TOKU TALK™ Network

Welcome to TOKU TALK which is my travel blog and media network platform. Join me at the front line of travel where I discuss the Art of Travel. Here you will find lively conversations on art, architecture, design, photography, film and of course food and wine which I consider to be the building blocks of an exciting travel program. 

What I have learned over the past twenty years of being a travel professional is that my clients, who are based around the world, are often my best source of information when it comes to the constantly changing and shifting travel scene. Hotels and restaurants come and go, so you have to have scouts on the front line experiencing firsthand what is new and exciting and what is old and gone. The best part of the deal is that I get to share these reports from the field with you here at TOKU TALK
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  • 29 Jan 2012 10:48 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)

    Niseko Hirafu, Hokkaido
    Wow. Need I say more. Form and function have arrived at Niseko. Steve Jobs would be proud of the creative genius flowing into the Northern Japan these days and who would have thought that the destination would be Hokkaido? LUXE City Guides has even launched a special mobile app that includes Tokyo and Niseko! What’s going on in the north to deserve such world class attention?

    Niseko is Asia's top international ski resort. Exposed to massive snowfalls and within arms-reach flying distance from key Asian cities, it is often called "Asia's Whistler". Flying time from Tokyo to Sapporo is 90 minutes and then you have a 2-3 hour journey by train or car to arrive at this four seasons wonderland. Not only is there an extraordinary gourmet scene for all of my foodie friends, but two outstanding resorts are worthy of not only a discussion, but surely a leisurely stay. Let's start with Kimamaya.

    Kimamaya Boutique Hotel
    This gorgeous eco-lodge, created by Hokkaido architect Koichi Ishiguro, is located in the mountains in middle village Niseko Hiraifu, one of Japan’s most popular ski resorts.
    Kimamaya by Odin philosophy captures the essence best by emphasizing that "Kimamaya by Odin is small in size, but large in emotion. Just nine rooms created by designer Andrew Bell, that offer charm, comfort and a distinctly personal, cosy experience. Most of all, they capture the essence of the alpine atmosphere of Hokkaido with a cosmopolitan touch thrown in. The fully renovated building has retained all the authenticity and charm of the laid-back lodge originally envisioned by Yasuo and Keiko Watanabe over 25 years ago. Albeit with a renewed focus on pleasing the senses and capturing unforgettable moments in winter wonderland."

    The Barn by Odin
    “Even as the snowflakes start to fall, adding powder to the slopes outside, Kimamaya Boutique Hotel remains toasty-warm; a cocoon upon the mountainside. Kimamaya is the Japanese word for ‘be yourself’ and here, you can do just that. Jazz music floats through the homely Living Lounge as your bare feet press against the timber flooring, and all that’s left to worry about is which wine you’ll sip as you laze by the fireplace. The vintages served here come from a vineyard owned by the family of Nicolas Gontard, who renovated this nine-room retreat to help guests get closer to the beauty of Niseko, one of Japan’s most popular ski resorts. But Kimamaya Boutique Hotel’s mountain location isn’t only appealing in winter. In the summer and fall, pristine trails and mountain biking tracks snake through the surrounding pine forests.“
    9 rooms, including 4 lofts with double-height spaces and a mezzanine level featuring a Japanese tatami floor overlooking the double-height ceiling revealing the timber framework of the original lodge. Check out the specials which offer a free night if you stay a minimum of five nights!

    Suiboku Lofts

    For city and loft dwellers that want to retain a sense of the industrial home front while relaxing among nature, Suiboku blends the best of the best and exudes the essence of Less is More. Located in the upper village of Niseko Hirafu, the lofts are adjacent to the Ace Family Pair Chairlift - making it ideal for those who love to ski in and ski out. The talk of the townspeople is that the Suiboku Concierge can point you to an amazing culinary adventure in this land of bounty, so don't forget to get their top picks for the best eats in the region.

    “There are only ten lofts int Suiboku. It has been designed to be original and exclusive. An industrial aesthetic is tempered throughout with warmth and character emanating from uncontrived materials and luxurious Japanese accents.”

