Category Archives: Japan

Travel News: Irish Beach reappears 33 years after vanishing into Atlantic Ocean

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Delta Passengers Can Now Check Their Bags By Scanning Their Face 

Mashable reports Delta passengers will soon be able to check their bags via a facial recognition scanner that uses biometric technology to match their passport photos to their face. The new technology is the first of its kind in the US and Delta hopes it will help both customers and airline agents save time during check-in. Launch details: Delta has invested $600,000 in 4 biometric self-service bag drop machines, which will be placed in Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport this summer, but only one will include the facial recognition software. Delta will then collect customer feedback to determine how and when it will expand it other airports. Privacy experts have urged government agencies and airlines to be cognizant of the risks involved when implementing this type of technology, “especially if it’s found that they are cross-checking facial images with law enforcement databases without permission.” Delta has insisted it will protect customer’s privacy, and will not save anyone’s information or images of their faces.

American Duchess To Launch Service In August From New Orleans

The American Queen Steamboat Company will launch service with its new American Duchess from New Orleans on Aug. 14, 2017. Inland riverboat cruising has boomed for the Port of New Orleans in recent years, growing 40 percent in 2016 compared to 2015, as the Port welcomed 21,391 passengers on three homeported paddle wheelers sailing on the Lower Mississippi River, according to a press release from the port. Other Louisiana stops on the American Duchess itinerary include the Nottoway Antebellum Mansion in White Castle, the historic district in downtown St. Francisville, and museums and attractions in Baton Rouge.

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Irish Beach reappears 33 years after vanishing into Atlantic Ocean

A beach that was swept away more than 30 years ago from a remote island off the west coast of Ireland has reappeared after thousands of tons of sand were deposited on top of the rocky coastline. Dooagh beach is now back after a storm returned sand to it, 30 years after another storm had stripped all the sand off the beach, on Achill island, County Mayo, Ireland, The 300 meter beach near the tiny village of Dooagh on Achill Island vanished in 1984 when storms stripped it of its sand, leaving nothing more than a series of rock pools. But after high spring tides last month, locals found that the Atlantic Ocean had returned the sand. The popular beach once sustained four hotels and a number of guesthouses on the west coast of the island of 2,600 people.

The island, the largest off the coast of Ireland, forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a tourist trail stretching from the south of the country to the north-west that has benefited from a tourist boom in the European Union’s fastest-growing economy.

Newest Celebrity Edge, will have Malala Yousafzai as godmother

Celebrity Cruises named human rights activist and Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai godmother to the line’s newest ship, Celebrity Edge, which launches in late 2018. She will christen the ship in Fort Lauderdale in December 2018. Celebrity is also partnering with Yousafzai’s nonprofit foundation, the Malala Fund, to help tell her story and raise money for the more than 130 million girls who do not have access to 12 years of schooling. “The godmother is a beacon for what we stand for and what we believe in,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity, adding that among the brand’s strongest commitments is a belief in gender parity, equality and diversity. As part of the partnership, Celebrity Cruises is making a “significant donation” to the Malala Fund. Additionally, the cruise line will begin showing the documentary “He Named Me Malala” on the in-cabin TVs (both passenger and crew cabins) on all of its ships. The line will also “in the very near future” start selling the book “I Am Malala,” along with Malala Fund t-shirts and a co-created Celebrity Cruises and Malala Fund piece of merchandise on all ships. All proceeds from these items will go directly to the Malala Fund. Celebrity will also provide a custom Malala Fund URL onboard its ships that cruisers and crew can use to donate to the fund.

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New Japanese luxury train even has a fireplace on board

From the BBC: The Train Suite Shiki-shima is designed to give you the ultimate luxury experience: tickets range from $2,860 to around $10,000 and you can choose between a two- or four-day trip. The Shiki-shima had its maiden journey on 1 May. The train was built to the plans of designer Ken Kiyoyuki Okuyama and is being advertised as using only the best of materials, many linked to traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The train will take you from Tokyo to the northernmost island Hokkaido, and carries 34 passengers. There are trips with one or three nights on board to choose from. The plans for the train were announced by the East Japan Railway Company in 2014 and there has been crazy demand now the train is finally here. A lottery for seats on launch day was said to have been over-subscribed by a factor of 76. Tickets for the 10-car train are sold out until March 2018. The food will be prepared by Michelin star chefs and presented by uniformed butlers. Everything on board aims to rival the experience of a top-end luxury hotel. 

