Shibuya Station to Get Makeover – Easier Transfers

Shibuya Station is used by more than 3 million people daily, but its labyrinthine layout and the distance between the lines passing through the station can make changing trains a test of endurance. A major renovation project that started this spring should make getting around the huge terminal station easier-although it will not be completed until fiscal 2027.

Since Shibuya Station opened in 1885, the addition of new lines has involved major expansion and remodeling work wherever space allowed. The end result is the station’s current maze-like structure and a patchwork of train facilities cobbled together in the heart of Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district. Because there was not enough land for the Saikyo Line platforms alongside existing platforms, they were constructed about 350 meters south. Transferring to other lines requires traversing a long connecting walkway.

This major overhaul of Shibuya Station could finally begin because the platforms of the Tokyu Toyoko Line were shifted underground when the line started direct connections with the Fukutoshin Line in March 2013, which created a vast open area. Preliminary construction work for the new platforms of the Saikyo Line in this space-350 meters from where they currently stand-started in April.

Japan Airlines Returns to Market

Japan Airlines JAL returned to the Tokyo stock market on Wednesday with just modest gains after a massive $8.5 billion initial public offering IPO. Yet, analysts expect to see strong foreign interest in the carrier, which has turned itself around from bankruptcy just 2-1/2 years ago.

JAL shares rose 1 percent on Wednesday, trading around 3,830 yen in Asia trade – just above the IPO price of 3,790 yen and valuing the entire airline at just under $9 billion, which ranks it alongside Air China Shanghai Stock Exchange: 601111.SS as Asias second biggest airline by market valuation.

Analysts blamed concerns over a territorial dispute between Japan and China for spooking retail investors-who account for 70 percent of the IPOs investors-and dampening what would have otherwise been a strong debut for the stock.

Read the rest of the story: Blue Skies Ahead as Japan Airlines Returns to Market.

Japan Air Seeking $8.4 Billion in Largest IPO Since Facebook

Japan Airlines Co. will seek as much as 663 billion yen ($8.4 billion) in the largest initial public offering since Facebook Inc. (FB), capping a state-backed turnaround since it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010.

Shares will be on offer at a price range of 3,500 yen to 3,790 yen, according to a statement today. That’s in line with the indicative price of 3,790 yen announced earlier this month. The carrier won’t get any of the sale proceeds as the 175 million shares are being sold by its government-backed parent.

JAL will be priced at about five times forecast earnings, compared with 16 times for All Nippon Airways Co. (9202), Japan’s largest carrier. The company is returning to the Tokyo stock exchange after shedding a third of its workforce, scrapping routes and retiring older planes in a restructuring that returned it to profit.

Read the rest of the story: Japan Air Seeks $8.4 Billion in Biggest IPO Since Facebook.

Friend a guide, Jizo Bosatsu, guardian of travelers and the weak

“Jizo Bosatsu has confirmed you as a friend on Facebook,” said the email. I clicked on “view profile,” which took me to Jizo’s Facebook page. Not much information was revealed, except that his religious views are Buddhist, and he has 409 friends. His profile picture is a stone Jizo statue sitting peacefully with eyes closed, a hand-knitted cap atop his head, and a string of juzu beads around his neck. Jizo Bosatsu (or Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in Sanskrit) is known as the earth bearer, and he holds a shakujo staff in his right hand and a mani jewel in his left. The shakujo staff is the kind with six rings that jingles. His mani jewel grants all wishes.

This is the Jizo we know and love, the Jizo full of awesomeness, compassion and fortitude. Jizo does not get angry, nor does he ever give up, even when trampled and stepped upon like the earth. He guides us on our travels, gives power to those who are weak (such as children) and to those in dangerous places. His mantra is Om ka ka kabi sanmaei sowaka.

Read the rest of the story: A guide to Jizo, guardian of travelers and the weak.

Japan knows the snow, needs skiers

Winter in Japan has begun with the best snowfalls in seven years.