    To learn more about the destination Niseko in Hokkaido and these amazing properties, I encourage you to visit the following websites:

    Kimamaya by Odin
  • 16 Aug 2011 7:31 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)

    TOKU TALK LIVE has a new fresh look. In the coming weeks with the launch of the GO 2 JAPAN campaign, you will be invited to experience a whole new approach to getting the information you need to travel to Japan and beyond. 
  • 20 Jul 2011 8:37 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)
    First, CONGRATULATIONS to the Japanese women who won the FIFA World Cup this past weekend in Germany...what a match! I followed the competition both on television and as it trended on Twitter. My last feed to the champions is noted below:

    @tokutalklive Gregory Howell  
    #WorldCup Healing a nation the Japanese women win the World Cup showing extraordinary sportswomanship. Congratulations - Omedetou!

    Stay tuned as the GO 2 JAPAN Campaign is in its final phase of development. I have been very busy designing and building the special App for the Campaign which you will be able to download for free. It will be available for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android users. It will give you a quick and easy way to get the information you need to GO 2 JAPAN. 

    As part of the GO 2 JAPAN Campaign, I have opened my Japan archives to the public. Now you can enjoy The Readings of Japan Private Journeys on iTunes. You can also download the scripts for each episode which are the actual travel itineraries for each program from my website. Beginning in August each week a new episode will be produced. Topics will include everything from the Japan Rail Pass to where to find the best noodles in Japan. I will also be featuring introductions to all 47 prefectures in Japan. Be sure to subscribe so you won't miss an episode. 

    Lastly, The Gallery is now featuring the San Francisco based artist David Imlay in an exhibition titled Return to Mid-CenturyAfter previewing the show, which only highlights a small portion of his work, I encourage you to follow the links to his website to see his complete portfolio -- it is truly amazing. I have also added myTravel Notes to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Asmara - Africa's Secret Modernist City.

    I wish you all safe journeys this summer wherever you may be traveling.


    Gregory Howell 

  • 16 Jul 2011 7:16 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)


    I was first introduced to artist David Imlay of San Francisco by a friend who discovered his work in a gallery and had one of his evocative paintings of the interior of a classic diner hanging in his living room. I was struck by how the artist created a sense of longing and desire to be seated at the counter. Through the silence of the restaurant, I could hear the sounds of the wait staff and the cooks in the kitchen -- I wanted to be in the diner enjoying the daily blue plate special. All of these emotions created a powerful sense of hunger on so many levels.

    David Imlay has also captured this sense of nostalgia in portraiture. I have always been captivated by a photograph of my parents taken before their wedding in 1960 and wanted David to evoke that same power through his brush. His completed work can be seen in The Gallery now.

    For this exhibition in The Gallery I have selected works of architecture and design from David Imlay's portfolio that highlight the influence of mid-century modern. Mid-Century modern is an architectural, interior and product design form that captures the mid-20th century developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from the early 1930s to the mid 1960s. Some of my favorite works are his suburban Eichler residences in Northern California. I hope you enjoy Return to Mid-Century and if you want to take your study of this design movement further, read my Travel Notes below for additional details about visiting some of the best destinations in the world from California to Asmara (Africa) where you can see first hand great architecture and design.

  • 24 Jun 2011 9:07 PM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)

    Do you have protection?

    There are hundreds of circumstances that could cause you to cancel your trip, return home early or force you to seek emergency medical treatment while traveling.

    To demonstrate the importance of purchasing travel insurance, and emergency travel services, here are 10 common examples of what could go wrong.