Disney Wonder is the first ship through the expanded Panama Canal locks

Although passenger ships first made their way down the Panama Canal back in 1914, and millions have done so in the last century, the world’s most famous man-made waterway saw the beginning of a new era this weekend when a cruise ship crossed the recently expanded locks for the first time. The Disney Wonder, a 2,713-passenger ship, passed through the canal’s new locks on April 29 as part of its 14-day trip from Florida to San Diego. As USA Today reports, the 83,308-ton ship had used the canal in the past, but it was too wide to travel the old route after the ship was expanded in 2016. On April 1, the Panama Canal began accepting booking requests for passenger vessels in the new locks. So far, 18 reservations have already been made for passenger vessels to transit the Expanded Canal for the 2017-2018 season, a number which is expected to increase in the coming months. To put things in perspective: The old locks measured 1,000 feet by 110 feet by 42 feet; the new locks are 1,400 feet by 180 feet by 60 feet. The ten-deck Wonder is 106 feet wide, leaving about 35 feet of water on either side of the boat in the new locks. It’s cozy, but it does the job. The canal upgrade began in 2007 but encountered a number of problems along the way; it finally opened in 2016, two years behind schedule and about $1 billion dollars over budget, for a total cost of $5 billion, according to NPR. But it came about to keep up with recently expanded Suez Canal, and to allow larger cargo ships to transit the isthmus, rather than having to circumnavigate the southern cone of South America, which adds 8,000 miles to a journey.

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April Showers bring Cherry Flowers!

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Cherry blossom season is well under way, and nowhere else is it as revered as in Japan.

The “Land of the Rising Sun” has a special relationship with cherry blossoms, even going so far as to hold “cherry flower-viewing parties,” picnicking under the pink trees with family and friends. The holiday Hanami literally means “flower-viewing,” and is the art of admiring these little ephemeral gifts. Best complimented with an old temple or castle.

Since cherry trees bloom for only a short period each Spring, they reflect the Japanese Buddhist concept mono no aware, the beautiful impermanence of life.

While of course cherries aren’t endemic to Japan, it seems to be the only culture that really takes the art to indulgent levels. As two well-known haikus by legendary Basho say:

Hana no kumo

Kane wa ueno ka

Asakusa ka

A cloud of cherry blossoms.

The temple bell, is it Ueno

Or Asakusa?

Sama zama no

Koto omoidasu

Sakura kana

How many things

They call to mind

These cherry blossoms!

If you happen to be in Japan right now, Japan-Guide has a useful Cherry Blossom Forecast.

Thinking about Japan? Princess Cruises is offering a special sale in 2018! Call us for the details: 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

Or simply call us up for a chat about Japan! Our Agent Pam at Willamette Intl Travel has recently been to Japan and she’d love to share with you her impressions and help plan your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

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Ice Festivals around the World

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From the Desk of Wailana, Social Media Correspondent based in Stockholm

Glacial Artscapes

It’s freezing in my adoptive home of Sweden, about -10 C (that’s 14 F!), and venturing outside puts me knee-deep in snow. Coming from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, it’s not something I’ll ever be used to!

But ice and snow has its charms. Sweden just opened its Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi for 365 days of the year (previously it was only in winter season), so that puts me in the arctic spirit! And the rest of the world seems to agree. From December to March each year, cities and towns all across the globe host beautiful Ice Sculpture Festivals and transform their streets into a glacial winter wonderland.

