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Henry M. Robert

Finding one’s own Japan

Ukrainians are increasingly discovering for themselves the Land of the Rising Sun. What attracts them there?
13 June, 2018 - 17:20

At the start of 2018, Japan simplified the visa regime for Ukraine. As a result, the num­ber of Ukrainian tou­rists to this Far Eastern country has increased by a quarter. Over the past year, about 7,000 Ukrai­nians visited Japan for various pur­poses. Thus, there is a room for growth overall.

For the last 15 years, Japan has been actively developing tourism. By the way of comparison: while the country admitted 5.2 million tourists in 2003, the figure stood at almost 28.7 million last year, which, in turn, is 19 percent more than in 2016. Currently, Japan’s declared goal is to admit up to 40 million tourists in 2020. Considering that Tokyo will then be the capital of the Summer Olympics, the goal is quite achievable. Another detail: Japan ranked fourth among 141 countries in the 2017 Travel and Tourism Com­pe­ti­tive­ness Report prepared by the World Eco­nomic Forum. Most tourists come from the Asian region, but there are also many travelers from the US, Britain, France, Germany.

Japan is always surprising. Almost all of us have heard about its parks, palaces, temples, and robots. Meanwhile, it turns out that according to last year’s data, Japan has become the country with the largest number of Michelin three-star restaurants (it is the highest mark available from the renowned guide). France has 25 such establishments, while Japan can boast as many as 29.

The Japan National Tourism Orga­ni­zation (JNTO) promotes Japan as a tourist destination. It has offices on several con­ti­nents and opened a branch office in Moscow in 2016 which serves, besides Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Geor­gia, etc., totaling 15 countries. The Embassy of Japan in Ukraine also helps promote travel to the Land of the Rising Sun. It was there that we learned about some peculiarities of this kind of tourism and its most popular destinations.


Even after the visa regime has been simplified, Ukrainians still need a certain package of documents to visit Japan. However, the visa will be issued free of charge, and can come as soon as after five working days.

There are currently no direct flights from Ukraine to Japan, which is a major problem for Ukrainian tour operators. There are many connecting flights available, but they are quite expensive, because, as director general of the Tsentr tour operator Svitlana Vitkovska explained, there are no special tariffs for connecting flights with package tours, which is normally practiced when a certain destination is actively developing. Often Ukrainian tourists fly to Japan via the Finnish Helsinki Airport or Qatar. To make the situation clear, the minimum ticket price to Qatar stands at 900 dollars. When arriving in Japan, Ukrainians land in Tokyo or Osaka.


As for accommodation, there are plenty of hotels in Japan, both traditional and Western-modeled ones, which Euro­peans are familiar with. However, hotels belonging to international chains are usually located in large cities. By the way, the famous physicist, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman recalled a funny story from his trip to Japan for an international convention of theoretical physicists, held in the early 1950s (it can be found in the book Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!). The American delegation was accom­mo­dated in a European-style hotel, but the scientist really wanted to experience authentic Japan. So he moved to a Japanese hotel, which left him incredibly pleased. However, this is clearly a matter of taste.

Those who want to experience the local way of life even deeper can rent a room in a home occupied by a Japanese family. Some options involve even a stay in a Japanese monastery, enabling the guest to take part in its life.


Most tourists come to Japan for the cherry blossom and maple seasons, which occur, respectively, in the spring and fall. Japanese weather forecasters annually create a map of the cherry blossom blooming or maple leaf fall, predicting when and in what area this will happen. These maps often guide tour operators’ decisions. But, of course, forecasts do not always come true. For example, this year, the cherry blossom blooming started 10 days early.

“Do not be upset. The cherry blossom blooming is followed by the wisteria blooming season, which lasts till the end of May,” Vitkovska noted. “Meanwhile, summer tours can include beach holidays as well. But one must take into account the high humidity prevailing in the summer, which is especially important for people with cardiovascular conditions.” One can even come to Japan for skiing, so that country is interesting all year round.