    1. It's 10 p.m. and you and your immediate family arrive at the airport for a connecting flight, only to find that your flight has been cancelled. Who can assist you with finding new flights to get everyone home?
    2. Your bag was lost with your insulin inside. You need help to locate your bag as soon as possible and have your emergency prescription filled. Who do you call?
    3. Your first visit to Europe, and your passport and wallet are stolen. Where do you turn for emergency cash, and how will you get your passport replaced?
    4. You're involved in an accident and adequate medical treatment is not available. Who will help arrange and pay for a medical evacuation?
    5. If your sister-in-law becomes seriously ill and you must cancel your trip, what happens to your non-refundable deposits or pre-payments?
    6. You arrive in Jamaica and your luggage doesn't. If it's lost, who will help you find it? If it's delayed, who will pay for your necessities? If it's stolen, who will pay to replace it?
    7. Your cruise line, airline or tour operator goes bankrupt. Who will pay for your non-refundable expenses? Who will help get you to your destination?
    8. You're walking down a street in Rio and twist your ankle. Who can help you find an English-speaking physician?
    9. Three weeks before your scheduled arrival, a terrorist incident occurs in the city to which you are planning to visit. Who will pay if you want to cancel your trip?
    10. You are at a beach resort in North Carolina, and you are forced to evacuate due to an approaching hurricane. Who will help you evacuate and who will reimburse your lost vacation investment?

    The most popular type of travel insurance for my clients is a customized program called My Travel Guard. This is a "build your own" travel insurance plan. It includes basic and 24-hour emergency travel services. You can customize "My Travel Guard" with coverages and limits to meet your specific travel needs. Optional Coverage Upgrades include Cancel for Any Reason, increased medical, emergency evacuation and baggage coverages, Adventure Sports Coverage, Additional Covered Reasons Upgrade and more!

    If you have any questions about travel insurance for your next trip, please direct your query to
  • 24 Jun 2011 11:55 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)
    Facebook Twitter More... 


    Since the tragic events in Northern Japan on 3-11, Japan has fallen off the planet! The mainstream media has all but pulled Japan from the headlines except for an occasional blip when Justin Bieber toured the country or another story about Japan's mishandling of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima. What Japan needs now more than anything else is our support and it is not just about money. The recovery efforts are well on their way in the earthquake and tsunami damaged areas of Tohoku and there are still many questions regarding the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima - many questions that need to be answered. Safety is on the minds of not only tourists, but especially those living in Japan.

    Japan has been a part of my soul since childhood and I have decided to open both my professional and personal archives in an effort to engage, educate and empower people to travel to Japan again. I will be launching my GO 2 JAPAN campaign as part of this effort. I have been working with all 47 prefectures in Japan along with the national government. I have been talking with artists, educators, politicians, religious leaders, hospitality professionals, and business people in Japan and around the world about this ongoing dilemma facing Japan. I have always felt that Japan has had bad public relations campaigns and agents representing the country in its efforts to get more visitors, so part of this problem is not new. I have been and continue to be a huge advocate for Japan. This will not change. BUT if we are to get people to return to Japan we are going to have to engage and educate and this takes good information. Where does one find credible information about such topics as radiation?

    Learn more about the great art island - NAOSHIMAThere is nothing better than a collaborative voice as it is objective and empowers people to make better choices. My GO 2 JAPAN will be simple and offers three easy steps to get the information you need. Stay tuned for my forthcoming launch as it will be exciting and fun! As part of my promise, I have introduced The Readings which are my unique podcasts or TOKUCASTS and the first eight episodes are available now and feature my favorite travel programs to Japan. You can also download the actual itineraries as listen along as your learn about art, architecture, design and cuisine in Japan - the building blocks of any trip to Japan and the keys to finding the right balance of mind, body and spirit.


    The Readings | Japan Private Journeys
    Eight exciting itineraries from the Japan Private Journeys archives are now available in audio format on and also as part of the TOKU TALK network. Plus one additional episode debunking the myth that travel is too expensive to Japan.

    Episode 1 | The Arts of Japan | 12 Days
    Episode 2 | Private Family Tour | 16 Days
    Episode 3 | China in Japan | 12 Days
    Episode 4 | Japan's Enduring Spirit | 12 Days
    Episode 5 | Art & Architecture | 8 Days
    Episode 6 | Contemporary Art of Japan & Korea | 11 Days
    Episode 7 | Japan Sampler  | 8 Days

    Debunking the Myths | Japan Private Journeys

    Episode 1 | Debunking the Myths  | Travel Costs


    The Gallery is a very sacred place for me as art plays such an important role in finding the perfect balance of mind, body and spirit in our daily routines. After introducing My Grandfathers in the Inaugural Exhibition I received such wonderful feedback from visitors to the site from around the world. I am pleased to announce that a total of 8 emerging and established artists from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi are preparing their exhibitions for The Gallery. I look forward to sharing these new stories in art in the coming exhibitions. 