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World Ice Art Championships — Alaska

Since 1989, Alaska is THE destination for worldwide ice art competition. Bringing together more than 100 sculptors and upwards of 50,000 visitors each year, the Ice Art Championship is a place to see masters excel at their craft. Judges break down the competition by Single Block (one block of ice) and Multi-Block, and Abstract and Realistic artworks. These “Olympics of Ice Carving” are a fantastic way for artists to demonstrate strength, vision, and feats of engineering. Usually held between February in March, giving youth carvers a chance to challenge each other during Spring Break. The theme tends to be up to interpretation, with topics ranging from pop culture to folklore; but many artists do favor naturalistic motifs, celebrating local Alaskan fauna or indigenous culture.

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Harbin Intl Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival — China

The magnificent and luminous International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China (whew what a title!), holds the title of largest ice festival in the world. Originating way back in 1963 (albeit interrupted for some years during the Cultural Revolution), it typical runs from January to February. This is one crazy festival–featuring ice lanterns, carving competitions, a fireworks show, converts, water swimming and other ice sports. Sculptures reach their peak in 2007, when a Canadian-themed sculpture was awarded a Guinness Record for biggest snow sculpture (a whopping 820 feet long and 28 feet high!). Tourist packages often combine winter travel in China with a stop in Harbin. (Call Willamette Intl Travel for the scoop!) Come at night for the best multicolored illuminations!

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Sapporo Snow Festival — Japan

The world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million people to Hokkaido in early February. Its humble beginnings start all the way back in 1950, when a group of high school students challenged each other with a mere six snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it’s been growing, and the festival garnered international attention during Sapporo’s Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Guests can enjoy still sculptures in Odori Park, where lights illuminate the frozen dragons, flowers, supernatural beings, musicians, (and so on!) until 10pm.

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Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival — Netherlands

The Netherlands have thrown a few Ice Sculpture Festivals (including one in Bruges!) over the years, but it’s this year (2016-2007) that one is at last coming to Amsterdam. Forty-two expert ice artists will transform the Arena Park into a magical ice-scape from December to February. The theme: Music Inspires, so expect Mozart, Elvis, and maybe even Prince to make an appearance.

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Quebec City Winter Carnival — Canada

More of a parade than an exhibition, Quebec’s City Winter Carnival is a time for the whole city to shake off winter hibernation. Masquerade balls, winter sports, snowmen pop up here and there, and the parade hosts a fair share of ice sculptures to admire and applaud. Don’t forget your glass of Caribou, a hot melange of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup!

 

Flickr CC images: art_inthecity, RageZ, Jay Cross, Fredrik Rubensson, Thomas Wanhoff

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Christmas in Asia

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Christmas is a widespread holiday, celebrated in countries all over the world. Did you know that it’s a popular holiday even in the Far East?

Though many people don’t associate Christmas with Asia, this holiday is celebrated all the way from Japan to the Philippines. Depending on where you go, it can be a religious holiday or a secular time with family and friends.

In Japan, Christmas is widely popular as a holiday for friends or lovers. Cities decorate their streets and halls with Christmas trees and illuminations, and pipe out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the radio. Japanese people may eat Christmas cake, a sponge cake with whipped cream and fruit toppings. December 25 is a romantic holiday, with many Japanese preferring to spend a romantic day with their significant other.

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In Hong Kong, locals go all out with a festive Christmas. December 25 is an official holiday in Hong Kong, and the city dresses up in massive Christmas Trees, German-style Christmas markets and beautiful light shows. The ballet does a yearly Nutcracker that is a delight. You can get your photo with Santa, known in Hong Kong as Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren.

In China, the New Year usually overshadows Christmas as the most important holiday. Still, many Chinese people like to get into the holiday spirit just for fun. Children can get their photos with Santa (known as “聖誕老人 shèngdànlǎorén”) at department stores, and people give out cellophane-wrapped Christmas apples as gifts.

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In Korea, where 30% of the population is Christian, Christmas is a holiday for families and lovers. This official official holiday is a time for families to get together and eat traditional dishes like barbecued beef, kimchi and rice cake soup. Santa Haraboji is a traditionally dressed grandfather with a top hat (gat) and blue robe, who hands out gifts to children. Like Japan, it can also double as a romantic night with your significant other!

