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Japan tour prices to rise over safety

Posted by pakin On July - 7 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Japan package tour prices are expected to rise by 20% on average next month due to higher costs for operators after the Japanese government imposed stricter safety standards for tour buses.

The Thai Travel Agents Association (TTAA) said the rising expenses include drivers’ salaries. However, some operators can maintain their package prices if they book seats on low-cost airlines in advance.

TTAA president Suparerk Soonrangura said Japan is still a hot destination among Thai travellers.

Two low-cost airline carriers, Thai AirAsia X and Jetstar Asia, will play a major role in boosting outbound tourism on the Thailand-Japan route in the rest of the year.

Thai AirAsia X will offer daily direct flights from Bangkok to Tokyo’s Narita airport and five flights per week from Bangkok to Osaka, starting in September. Jetstar Asia recently launched a new route from Bangkok to Fukuoka.

“High demand causes fierce competition. Tour operators will cut prices to retain clients. Therefore, the price war still remains,” Mr Suparerk said.

Japan’s popularity among Thai travellers received a further boost after the Japanese government waived visas for short stays (15 days) for Thai tourists in mid-2013. This created a price war among travel agents who slashed prices from 40,000-60,000 baht to as low as 30,000 baht a package.

The latest survey by found Thais travelled mainly within Asia last year, with the top five destinations being Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Osaka and Siem Reap.

For the rest of 2014, outbound tourism has bright prospects thanks to the positive economic trend and good tourism environment.

The TTAA projects that the growth of outbound tourists this year will hit double digits, up from 5.7 million last year.

The junta’s fast payment to rice farmers under the rice-pledging scheme and approved spending by the government are expected to boost the overall economy in the second half of the year.

“Most businesses have returned to normal. Incentives will be offered to reward those who show good work performance. This will be another factor to spur outbound tourism,” said Mr Suparerk.

The TTAA revealed that while international travel was limited to high-earning people in the past, the growth of low-cost airlines allows far more people to travel abroad. The full liberalisation of the Asean Economic Community in 2015 will also boost regional travel for both leisure and business.

Mr Suparerk said top destinations for first-time Thai travellers were neighbouring countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Hong Kong, Myanmar and Malaysia.

A season for tea

Posted by pakin On June - 17 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

A visit to Shimada, home to thousands of acres of green tea, offers some delicious surprises

May heralds the season of new tea leaves, and when I learned the largest expanse of tea fields in Japan lies just beyond the longest wooden bridge in the world, I decided to visit Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture, where they are located.

A 10-minute walk from JR Shimada Station brought me to the wooden Horaibashi bridge over the Oigawa river. The tea fields, called the Makinohara Tea Estate, spread across the plateau on the other side of the river.

The tea plantation covers about 5,000 hectares, accounting for 10 percent of all tea fields in Japan. It was cultivated to grow tea after the Meiji Restoration (1868) by Kageaki Chujo, a former retainer of the Tokugawa shogunate.

The Horaibashi bridge, built for people who started working the tea fields, was repeatedly washed away when the river rose, so the bridge piers were rebuilt with cement in 1965.

The bridge, 897.4 meters long and about seven meters high, was registered by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest wooden pedestrian bridge. It is still used by local residents walking to and from work and also often serves as a film location.

As the number 8974 can be read as “yakunashi”, a homophone of “no misfortune” in Japanese, people visit the bridge for good luck, according to Yoshitsugu Haramiishi, a 71-year-old local tour guide.

The bridge is 2.4 metres wide, and the railing comes only up to the knees of the average adult so with nothing blocking the view, it feels rather like walking on air.

The landscape changes dramatically on the other side with a sea of tea leaves that stretch as far as the eye cane see. The contrast between the blue sky and the yellowish green tea leaves shining in the bright sunlight is amazing.

And from the open space that’s home to a statue of Chujo and Oigawa river in the background, it’s possible to glimpse Mount Fuji still lightly dusted with snow.

The development of a tea processing machine by a local inventor enabled the mass production of tea here, which eventually developed the tea industry in Shimada.

The World Tea Museum in the city helps visitors learn about the tea industry and tea culture both at home and abroad. The museum also has a Japanese garden and a tea ceremony room. While viewing the pond in the beautiful garden, I slowly sipped foamed matcha green tea from a tea bowl. It was a pretty tasteful event.

In the city, an event that allowed visitors to experience tea picking was under way. A guide at the event invited me to taste a new tea leaf, which was pretty tender as I felt its pleasant flavour fill my mouth. I heard that new tea leaves also taste good as tempura, boiled and seasoned with soy sauce, or as an ingredient in fried noodles.

Shimada and neighbouring Kanaya are known for having offered places for travellers to stay on both sides of the Oigawa river in the past. Crossing the river was a challenge for travellers along the old Tokaido, a thoroughfare during the Edo period (1603-1867) connecting Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto.

The city has many old temples and shrines, as well as a historical site that shows what the inns were like back in the Edo period.

Shimada is also said to be the birthplace of the Shimada topknot, a type of traditional Japanese coiffure. An annual festival held in September features a procession of women dressed in kimonos with their hair done in a Shimada topknot.

The Oigawa Railway is another local attraction, fascinating even those who are not railroad fans. Steam locomotives have been operating between Shin-Kanaya Station and Senzu Station for the last 38 years, and it is very difficult to procure components for the old-fashioned steam locomotives and their passenger cars, according to the railway operator’s public relations department.

Shimada has many more must-see places, such as Rose Hill Park, where nearly 360 species of roses are grown.

It might make for a tight schedule but all these places are certainly worth a visit.

If you go

_ From Tokyo Station, a Tokaido Shinkansen Hikari train takes you to Shizuoka Station. The journey takes about an hour. From there, an approximately 30-minute train ride on the Tokaido Line brings you to Shimada Station.

_ For more information, call the Shimada City Tourist Association at (0547) 46 2844.

Thaksin reported to be in Japan

Posted by pakin On May - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO – Fugitive former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is reported to be in Japan on a private visit.

Thaksin arrived in Japan at the beginning of the week and was expected to stay there for several days.

Pictures apparently taken by a Thai national staying in Japan have been posted on the internet showing Thaskin walking in Tokyo in he company of a woman.

Thaksin posted on Twitter recently that he was saddened by the May 22 coup.

Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and fled Thailand to avoid a two-year jail term from a corruption conviction.

He is the elder brother of recently disqualified former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was unseated by a Constitutional Court ruling earlier this month

‘Anti-Japan’ monument for Koreans

Posted by pakin On May - 29 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

BEIJING – China made public Thursday a stone monument honouring Koreans who fought for their peninsula’s independence from Japan’s 1910 to 1945 colonial rule.

The monument’s unveiling took place in the ancient city Xian as China and South Korea are sharpening their criticism of Japan in connection with its past.

South Korean President Park Geun Hye visited the capital of Shaanxi province last June and asked local authorities to consider building a monument after holding talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi and Park both have refused to hold talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he took office in December 2012, pointing out his nationalistic interpretation of history has hurt the feelings of people in the two countries, which have bitter memories of Japanese militarism in the past.

China and South Korea have been stepping up their condemnation of Abe since his visit in December to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals, along with millions of war dead.

The monument follows a memorial hall dedicated to Korean independence hero Ahn Jung Geun that was opened in the northeastern Chinese city Harbin in January.

The memorial hall was built at Harbin Railway Station, where Ahn assassinated Japan’s first prime minister, Hirobumi Ito, in 1909.

Japan, which regards Ahn as a terrorist, reacted sharply to the opening of the hall.