A little more than a month into the season, resorts such as Niseko and Rusutsu on the northern-most island of Hokkaido have had more than nine metres of snow and good falls have been reported at the popular Hakuba and Shiga Kogen slopes on the main island of Honshu.

During the past month, Japanese resorts have received regular storms bearing the light powder the region is famous for. Quite simply, its dumping. The question is: where are the skiers?

The Niseko-based general manager of SkiJapan, Belinda White, says many skiers and boarders have been tentative about booking ski holidays in Japan, dissuaded by memories of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami last March and the prevailing global economic downturn.

Read the rest of the story: Japan has snow, wants skiers.

Craft your own beer at Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery

Japanese breweries used to be required to produce at least two million liters of beer per year to get a license. But in 1994, the laws were relaxed and an era of craft beer began.

As an all-around beer snob, I had heard of Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki before coming to Japan because my local beer store carried Hitachino Nest Beer, its signature brew.

What I didn’t know was that I could gather up my friends, drive to Ibaraki and brew my own beer in the brewery’s equipment.

Read the rest of the story: Visitors can craft their own beer at Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery.

Samurai tombs hidden in the hills of Kamakura

No matter how warm and sunny the day, there’s always a chill in Mandarado Yagura, a samurai graveyard in Kotsubo, right at the boundary between Kamakura and Zushi in Kanagawa Prefecture just south of Yokohama.

Spirit markers: Ancient gorinto tombstones still populate caves at Mandarado Yagura.

In this secreted locale little more than an hour by road or rail from the concrete and steel of Tokyo, lush vegetation obscures the many caves housing tombs, though their stone markers stubbornly materialize through the greenery. Here, history, nature and the unknown ripple through the wild flowers, stirring the grass and causing the heart to skip a beat or three.

So, the next time you’re planning a trek through well-trod Kamakura, avoid the crowds and plot a course along the mountain path connecting the ancient capital to Miura — but take a sideways excursion to explore this rare attraction.

Read the rest of the story: Discover samurai tombs hidden in the hills of Kamakura.

Japan offers 10,000 free trips to foreigners

Japan will offer 10,000 foreigners free airfares to visit the country next year, in an attempt to boost the tourism industry which has been hit by the ongoing nuclear disaster, a report said today.

The Japan Tourism Agency plans to ask would-be travellers to submit online applications for the free flights, detailing which areas of the country they would like to visit, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.

The agency will select the successful entrants and ask them to write a report about their trip which will be published on the Internet.

Read the rest of the story: Japan offers 10,000 free trips to foreigners.

The power of spiders in rural Japan

Although I have lived in Japan’s countryside for well over a decade, I have only recently come to understand the power of spiders.

I’ve seen one spider put the fear of God into an entire family of foreign tourists. Even the shyest spider only has to appear in a minshuku (Japanese style inn) guest room wall and the guests will be shaking in their boots. It’s not as if the spider was particularly rude, yelling and shaking his eight fists at them. But still, the tourists high-tailed it down the road to a different minshuku.

The thing about spiders is that most people don’t like them. In Japan, spiders tend to be big like the ashidaka (heteropoda venatoria) which can be 10 cm wide.

Read the rest of the story: The power of spiders in rural Japan.

To Japan or Not? Japan a bargain or risk for travelers?

THE earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan on March 11, and the nuclear crisis that followed, have had an impact on nearly every corner of the economy, perhaps none more directly than the tourist industry. The number of foreign visitors has plunged 50 percent since the triple disasters, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization.

But four months on, travelers are trickling back. Most are business travelers, adventure seekers and bargain hunters, a type of visitor not often associated with Japan, where a sushi dinner can wipe out a week’s savings.

The view of Japan as a high-priced playground is what kept Erin Conroy and Jenny McMeans, friends from New York City, from visiting. But this spring, they found round-trip tickets to Tokyo on for just $600, about half what they normally cost, and booked a room in a hostel for 2,600 yen (about $33 at 79 yen to the dollar) a night. Suddenly, Japan was affordable, even with the yen near record highs against the dollar.

Read the rest of the story: To Japan or Not? Travelers Weigh Risks With Bargains.