In the Philippines, thanks to Spanish influence, Christmas is a huge holiday. Filipinos decorate their homes with candles, lights and wreaths, and dress up a bamboo pole with a lighted star. Christmas Eve is a big deal—people don’t generally sleep this night, instead they hold the Feast of Noche Buena, which begins after midnight. The dinner consists of delicious oxtail stew, stuffed chicken, pudding and sticky rice. Children line up in front of an elder family member, who passes out coins as gifts.

Vietnam also gets into the secular spirit with decorations and light shows all over Ho Chi Minh City. People throw confetti and eat out in fancy restaurants.

Next Week is Christmas! Where are you spending the holidays? Let us know in the comments!

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Winter Illumination Wonders of Japan

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We hope you all (in the USA at least) had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend — we sure did!

Today, let’s step halfway across the world to welcome winter, with enchanting illuminations!

(Did you miss our earlier post on Kyoto? Click here!)

Here in Portland every year the city rolls out its annual light parade, complete with floats, installations, sculptures, performances—even lectures on Light itself at the science museum! But did you know that, across the Pacific ocean, Japan also goes all out with the wintry lights? And we’re not talking a couple of small towns, or even just Tokyo—dozens of cities all over the nation have gotten caught up with the illuminations craze. So if you’re in Japan this winter, be sure to catch the closest one near you!  Continue reading

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Pam in Japan! : FAQs

Our readers might remember that our own agent WIT Pam spent two weeks last year in Japan visiting her son Matt, who is living and working in Tokyo. As it has been years since anyone from Willamette spent time in Japan, we were thrilled when she came back with such great firsthand feedback!

Have you been thinking about travel to the Land of the Rising Sun? Pam will be happy to answer your questions about travel in Japan and arrange a spectacular trip for you. Call her for a chat at 503-224-0180 or email pamd@wittravel.com. 

Pam used Delta nonstop, and booked a package plan with a prepaid hotel in Kyoto, which saved a lot on airfare. Whilst in Tokyo she visited the famous Asakusa, Shinjuku & Ueno areas–each with their own unique flavor. She took a day trip to Kamakura, where you can tour the many temples without the throngs of visitors found in Kyoto. And she did take the Shinkansen train to Kyoto, spending a fabulous 3 nights there.

Here are a few quick questions we had for her on logistics while traveling in Japan: 

What is the link for the portable wi-fi you used? I used http://www.japan-wireless.com There are a lot of companies that do this, but this is the one where Matt has his phone and they are one of the larger providers in Japan. The device cost $55.00 U.S. for 9 days. It allowed me to use Google maps and their GPS function on my I-phone. I could sync it to 4 different devices. It can be delivered to your hotel.

Is there hardware that needs to be returned to the company you rented from, and if so, how is it returned? In the package you get they include instructions for syncing it to your device and a prepaid return envelope. You can drop it in any post box in Japan and it will be returned to them. It is about the same size as a cell phone.

Prepaid ticket for the airport bus: How did you pre-purchase the voucher? I got the bus voucher from JTB in Los Angeles at the same time I got the Japan Rail Pass. It would have been ok to purchase the bus ticket when you got there – it was a little hard finding the booth. I went out to where the buses left and found the bus, and they directed me back inside the terminal to the place where the voucher had to be exchanged. If I were doing it again, I would opt to take the train into the city – it is faster and goes to more stations than I realized.

