cool music videos and album covers, which raises their sophistication. But what is the appeal of the Perfume girls themselves? Clearly they must have something, as this latest development shows!
Now we just have to see if the Perfume effect can actually increase tourism in Hiroshima.
JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing designWritten by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.
Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.
Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).
The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.
JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.
Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.
Japan Rail knows how to attract customers. In between rolling out snazzy new bullet trains and other technological advances, it periodically customizes JR Yamanote Line trains to look like a chocolate product or a manga and anime franchise.
From September, a special Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running on JR lines as part of its Wakayama Destination Campaign. The sightseeing train will be an express with all seats reserved.
JR has consulted with locals and got advice about the sightseeing spots to include on the design. The prefecture is famed for the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ten years now. Southern Wakayama is also home to Taiji, one of the (controversial) centers of Japanese traditional coastal whaling and dolphin hunting, and its Whale Museum is on of the tourist destinations featured on the train, along with a uniformed Hello Kitty.
The interior of the train will also be painted with characters but the design has yet to be announced.
Although JR West is trying to push how it has worked hard to find a design that shows off the locality of the region, we have yet to find a tangible reason for the choice of Hello Kitty other than her apparently universal popularity (after all, Kitty-chan is not even Japanese, she is meant to be British). Perhaps someone can enlighten us? Sanrio, never afraid to license out its character to all and sundry, must be happy with the extra coffers, though.
The Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running for 33 days on weekends and holidays from September 13th to December 14th, 2014.
Wakayama must have a thing for felines and locomotives. The fortunes of the small Kishigawa Line were famously reversed by the promotion of Tama the cat to station master.