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DESTINATION INSIGHT

Wednesday, 08 January, 2020, 14 : 49 PM [IST]

Japan: Endless Discovery

By Sumit Jha
Japanese people are known for their high standards, and when it comes to hospitality, they leave no stone unturned. A reflection of their tourism prowess can be seen in their achievement of phenomenal growth in tourist inflow expected to touch 40 million in 2020. Their zest for hospitality is deeply rooted in a culture of courtesy and consideration for others, especially towards their visitors.

Geographically, Japan stretches a considerable distance from north to south, offering a great diversity of destinations and activities available to visitors, including meeting and incentive participants. As a nation, Japan's various cities and regions offer everything from snowy mountainside ski resorts to coral reef-ringed islands, with large metropolitan areas and charming rural villages, making it a complete bouquet for MICE planners. Be it palace, castle, park or garden, mountain, river, lake or ocean, zen tranquility or festival revelry, contemporary cold play or hot spring retreats. Japan has so many possibilities and much more. Plus, food, drink and remarkable service, whose exceptional quality can be taken for granted, make Japan an ideal complete destination.

With an eye on increasing the flow of MICE visitors from India into Japan, Japan National Tourism Organisation (JNTO) in association with Japan Airlines (JAL) organised a 6-day familiarisation trip for some of the leading MICE agencies and media from India to showcase the Japanese culture which is constantly generating new wonders in every realm and offering fascinating range of first-time experiences.

Day 1

After a smooth and courteous flight experience on-board JAL's Boeing aircraft, the delegation landed into Tokyo's Narita Airport early morning and were ushered to a concept capsule hotel 9h (nine hours). Meticulously planned and ideally located within the airport terminal complex, this pod hotel was perfect to freshen up after an overnight flight and get ready for a mesmerising journey into this Land of the Rising Sun.

The journey started with visit to Asakusa Area of Tokyo which houses Edo Noren. The sightseeing en route showcased the strong architectural and structural competency of a very clean and organised Tokyo. Asakusa, famous for the Buddhist temple Senso-ji, retains the vibe of older Tokyo, with traditional craft shops and street-food stalls. Edo Noren, a Sumo-themed food hall with souvenir shops spread across two levels and innovatively created by converting old Ryogoku Station, is ideal for experiencing traditional Japanese culture with a sumo ring taking the centre stage.

Our first meal in Tokyo was at Annam, an Indian restaurant popular for serving traditional food and operating in Ginza since 2008. While the food was nice and getting a crisp 'naan' was pleasantly surprising, the flavours had a Japanese touch to it, perhaps due to the ingredients being used.

After a satisfying meal, we headed by our coach to the inspection of Happo-En, a traditional Japanese circuit-style garden with a pond at its centre offering a variety of venues. Named in recognition of its exquisite beauty, the garden is famous for housing a collection of bonsai trees that include specimens aged over 500 years. The historic tree-house, Kahoan and other prominent locations within the garden offers unforgettable views of delicate cherry blossoms in spring and spectacular, multi-coloured foliage in autumn. The main building offers multiple venues perfect for a variety of events of different scales and themes. An elaborate Japanese Tea Ceremony was savoured here.

Our next destination was Hotel Gajoen which recently celebrated 90 years and has been termed as a 'Museum Hotel of Japan Beauty'. Here the guests can enjoy enchanting Japanese traditional artworks in the entire premises. The hotel, with 60 rooms, offers 23 meeting rooms catering for 30 to 1,200 people in stimulating Japanese setting.

About half hour drive away was our next stop - the Grand Intercontinental Yokohama. The hotel building, shaped like a yacht under sail offering expansive views of Yokohama Harbor and the Cosmo Clock 21 ferris wheel, was host to our first night in Japan. With 594 rooms and its strategic location adjacent to the international convention and exhibition hall, the hotel is ideal to cater to business travellers and delegates during conventions.

Exposing our palate to the local flavours, dinner was organised at M's Table, located close to Chinatown a popular market area, a popular vegan restaurant offering Japanese favourites.

Day 2

Visit to Sankeien – a traditional Japanese-style garden, located in a valley facing Tokyo Bay, and spread across 175,000 Sq m was refreshing with beautifully sculptured plants and landscape. The garden houses 17 historic structures as old as 550 years (temples and buildings associated with historical figures, etc) moved from Kyoto and Kamakura.