Green Class Japan Rail Pass: There are multiple train companies in Japan – Japan Rail is the only one you can use on the pass, so depending on where you are traveling you sometimes may still have to buy some tickets. They do go most places, though. You also have to watch what kind of train you are taking – some of the newer high-speed trains still have supplements that you have to pay on top of the pass. I think that for tourists it is worth getting the Green Pass – I can’t stress how crowded and miserable the trains are around Tokyo – and if you are in the Green Car at least they are a little less packed. The long-distance trains from Tokyo to Kyoto can be reserved – there is a small fee for doing this, but you are guaranteed a seat and car number. This can only be done in Japan at a ticket office. I got a 7 day pass so didn’t use it on my arrival. The passes are for consecutive days only, so it didn’t make sense for me to have it validated until I was within 7 days of leaving Tokyo, since Matt isn’t on a JR line. I used it from Tokyo to Kamakura and back as a day trip, from Tokyo to Kyoto and back, for a side trip from Kyoto to Nara and back, and for the return Narita Express back to the airport. The pass price was about $316 and Matt’s ticket purchased from Tokyo to Kyoto round trip around $210. So I figure it was good value for me, but I wouldn’t do it for somebody who was just traveling one way from Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka, say.

Suica or Pasmo card: Are the kiosks all over so they can easily be re-charged? Are they loaded only with cash, or can they be loaded from a debit card or credit card? These are 2 different cards both pre-loaded with money but they are universally accepted. The kiosks where I bought the cards were self-service – located in the train stations, and I think Matt said that you could buy them in convenience stores also – like a 7-11, of which there are thousands. We ended up reloading the cards at the train stations – Japan uses a lot of cash and you end up with pounds of small change, so we would take the card to the machine, toss in the cash and change, and it all got loaded on the cards which was a good way of getting rid of it. There were instructions on the machine that could be switched into English.

This feedback was also featured in our Winter newsletter. Give us a call for a hard copy in the mail!

 

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Highlights of Kyoto

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Ever wondered what makes Kyoto such a favorite destination for Japanese and foreigners alike? WIT Agent Pam headed there from Tokyo last week to find out exactly why. Call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com to chat the ins and outs of Japan.

City of Lavish Temples & Exquisite Palaces

Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is known for its rich history, exquisite gardens and ornate palaces. Chief among them is Kinkaku-Ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, so-called due to its pavilion that is lavishly coated in gold-leaf. The gold is meant to purify any negative thoughts towards death.

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Be sure to stop by the peaceful grounds of the Imperial Park, where you’ll find the Imperial Palace, beautiful gates and gardens. The palace was home to the imperial family until 1868, when the emperor moved his residence to Tokyo.

Just a half-hour’s walk away, Nijo Castle was originally built as a shogunate residence. It is famous for its “nightingale floors,” wooden floors that squeak to note any presence that passes through its halls. Toji Temple is also a must-see, if only for its colorful interiors and elegantly carved Buddhist sculptures. The temple grounds is also home to a flea market on the 21st of the month, where visitors can find old postcards, movie posters, traditional crafts and other souvenirs.

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Higashi Hongan-ji temple is worth a stop just for its unusual hair rope, a thick rope of human hair. This is the last remnant of the the hair ropes used during construction of the temple in the late 1800s. Historically, ordinary rope was not available–so women would donate their hair to make stronger ropes.

Other places of note is the Museum of Kyoto, which houses a huge collection of ancient pottery, and the International Manga Museum, home to over volumes and items of 300,000 manga, Japanese comic books. The latter keeps books in both Japanese and foreign languages, and is popular with the 30 and younger crowd.

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More to Kyoto than Meets the Eye

But there’s more to Kyoto than temples and museums. Hop on a bike with a small group for a healthy paced, but intimate look into the real former capital. Join a walking tour into the Inari district to learn about sake production from the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum. Or hit the culinary path and explore the Nishiki Food Market with a knowledgeable guide.

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If you’re only in Japan for a week or two, Kyoto is the place to go for an immersion of traditional culture. Experience a traditional tea ceremony or samurai sword demonstration. Here you can witness the elegance of Maiko, or apprentice geishas, during an evening of delicious kaiseki cuisine, dancing and festive games.

For a more inclusive experience, delve into the world of Geisha. Follow a private guide into the Gion neighborhood, savor high-cuisine at an invitation-only dinner with a geisha, learn about her hidden world as your guide translates, and enjoy her performance of dance and music.

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Did you know? Kyoto is just a short jaunt from Tokyo on the Shinkansen, Japan’s famous bullet train.

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