SOMETHING JAPANESE TO DECLARE
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 05 February 2005
"Yokoso" means welcome in Japanese, and the Japanese government has designated the next two weeks - to 20 February 2005, Yokoso! Japan Weeks.
The programme is extremely wide ranging. For example, restricted areas of two of the leading places of worship, Nara's Todai-ji Temple and Kyoto's Byodo-in Temple will be specially opened to foreign visitors on a number of days during the festival.
You can also look into the future with the "e-Airport Programme". The government is conducting trials of its e-NAVI service, where visitors to Japan are loaned a PDA to enhance their experience. It features an English-Japanese voice translator, plus a "Tokyo Sightseeing Planner" - you enter details about how long you have to spare and what your interests are, and it prescribes how to spend it. And for good measure you can make domestic phone calls free of charge. To apply to take part in this trial, visit: www.narita-airport.jp/e-navi.
Even if you are only in transit at Narita airport near Tokyo, you will be able to take a special low-cost tour on a variety of themes from sake tasting and Japanese gardens to tea and shopping. The idea is that participants will get a taste of national life and come back for a longer visit. Transit passengers must pay, but the cost is a nominal Y500-Y1,000 (pounds 2.60-pounds 5.20).
Warning of the week: don't drink and drive - or inhale
Japan has a strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law, and some over- the-counter medicines commonly used in Britain, including Vicks inhalers and some allergy and sinus medicines, are banned. "Customs officials may not be sympathetic to visitors who claim ignorance about these medicines," warns the Foreign Office.
The country also has severe penalties against drink driving - and these extend to cover people who allow someone else to drink and drive. If you are a passenger in a vehicle being driven by someone under the influence of alcohol, you may be liable for prosecution.
Bargain of the week: Osaka
Japan's prime aviation gateway is Narita, outside Tokyo, but the pressure on slots means many airlines are expanding into Kansai airport, serving Osaka.
The base fare on Japan Airlines from Heathrow non-stop to Osaka can be as low as pounds 600 if you book through discount agents. Austrian Airlines (0870 124 2625; www.austrianairlines.co.uk) is offering a special "redticket" fare of pounds 467 return from Heathrow via Vienna to Osaka, for travel completed by the end of March.
Attractive fares are also available from UK airports outside London. Air France has some good deals (around pounds 470 from Birmingham via Paris for selected dates), while KLM offers departures from a wide range of British airports via Amsterdam for around pounds 600.
Destination of the week: Okinawa (see page 10)
This sub-tropical volcanic island, dangling 100 miles southwest of the mainland, is now easier to reach from the UK. The main approaches to Okinawa involve plane changes in Tokyo or Osaka. Now, though, you can also travel from Heathrow via Shanghai on China Eastern; or via Taipei on China Airlines. The latter carrier, based in Taiwan, does not fly from Britain, but connections are available in Amsterdam or Frankfurt from a range of UK airports.
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