Next stop was at Noh Theatre. Noh, a performance art combining the three elements of chant, dance and music, is described as the Japanese Musical or the Opera of Japan. It was a step back in time to learn about the history and tradition of over a century old Noh Stage which has been restored and designated as a tangible cultural property of Yokohama.

Lunch was organised at Herbal Spice Kitchen, a popular Indian restaurant catering to large number of locals and tourists in Yokohama with their set menu.

Visit to the CupNoodles Museum Yokohama was an eye-opener. A museum dedicated to instant noodles and Cup Noodles developed over the years from the first time in 1958, and to the creator and founder of Chicken Ramen Momofuku Ando. With various activities and a factory set-up for CupNoodles and Ramen, the place was bustling with participants of all age group.

Excitement was evident as the delegation boarded Shinkansen (Bullet Train) from Shin-Yokohama station to Osaka. The distance of 515 km was covered in 2 hours and 8 minutes with the operating speed going up to 285 km per hour.

On arrival at Osaka, a 5-minute walk from the station leads to Vischio Osaka Hotel, the delegations' final destination for the day. The location, with its proximity to various restaurants and attractions, makes it easy to enjoy the best of Osaka and is an ideal choice for rest and rejuvenation. It was time to explore the much coveted night-life of Osaka and the hotel was perfectly placed for the exploration.

Day 3

A detailed presentation at the Daihatsu Motor Plant followed by walk through the journey of their cars displayed at the exhibition area showcased the various changing models and reasons thereof from the early days to the latest models of their cars available in the market.

This plant visit was followed by inspection of the Hyatt Regency Osaka with a walk through the property showcasing the grandeur and versatility of the options available - the Regency Ballroom can accommodate close to 2,500 people in theatre style seating. The hotel offers many other meeting and event options along with 480 guest rooms. With Chef Rajdeep Rana, Executive Sous Chef in control, lunch offered at the hotel was a large spread with some authentic Indian dishes specially dished out for the delegation.

Next was the inspection of the Osaka International Convention Centre and the Rihga Royal Hotel, our host for the night. Rihga Royal, with 1042 rooms, banqueting area which can accommodate up to 3,000 people and 19 dining areas and bars, is one of Osaka's most prestigious and renowned hotels and a favourite amongst both locals and tourists through its history of over 80 years. Its proximity to the Osaka International Convention Centre (within the same premise) makes it an ideal location for visitors attending events at the convention centre. The Convention Centre, offering 67,000 sq m of conferencing and exhibition space offers the perfect setting for a diverse range of events, including conference, music concerts and exhibitions. While the centre has 25 conference rooms, the main hall has a capacity to accommodate 2,754 people.

It was time for some activity at the food sample making centre. The members of the fam trip tried their hands at creating food samples replicas using wax at studio in the Dotonbari area. Known as one of the principal tourist destinations in Osaka, this lively entertainment area is renowned for its bright neon lights, extravagant signage, and the enormous variety of restaurants and bars.

On the busy streets of Dotonbari, dinner was scheduled at Chibo, one of the city's most popular restaurants specialising in Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancake, sometimes referred to as Japanese Pizzza). With over 60 outlets worldwide, the restaurant specialises in teppanyaki style service (a hot steel plate forming the centre of the table). A stroll through the streets exploring the busy markets was almost mandatory after the delicious and filling Okonomiyaki meal.

Yusuke Yamamoto, Executive Director, JNTO

Japan has many tourist spots and very unique culture and tradition and modern technology, too. If Indian companies hold MICE travel to Japan, participants will be inspired by many surprises in Japan. In this term Japan is ideal place for MICE. To introduce the MICE venues in Japan we took a FAM trip in November 2019. This time we introduced the delegation to Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka and Okinawa. Tokyo is the capital of Japan and one of the largest mega-city in the world. Yokohama is very close to Tokyo but more relaxing place in front of Tokyo bay. Osaka is well known as "Capital of commerce" or "Capital of food" in Japan. Okinawa is known for its world class beautiful beach resorts in southern part of Japan. These cities have their own attractiveness so I'd be glad if you know "Japan Surprises" by this article.