    The current photography exhibition in The Gallery showcases the work from a young emerging artist in Santa Cruz, CA - RYAN ATTEMA. Enjoy works from Hawaii, Cabo San Lucas, and Yosemite and special travel notes from Gregory. 

    EXHIBITION: Inspired by Nature
    Photographic works by Ryan Attema

    Click here to see Ryan Attema's Exhibition in The Gallery

    In other Gallery News, Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery has moved to a new spectacular location in Kyoto. Read all about it in my recent edition of TOKU TALK.

    Thank you. 
    Gregory Howell
    Visit Gregory Howell and LIKE on FacebookFacebook Twitter More... 
  • 20 Jun 2011 12:56 PM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)

    Click here to see Ryan Attema's work in The Gallery

    The Gallery is a very sacred place for me as art plays such an important role in finding the perfect balance of mind, body and spirit in our daily routines. After introducing My Grandfathers in the Inaugural Exhibition I received such wonderful feedback from visitors to the site from around the world. I am pleased to announce that a total of 8 emerging and established artists from Tokyo to Abu Dhabi are preparing their exhibitions for The Gallery. I look forward to sharing these new stories in art in the coming exhibitions. 

    EXHIBITION: Inspired by Nature
    Photographic works by Ryan Attema

    Click here to see all of Ryan Attema's photographic works in The GalleryI am very excited to introduce an inspiring young emerging artist from Santa Cruz, California who I have known since birth. I fondly remember my early days with Ryan and his sister Katie exploring the local mountains, streets and beaches of Santa Cruz in the name of Art. One of my first projects with Ryan and Katie focused on color and shapes. I provided each of them with a disposable camera and instructed them to shoot with care and to photograph primary colors. This was followed with another outing to concentrate on shapes. Several weeks later I returned with the pictures developed and two large scrapbooks that we used to tell our story through the images that were captured in our adventures. Who would have known that these early excursions would have such an impact on their lives and for Ryan it has become a passion that is so clearly evident in the images that he captures today.

    I have included just a small sampling of his photography work in The Gallery. If you would like to learn more, I have included Ryan's website along with his biography and artist's statement in the Exhibition Introduction.

    See The Gallery on Facebook

  • 20 Jun 2011 9:42 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)
    Click here to visit Robert Yellin's Website
    A New Love Story is Unfolding in Kyoto 

    Just a stone's throw from the great Silver Pavilion at Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto is the new home of Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery. I have known Robert for almost 20 years since his early days in Japan and have followed his love for the great Japanese ceramic tradition with excitement. For years I gathered my travelers in Tokyo and escorted them on the pilgrimage to his office and humble gallery in the coastal town of Mishima at the foot of Mt. Fuji. But in October 2010 my guests were fortunate to not only visit Robert at Mishima, but also in Bizen near Okayama. For those of you that know Robert well - Bizen is his first love - and how powerful those first loves are in our journey of self discovery. 

    Take a tour of the Yakimono GalleryThis latest chapter in Robert's Love Story at Kyoto heightens the ceramic experience for both the novice and serious collector alike. Robert has found the perfect home for ceramic masterworks to shine in what is perhaps the most idyllic setting. There is nothing more exciting and dramatic than seeing a great piece of art in a space that empowers the creative energy contained within to explode right before your very own eyes. It is precisely this unexpected dialog between the clay and the visitor that triggers this most powerful connection - and as we all know first loves are never forgotten. I have my own first love story and it happens to be about Japanese ceramics too, but instead of Bizen, it all started in Hagi

    Click here to learn more about Robert and his new Yakimono Gallery in Kyoto.I cannot wait to visit Robert Yellin's new home in Kyoto as it will become an integral part of exploring the great artistic traditions of the ancient capital of Kyoto. To learn more about Robert Yellin and to take a tour of his new Yakimono Gallery, just click on his picture.

