Hotel bargains, volunteer tourism packages among Japan's draws this summer, says tourism organization

The Japan National Tourism Organization has launched a campaign to win over tourists who, in the wake of the March 11 disasters, are in two minds about whether to have a holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The organization has put together a list of 10 good reasons why this year is the best time to visit Japan, emphaszsing that the vast majority of the country has felt absolutely no impact from the earthquake and tsunami that caused such damage in coastal regions of the far northeast.

"Tokyo is back to normal with trains once again running like clockwork, water safe to drink and the beer and yoghurt shortages now over," it said.

Authorities in Japan and abroad have declared that it is safe to travel to virtually all parts of the country.

That has not been enough to convince all travelers to stick to their plans, however, with the number of visitors from abroad dropping steeply in the last few months. From the United Kingdom alone, tourist numbers declined by 50 percent.

Yet the JNTO says now is the best time to travel to Tokyo and beyond.

"Japan is a fantastic destination for a truly memorable holiday and many of the people in the country rely on tourism for their livelihoods," it said.

Compiling its Top 10 list, the JNTO said the best reason to make Japan your destination this summer is the great deals that are presently available on hotels. Many have slashed their rates to drum up interest - with Hyatt Hotels offering 50 percent off every second night.

Another reason to visit is to volunteer in the areas hardest hit by the natural disasters, with InsideJapan Tours operating a four-day "Volunteer for Japan" package for non-Japanese speakers to help in the clean-up operations.

A third excuse to visit is the imminent opening of beer gardens in Kyoto where drinkers can down ice cold brews in the company of geisha.

And while Japan may be famous for its bustling and spectacular cities, it is also home to some of the world's most stunning areas of natural beauty. Specialist firms are offering a range of hiking holidays that combine some of the nation's best sights, such as walking the volcanoes of Kyushu.

Japan's beaches are often one of its most overlooked assets. Okinawa Prefecture alone has 160 islands, a subtropical climate, coral reefs, emerald seas and sunny skies. Other beaches, such as those on the Izu Peninsula, are a mere 90-minute train journey from Tokyo.

Bullet trains are a perennial favorite with visitors and this year has marked the opening of the final section of high-speed track linking Kagoshima, in the very far south of the archipelago, with Aomori, on the tip of the main island of Honshu.

In terms of new developments in transport, British Airways, along with a number of other airlines, now flies directly into Tokyo's Haneda Airport, a much faster and more convenient distance from central Tokyo.

Eighth on the JNTO's list are the "relaxed locals," followed by the numerous festivals that can be found the length and breadth of the country throughout the summer. From outdoor music festivals through age-old traditional processions and massive fireworks displays, there is likely to be something to meet everyone's interests.

The final reason on the list may be a little more strenuous than the others, but climbing the iconic Mount Fuji will be a memory to savor for the rest of one's life.

JR

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