January 28, 2004 -- Remembering that tourism is as good a diplomatic weapon as any, Japan is rolling out a big "Yokoso!" (Welcome) program to encourage more foreign visitors to come there. In an economic downturn for over a decade (though slight signs of recovery are flickering just now), the nation needs a little care and attention, and good pricing for incoming travelers helps a lot. Like a Super Value package from Japan Airlines (JAL) starting at just $614.
This JAL package is a good introduction to Japan, with roundtrip air transportation and a four-night stay in your choice of Tokyo, Kyoto or Kusatsu. You can admire the modernity of Tokyo or the ancient temples and gardens of Kyoto, or you can visit the hot spring resort of Kusatsu, where you stay in a traditional Japanese inn, the ryokan, and listen to the silence. The $614 price is for the Kyoto trip, departing from Hawaii. Prices from Chicago or New York to Kyoto start at $684; from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Las Vegas from $649; and from Vancouver from $734. Valid in February 2004 only.
JR East Package is the name of a journey through the country put together by Japan Railway (the old name for JR), in a seven-day (five-night) program that lets you visit a ryokan for a special overnight experience and the chance to relax in a hot spring. You spend four nights in Tokyo as the marvelous (and big) Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku, then one night at your choice of a hot springs inn, with breakfast and dinner included at the latter. Also part of the package is roundtrip air to Japan, roundtrip train between Tokyo and your onsen (hot springs resort), and transfers between the airport and hotel, as well as one dinner coupon valued at ¥7,000 ($65) at the Keio Plaza Hotel.
Prices for the above start at $1,287 from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Vancouver for the Shosenkaku Kagetsu inn, Niigata, in real Snow Country, from now through March 18; add $44 more from March 19. Ask for prices from New York, Chicago or Honolulu. At the Niigata resort, you can try four outdoor baths, two indoor baths, an iron bath, sauna or even a private (reserved) outdoor bath and indoor cypress bath.
If you want a painless introduction to two aspects of Asia, you couldn't do better than another JAL Package, a program featuring Japan and Bangkok. For as little as $1,169, you get a nine-day/seven-night program that includes two nights in Tokyo, two nights in Kyoto and three nights in Bangkok, with escorted tours in each city, most airport and ground transportation, your lodging and more. In Tokyo, you stay at the first-class New Takanawa Prince, in Kyoto at the first-class Tokyu, in Bangkok at the three-star Mandarin, economy rating. The price mentioned is for departure from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Honolulu or Kona until March 24. From Chicago or New York, the price is $1,299, from Vancouver $1,469. Price does not include airport taxes or fees, and no meals are included except breakfast at the hotel in Bangkok.
Departures for all tours are not available on all days of the week or from all gateways, so be sure to ask. For all the above, go to the JAL USA website, which is www.japanair.com.