    Robert Yellin Yakimono Gallery Ginkakuji-mae-cho 39 Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi Kyoto-fu, Japan 606-8407
    TEL +81-75-708-5581
    Click here Visit and LIKE us on Facebook

  • 29 Apr 2011 9:00 AM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)

    I just love it when technology empowers us to make genuine change in the world. As we all know, funding is dwindling or practically non-existent for the arts, education and even small business enterprises. What is the best way to generate interest and solicit financial support for the passions in our lives? Well, we have all seen how something goes "viral" and spreads around the globe on the Internet in seconds like a video of a baby laughing or scenes of the wrath of mother nature as she makes herself heard during a natural disaster (just search YouTube and you can find thousands of examples). Well this same viral principle can apply to fundraising and Kickstarter is the beacon of hope in this changing landscape of how we secure the essential funding for an important project. Now a contribution of only $1 can really make a huge difference when social media spreads the word to millions of people around the globe in a matter of seconds. This is the world that we live in today. I encourage you to check out Kickstarter today to see the amazing creative genius behind the thousands of projects on the drawing boards of the world. 

    Kickstarter is focused on creative projects. It is a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, illustrators, explorers, curators, performers, and others to bring their projects, events and dreams to life. The word "project" is just as important as "creative" in defining what works on Kickstarter. A project is something finite with a clear beginning and end. Someone can be held accountable to the framework of a project - a project was either completed or it wasn't - and there are definable expectations that everyone can agree to. This is imperative for every Kickstarter project. Every Kickstarter project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands. 

    KICKSTARTER & SAFECAST: Radiation Detection Hardware Network in Japan
    Since the tragic events of March 11 in Northern Japan, the world has been humbled and amazed by the sheer power and awesome force of mother nature. The Japanese people live each and every day with the cultural notion of hakanasa which embodies the essence of evanescence or fragility of life. Everything can disappear like mist or vapor in the flash on an instant. This is why the viewing of the cherry blossoms and the fall foliage is so important to the Japanese people as the pilgrimages showcase the blossoms and leaves as they fall at the moment of their greatest beauty. It is a gentle reminder that we are so fragile and fleeting. The Japanese have encountered natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis for centuries and no doubt they will happen again and recover.

    What is unique about the events of March 11 is the man made nuclear disaster at Fukushima that followed the earthquake and tsunami. We have seen through the tragic events at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl that there is so much we do not know about the fallout of nuclear radiation, as the true impact on people and the environment is not known for years. Nuclear power counts for almost 30% of electricity production in Japan, so it is an important and critical part of the country's energy plan. 

    While reporting on the recovery efforts in Japan, I could never get a grip on the real facts regarding the nuclear disaster. Conflicting reports from a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations had me spinning at every turn. My goal and passion has been to get people to consider travelling to Japan again, but with so much uncertainty regarding the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima, it will take quite some time before people consider Japan as a safe destination.

    When I found the Safecast Project on Kickstarter, I was immediately drawn to its purpose and goals and felt it would be a wonderful way to get the actual facts about radiation in Japan. I encourage you to review the following video to see the Safecast Project for yourself. You will also see how Kickstarter is truly empowering individuals to follow and fund creativity around the globe. 

  • 30 Jan 2011 7:00 PM | Gregory Howell (Administrator)
    JPY 80.43 April 1995 - All Time High 

    Today I was researching travel costs to Japan for a client and in doing so I found that the Japanese Yen is now trading at approximately JPY 82 to the US Dollar. I remember in April 1995 when the Yen hit its all-time high against the Dollar at 80.43...OUCH.  I started to wonder where the currency might be in the coming weeks and months as more and more travelers visit Japan during the peak cherry blossom season. When you do the simple math, it hurts. Japan can be very expensive, but like many aspects of this great nation, what is not said is often the most important.

    Since launching my new consulting site and travel planning platform in December 2010, I have received thousands of visitors from around the world and this has been both empowering and transformative on so many levels. The feedback I have received from travelers, hospitality suppliers, and government officials has been so helpful in my effort to create a stronger voice able to articulate the answers sought after by travelers today. This collaborative effort goes to the core of my philosophy and it is this rich voice that truly empowers people to make better decisions about travel.