Shinya Naruse, Country Head – India, Japan Airlines (JAL)

Japan Airlines collaborated with Japan National Tourism Organization and successfully implemented FAM trip for potential agents along with media in the month of November'19 to explore the Land of Rising Sun – Japan.

Japan MICE traffic had displayed phenomenal growth of 50% over FY 2018-19. Japan has an enormous potential for MICE and is still unexplored by oodles of Indian travellers. Japan as a country has its unique experiences to offer like Samurai Fight, Ninja, Robotics, Digital Museums, Onsen Experiences, Bullet Trains, Japanese Finest Food, Culture, History, Nature, Adventures and Unique Venues to hold MICE activities. Other sighted reason for these incremental numbers could be the tax free shopping in Japan for visitors.

FAM trips garnered potential trade partners to learn more about Japan as a destination first hand, hence being able to sell it with authoritative knowledge and as rightly said "Once is never enough in Japan". I would like to convey my sincere thanks to JNTO to increase MICE to Japan and it is our pleasure indeed to support it.

Rohit Ahuja, Director – Business Development, Wizard Meetings & Incentive Travel

For quite a while, Europe has been a favourite amongst Indian travellers, but with Japan National Tourism Organization's (JNTO) new initiative and push, it surely feels like this will become the new sought after destination for MICE and FIT travellers. India and Japan's long standing political and commercial relationship will surely aid in developing Japan as an alternate to travelling westward.

The recent familiarisation trip by JNTO was a good initiative to apprise travel operators about what Japan can offer for different MICE requirements. With its technological advanced infrastructure, the country is very well placed to service and cater to requirements of various groups. With cities like Tokyo and Osaka which are commercial hubs and offer a lot of happening activities, to place like Okinawa which is full of nature, the country offers varied experience to travellers.

Though for Indian MICE groups, food has always been a tricky area because of our specific requirements. After managing some of the group movements in recent past, hotels in Japan have now understood that meeting the food expectations and requirements is critical for picking up Indian MICE business. And hence Japanese hotels are now open and flexible to accommodate India-specific food requirements. Also, since Indian food is fairly popular amongst Japanese people, there are ample Indian restaurants which can also provide catering services at various locations.

Javed Khan, Director, Enrich India

Japan is welcoming. The Oriental land has got a great mix of venues and convention facilities huge enough to accommodate 1,500 to 2,000 pax at any given time. The picturesque sights of modern world, the artistic and cultural heritage of the historical era along with some great must-visit sights and experiences makes it totally unavoidable for Indian MICE market. Food is one of the deciding factor and to my surprise Japan has got some great Indian restaurants offering delectable taste in Indian and Indianised Japanese cuisines. The technological advancement and work proficiency makes it easier to organise and execute daunting tasks despite the language barrier.

From the Angelic halo of the mystic Mount Fuji to the precisely managed trains and attractions - Japan took me by the most myth-busting surprises ever conceived. Thanks to JNTO for this mesmerising journey.

Nanda Kapil, Assistant General Manager – Business Development, Pacific World

It was a wonderful experience to know about Japan during the familiarisation trip organised by JNTO and JAL. This country is mix of architecture, technology and culture. The itinerary was well planned and it helped us to explore four cities in a span of six days. I appreciate all the places we have visited. To mention few Cup Noodles Museum, Daihatsu Plant visit, Okinawa World and of course convention centres based on different themes across the region. We will definitely recommend this to our clients. It is an ideal destination for MICE. JNTO has done good Job.





Day 4

Next morning was an early start to the airport to catch a Japan Airways flight to Okinawa. The two-hour flight landed us at Naha airport in Okinawa - Japan's southernmost prefecture. Okinawa is a chain of islands with its own history as an independent kingdom (Ryukyu Kingdom) and a distinctly subtropical climate. Its pristine beaches, colourful coral reefs and sub-tropical jungle make it a beautiful destination.

Our drive from Naha Airport to Nanjo City, to the Okinawa World cultural theme park was through some breath-taking natural landscapes. We visited the Okinawa World, also known as 'Gyokusendo Kingdom Village' to discover the culture of Okinawa. Here one can experience the stunning limestone cave formed over 300,000 years ago and old castle town of the Ryukyu Kingdom showcasing exhibits of a variety of traditional Okinawan arts and crafts. A traditional Okinawa cuisine lunch was relished at Chura Shima.

