IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Japan rolls out the welcome wagon

Tactics to lure tourists include vacation packages priced from just $614 per person, including roundtrip airfare and four-night stays at traditional country inns
Image: Tokyo
Holding Japan's traditional umbrellas and wearing summer kimono, called "yukata," Tatsuya Hayashi, left, Miho Sakiyama, center, and Hiroshi Ando walk through a stream of hot water as they enjoy open air foot bathing at bathhouse theme park "Great Edo Hot Springs Story" in TokyoShizuo Kambayashi / AP

"Hello, I'm Junichiro Koizumi. I wish to welcome people from around the world to visit Japan. Tradition. Technology. We will welcome you with a hearty yokoso and smile." These are the words of Japan’s Prime Minister, who’s starring in a TV spot aimed at luring tourists to the island nation (perhaps in an attempt to stave off further down turns in the country’s economy). The government’s “Welcome” campaign hopes to double the number of tourists to Japan—currently at five million visitors annually--by 2010.

Strength in numbers

Fortunately, the Japanese government is not going this mammoth effort alone; it’s getting some help Japan Airlines (JAL) and its sister tour company, JalPak (www.jalpak.com/e), which have come to the table with an unprecedented vacation package that offers welcome affordability, especially when you consider that airfare alone right now to Japan is hovering around $1,000. Its Super Value vacation starts at $614, which includes roundtrip airfare from Hawaii and a four-night stay in your choice of modern Tokyo, ancient Kyoto or restorative hot spring restort of Kusatsu, where your accommodations are at a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan. We think this tidy package makes for a terrific introduction to the Land of the Rising Sun.

If you don’t make your home in the Hawaiian islands, and don’t want the hassle of getting yourself there to take advantage of JAL’s offer, it’s not much more to leave from the mainland United States. Prices to Kyoto start at just $684 from Chicago or New York; and from $649 if leaving from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Las Vegas. The Vancouver option is priced from $734. The key information is that the Super Value offer is good for February travel only. Single supplements are between $100-300 depending on which city and property you choose, and extra nights are between $120-$262 per room.

Outside city limits

Not to be outshone, Japan Railway is also getting in on the effort. Its JR East Package is a bit more extensive than the offer we just described; the seven-day, five-night vacation folds in four nights in Tokyo (and dinner one night—a $65 value) at the massively proportioned Keio Plaza Hotel in the Shinjuku district, then permits you to escape the modern world by spending one night one night in Niigata in Snow Country at Shosenkaku Kagetsu, an onsen or hot springs inn, and your stay includes breakfast and dinner. There, you will have access to such exhilarating amenities as a sauna and indoor-outdoors baths made from cypress wood and hammered iron. Priced from $1,287, the special promotion also includes roundtrip airfare to Japan, transfers, and roundtrip train tickets from Tokyo to the hot springs resort. The price of this package starts at $1,287 from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Vancouver, and is good from now through Mar. 18; add $44 additional from Mar. 19.

The fine print regarding departures may vary depending on what day of the week you want to leave. For the low-down on restrictions, more information, or to make a reservation for either package contact JalPak ( www.jalpak.com) at 888/727-8785. We should also add that the current crop of JalPak’s promotions include exceptional deals to Thailand too.

{Editor's Note: Have you ever been to Tokyo or Kyoto? Do you have a money-saving hint, tip, or anecdote that would be helpful to other travelers? We'd love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply to send a letter to our editors.}