    One theme that continues to be on the minds of people today is the cost of travel. Given the current economic malaise in the USA and around the globe, many individuals have been forced to postpone or even cancel travel due to financial hardship or uncertainty. Travel is one of the first things to be eliminated when one has to make spending cuts due to new budgetary realities, but it is also one of the first areas on the rebound when individuals feel that it is time to take a long overdue vacation.

    On my homepage I have the question WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO? Over the past month I have received hundreds of requests indicating that they want to travel to Japan, but that it is just too expensive. This is one of the biggest hurdles when promoting travel to Japan. There is this mindset that Japan is just too expensive and when you add the language and cultural differences it all just seems too much and you sense that when you return from Japan, you will need to take another trip just to get over it. Well that simply is just not the case and in more cases than not, at the end of many journeys to Japan travelers are anxious to return again in the future.

    So with that in mind I have dedicated this TOKU TALK blog to debunking the myths and explaining how to find affordable Japan today. Here I will identify what I consider to be the most helpful tools when planning a journey to Japan. You will find valuable websites to get the best value in air, accommodations, transportation and cuisine which are the building blocks to any successful trip to Japan. If you require personal assistance and are not already a member of my new travel consulting platform, I encourage you to subscribe while special savings are offered for inaugural memberships.

    Air travel is the most common way to get to Japan, but each year more cruise lines are offering Japanese cities as ports of call in their regional and/or global itineraries. The biggest story in air travel to Japan is the recent (Oct 2010) opening of the new International Terminal at Haneda International Airport for flights from around the world. Four slots from the USA were awarded to American Airlines (JFK), Delta Air Lines (LAX & DTW) and Hawaiian Airlines (HNL). Haneda is located in downtown Tokyo and just a short 30 minute ride to the center of the city.
    I tell all of my clients that redeeming mileage for international travel, especially for upgrades to business or first class, is one of the best ways to maximize the value of your hard earned miles. Keep in mind that with fewer flight departures today, it is even more difficult to secure award space as the airlines continue to try to increase their revenues. You must plan ahead in order to fly on your preferred travel dates, but do not lose faith if you cannot get a free ticket or confirm an upgrade. Recently United Airlines launched their Premium Seating program which enables you to confirm an upgrade on international travel at the time of ticketing even when an upgrade award is not available. If seats are available in the upgraded cabin, the airline will make them available for a premium fee instead of mileage. For example I recently booked a flight for a client traveling to Japan and when we were advised that an upgrade was not available from San Francisco to Tokyo using mileage, my client was able to secure a confirmed Premium Seating upgrade for an additional $775 USD one way.

    If two people are traveling together on the same qualifying international itinerary, the American Express International Airline Program is still one of the best values in travel today. One person pays full fare and the second pays for taxes only. If your budget permits and you need to travel in business class, this is definitely worth the card's annual fee. If you are traveling solo or not a American Express card holder, you can still find incredible values in air travel directly from the airlines or your travel agent if you plan and book well in advance (50+ days) and secure what are known as "Z" fares. These confirmed business class seats offer considerable savings over full fare business. Please check with your preferred airline as they are subject to availability and may be identified by another fare code depending on the airline. Please note that these fares do carry restrictions and are not fully refundable like regular business class fares and have hefty change fees in the range of $400.

    If you are just looking for the best fares to Japan, I always recommend the online booking site KAYAK.COM. Here you will see fares from all major carriers in real time. As a Premium Content member you can access all of my recommended travel sites and reviews.  

    Once you arrive in Japan you will find that all transportation runs like clockwork. If you are arriving at Tokyo Narita or Haneda the Airport Limousine Bus is the most convenient and economical door-to-door transfer option. If you are traveling to Asakusa or Ueno from Narita, you might want to consider the newAirport Super Shuttle at an incredible one way fare of only JPY 1,000 ($12 USD). 