Our next stop, located adjacent to Okinawa World was the Valley of Gangala - a mysterious cave which offers one of the world's most unique event venues spanning about 600 sq m at the entrance of the miraculous limestone caves which was created by the art of nature over hundred million years. Besides hosting events, one can also opt for a guided tour in the ancient forest of this award winning venue.

After driving back to Naha city, we checked in to Okinawa Kariyushi Urban Resort Naha and inspected the unique offerings of the resort and its banqueting facilities. Inspection of a newly constructed hotel Okinawa EXES Naha highlighted the chic and uber cool facilities of this top-of-the-line boutique property. Dinner was scheduled at Indian restaurant Shiv Mahal which offered some good quality culinary treat.

Day 5

Next morning started with a special fair created by the staff of Okinawa Kariyushi Urban Resort Naha to cater to Indian taste and to show their capability of handling Indian customers. Our next destination was Ufuya – an old-style Okinawan village, with a garden and old houses, recreated in the Yanbaru hills. Eight houses built over 100 year ago have been relocated and restored to give the venue an authentic Okinawan landscape, ideal for MICE activities.

Kouri Ocean Tower, located in the ocean north of Motobu Peninsula and connected by Kouri Bridge was magnificent. Alluring views of the blue sky and sea seen from the observation tower explains why it is called Love Island. For the explorers, a shell museum in the tower building has a collection of more than 10,000 seashells from around the world. Views from the Island Blue Restaurant, which served sumptuous lunch made with plenty of Okinawan ingredients, was breath-taking.

A short drive took us to Motobu Town which hosts Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. Famous for its whale shark and other sea creatures, the facility is a unique venue for a meeting or event. The sights of dancing fishes through the large 8.2m X 22.5 m acrylic panel enveloping the venue gave the feeling of being in the ocean.

Next destination was in Onna Village. The drive along the coastal roads was very refreshing with beautiful natural contours. Newly opened Hyatt Regency Seragaki Island Okinawa was our inspection venue. Located on a lush private island on the west coast of Okinawa, the hotel offers azure ocean views from all their guest rooms with an open air balcony attached to each of their 320 rooms. Besides various restaurants and bars, the hotel offers five distinct banquet rooms.

Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha-Bay was the destination for the night as we checked in to the hotel and enjoyed a lavish dinner at their Western-style casual dining restaurant Blue Lagoon. The hotel, housing 826 rooms with a capacity to host 2,600 in-house guests has the largest number of rooms and banquet hall in Okinawa. Multiple restaurants, banqueting and events space backed by 800 meters of white sand natural beach right in front of the hotel, and a chapel within its premise, makes it ideal for large functions.

Day 6

It was time for return journey as we got on to Japan Airlines flight from Naha Airport to Haneda Airport (Tokyo International Airport). On arrival in Tokyo, we headed to Odaiba - a popular shopping and entertainment district on a man-made island in Tokyo Bay. Our lunch at Mumbai, a famous chain of Indian restaurant in Japan with more than 10 outlets across the country, was sumptuous and very Indian.

Our last venue for exploration on this trip to Japan was a visit to TeamLAB Borderless. The experience was out of the world with a three-dimensional 10,000 sq meter world of artworks without boundaries, a museum without a map ready to be explored.

With some time on hand, it was time to take a walk through the shopping area to collect some souvenirs as memories of the trip to take back home before checking in to Conrad Tokyo. The hotel is located in the heart of Tokyo, just a few steps away from Ginza, the world-famous shopping and entertainment centre. The 291 rooms of the hotel boast of minimalist Japanese design. Along with 5 restaurant and bars, the hotel has multiple event and banqueting space with capacity ranging up to over 500 people.

After a comfortable night at one of the finest hotels in Tokyo, next morning the group departed for their trip back to India with rich experience and memories to cherish and with a resolve to bring back guests from India to experience the spirit of Japanese Hospitality. With their warm hospitality, ever helping attitude and a passion for their work, Japanese people are always open to welcome guests to their beautiful country and take them through an experiential journey.

 
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