By the way, it is in winter that the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is particularly interesting for tourists. This is because outsiders can visit its inner gardens and see the emperor with his family going out to greet people only twice a year: on January 2, immediately after the New Year, and on December 23, the birthday of Emperor Akihito. On other days, provided no additional restrictions are imposed, one can access the Imperial Palace East Gardens only.


Japan has several sights that bring to mind Paris. Firstly, the Tokyo Tower is similar to the Eiffel one, but, as regional representative of the Japanese tour operator Japan Air Travel Marketing in Ukraine Natalia Supriianovych added, the Japanese structure is a bit taller and lighter. The height of the tower exceeds 332 meters, it occupies 12th place among the 29 highest structures listed by the World Federation of Great Towers. This broadcasting tower was built in the late 1950s.

“The tower is painted in orange, which is important for aviation. In winter it is highlighted in orange, and in the summer it uses lighter and cooler colors,” Supriianovych told us. Of course, the tower has had observation decks installed as well, and one of them, which has an altitude of 150 meters, includes a section with transparent floor.

On the artificial island of Odaiba, which is connected to Tokyo with the Rainbow Bridge, there is the Statue of Liberty, a quarter-size replica of the famous US monument (the latter, let us remind our reader, was a gift of the French, for which they received a smaller replica of the original from the Americans). “This statue was installed during the Year of Paris in Tokyo. It was funded by Japanese businesses, including the company Fuji Television. Initially, they intended it to stand for just a year, it was made out of the desire to advertise this particular company, because the monument stands with its office in the background. When the Year of Paris in Tokyo ended, the statue was removed. But its memory remained, and people began to request her return. Therefore, it was installed again, and has become a permanently displayed exhibit,” Supriianovych said.

Elsewhere, the main building of the Tokyo City Hall resembles a futuristic Gothic cathedral, sometimes called the “Japanese Notre-Dame de Paris.”


The just-mentioned island of Odaiba houses the Miraikan, the so-called museum of the future. This museum is dedicated to the latest technology and scientific developments, and is led by the first professional Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mohri. “This astronaut really wanted people on Earth to see what the planet looks like from outer space. Therefore, the Miraikan has an interactive model of the Earth. Geolocation is transmitted directly from space, and this model allows one to monitor clouds and weather changes on the planet online,” Supriianovych said. “Plus, this museum lets one learn a lot about astronautics in general. Also, the humanoid robot Asimo performs for visitors several times a day as it walks, dances, greets people, and talks in several languages.”


There are 21 UNESCO Heritage sites in Japan. Legendary Mount Fuji was added to the World Heritage list relatively recently, namely in 2013. “When we rode the Shinkansen [a high-speed rail system whose trains run at speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour. – Author] on a trip from Tokyo, I was struck by the Japanese’ attitude towards this mountain,” Supriianovych shared her thoughts. “We were sitting and talking, knowing that we would soon see Fuji. Then, an employee of the Shinkansen went by, saw the foreigners and showed us that ‘Fuji will be visible soon,’ explained from which side we could look at it, what was the best way of doing it. I have not met with such a tender attitude toward nature and the nation’s holy places in any other country.” Incidentally, there are 10 observation platforms on Fuji, but beginners must stop at the fifth, as only experienced people may go further. Actually, this may be the reason to come to Fuji again for some people.

“Now the main tourist flow sticks to the so-called ‘Golden Route,’ including Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Osaka, and Kyoto. Therefore, if you are in Kyoto, there is the Monastery of the Golden Pavilion [Kinkaku-ji. – Author] there which is chock full of tourists, and authentic Japan seems to be just absent,” chief of the JNTO’s Moscow office Airi Motokura mused. “But there is, for example, the city of Kanazawa, known as the ‘little Kyoto,’ or the island of Kyushu in the southern part of Japan. These places are not known to foreign tourists so far, so there is authentic Japan there. Hence, we want to include them in tourist routes. Of course, one has to look at the Golden Route sights, but if you include these unknown locations as well, it will be more interesting.”

By Maria PROKOPENKO, The Day