    If you are arriving at Kansai International Airport and traveling to Kyoto you might want to consider the Yasaka Kansai Airport Shuttle which offers door-to-door airport transfer service for JPY 3,500 ($43 USD). The other service available in the Kansai region is the MK Skygateshuttle with similar fares and services.

    The best value in travel in Japan continues to be the Japan Rail Pass. This pass must be purchased outside of Japan before you arrive and you can select from Regular or Green "First" Class and durations of 7, 14 or 21 days.  

    Japan prides itself on its extraordinary hospitality and you will find this service excellence across all levels of accommodations from 5-star deluxe hotels and inns to small family owned and operated minshuku or pensions. If you are looking for rock bottom prices from a wide range of hotels, I recommend RAKUTEN.COM. The website is available in English and very simple and user friendly. I recently found and stayed at hotels in Tokyo for just $50 USD per night..yes it is possible! If you do not find your preferred hotel at RAKUTEN.COM and want something more upscale, I highly recommend IKYU.COM. Here you will find most of the major hotels in Japan at discounted prices.

    Another wonderful resource for maximizing your hard earned travel dollars is JAPANiCAN. This online travel site is powered by JTB which is Japan's largest travel company. Here you can search, plan and bundle travel components to meet your specific needs. Recently I was able to book the Shinkansen Bullet Train from Tokyo to Kyoto along with hotel accommodations and saved 52% off the regular published tariff.

    Something different...and with incredible value...
    If you are yearning for alternative, unique accommodations like a loft, home or simple guest room, one of my favorite new travel sites is AIRBNB. This wonderful travel site from creative minds in San Francisco is not exclusive to travel to Japan, but rather provides alternative accommodations around the globe. When you visit the site you will find amazing places of discovery, so be sure to set some time aside to really enjoy their offerings.

    When traveling to the ancient capital of Kyoto, I always encourage my clients to try traditional accommodations like a ryokan or Japanese inn which are so unique to Japan. They offer an intimate glimpse of Japan's great tradition of hospitality, but often at a significant cost. Another option is to stay in one of Kyoto's beautiful traditional machiya or townhouse. IORI KYOTO MACHIYA STAY is an excellent source for a wide variety of traditional residence-style accommodations located around the ancient capital. Kyoto is also home to one of the most extraordinary designer capsule hotels - 9HOURS. I recently spent several nights at this amazing showplace of great design where your room rate is based on the total number of hours you stay. The concept is 1 hour to prepare for bed, 7 hours to sleep, and 1 hour to rise and shine = 9Hours. When I arrived at the sliding glass doors at the establishment in Teramachi, I felt as though I was about to walk into their homepage - check it out!

    If you want to experience the most unique loft living in the world, you might want to consider the REVERSIBLE DESTINY LOFTS in Tokyo (Mitaka - picture at right) designed by the international design team of Arakawa + Gins. Words do not even begin to adequately describe the residences, so I will just encourage you to check them out for yourself. They have dedicated two units for rental for visitors to Tokyo.

    2011 Michelin Guide: Tokyo, Kamakura & Yokohama
    Finding a good value in food in Japan can sometimes be a daunting task given the current exchange rate. I have advised my clients over the years that the best deals are the set lunches offered at hotels, restaurants and cafes throughout Japan. So have your big meal in the middle of the day and eat light for dinner - the healthier alternative that will stretch your yen. One major enhancement to the 2011 MICHELIN guide for Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kamakura is the new pictogram. It indicates a starred restaurant offering a menu under 5,000 yen ($60 USD) for lunch and/or dinner. Diners can enjoy gourmet meals for as little as 5,000 yen maximum per person. “Value for money” is one of five criteria to select star restaurants, and the new pictogram serves readers to find local eateries at affordable prices.  There are 95 restaurants (81 in Tokyo, 7 in Yokohama and 7 in Kamakura) with this pictogram in the guide. This is more than a third of the restaurant selection.

    I hope you find this information useful in planning your next journey to Japan. If you would like personalized service, consider becoming a Premium Content member which includes private travel consulting sessions with Gregory Howell. Special savings are now being offered until March 31, 2011.

    Thank you again for all of your support and safe travels!
    Gregory Howell
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