Inside travel: Japan

Foreigners are more welcome than ever in a city coming to terms with tragedy, says Adrian Hamilton

The disaster on 11 March shook Tokyo – seismically, economically, socially – and also from the point of view of tourism. The airlines cancelled dozens of flights and added stops in Hong Kong or Seoul to avoid having their crews stay overnight in Japan.

However, they are flying non-stop into Tokyo's Narita airport again – and last weekend British Airways re-established the five-times-a-week service into Tokyo's Haneda airport that it introduced just three weeks before the disaster struck. Meanwhile the Foreign Office withdrew its initial warnings to avoid Tokyo two months ago.

In the main, though, foreigners have not returned. Which, counter-intuitive as it may be, makes this the perfect time to enjoy the Japanese capital. Tokyo's usual hectic pace has eased and you will be made all the more welcome in a country that has settled in for a long-haul journey out of its catastrophe and sees visitors as a welcome sign of support.

The restaurants are open and eager for custom. The theatres have resumed their spring and summer shows, and postponed sports events are being crammed back into the schedules.

What's missing? The bright lights and some of the razzmatazz of the neon areas of Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ginza. It's not aftershocks and radiation that constrain the mood now – the Japanese seem to have learnt to live with those (although they are none too happy with the way that the government and power companies have managed them). But the shutdown of nuclear capacity following the Fukushima explosions has cut electricity capacity and forced Tokyoites in particular to curb their energy use. Commuter trains have been reduced, street lighting has been halved and the neon-strips and floodlighting that had become such a feature of Tokyo in films have been subdued.

All to the good, one might say. Like New York in the glory days before the financial meltdown, there was something a little too frenetic and high spending about Tokyo in recent years; a sense that you weren't really with it unless you were going to the latest restaurants and dancing away the night in the hippest clubs. Now, like New York, a degree of calm has returned.

As a tourist, it doesn't really matter whether you speak any Japanese or that most locals do not speak any English. The dishes of the restaurants are on display as plastic models outside. You only need to bring out the waiter or waitress to point at your order.

Getting around, too, is relatively easy. The circular Yamanote Line and the Metro provide a super-efficient way to link neighbourhoods. You have the delight, as in London, of emerging in quite separate places with their own character – the old style of Asakusa, the grandeur of Marunouchi, the seaminess of Shinjuku, the temples of Yanaka.

And then there are the trips outside the city. Tokyo's residents need to breathe and to feel the air of the mountains and pine forests. With fewer people travelling, I found the trains less claustrophobic, and the wait at the important temples shorter.

On the first Sunday of "Golden Week" last month, I took a trip to Nikko, two hours north of Tokyo. Golden Week is a sequence of public holidays which enables the hard-working Japanese to grab an extra break with minimum days off. Usually, Nikko is teeming at this time of year as people flock to this 17th-century shrine. But there were no foreigners at all and – according to a local restaurant owner – barely half the usual numbers of Japanese visitors.

The same story applies to the hot baths and forests and hills of Hakone, only two hours south-west. Or, if you want to explore the old temples and incomparable sculpture of medieval Japan without going as far as Kyoto or Nara, take the train an hour away to Kamakura, the first military capital of the country and one of Japan's most pleasant towns in which to walk.

So, my advice: go now. Dire straits haven't led to massive discounting. But there are some good offers on hotels and, as one hotelier told me, "with fewer customers, we can offer much more personal service". Half the attraction of Japan is that it is a country set up for tourism because the Japanese themselves like to tour it. That's what makes the transport so efficient, the sights so open and the facilities so good.



Adrian Hamilton is senior comment writer at The Independent

Travel essentials: Japan

Getting there

* The writer flew to Tokyo with Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com), which flies daily non-stop between Heathrow and Narita, in competition with ANA, Japan Airlines and British Airways. BA also flies from Heathrow to Tokyo's Haneda airport.



Getting around

* The best way to use the Metro system is with a Pasmo pre-paid card, available from stations ( pasmo.co.jp/en).



Staying there

* The writer stayed at the Hilton Tokyo, Shinjuku-Ku (00 81 3 3344 5111; hilton.co.uk/tokyo; doubles from Y26,670/£200, room only), and the Conrad Hotel, Shinbashi (00 81 3 6388 8000; conradhotels1.hilton.com; doubles from Y45,000/£339, including breakfast).



More information

* Japan National Tourism Organization: seejapan.co.uk

* Tokyo Tourism Info is available, in English, at 00 81 3 5321 3077 or at tourism.metro.tokyo.jp.

* For the latest 48 Hours in The Independent and its accompanying film and radio programme, visit independent.co.uk/Tokyo.

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Sport
footballLive blog: Follow the action from the Capital One Cup semi-final
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy