Getting There: Most visitors will arrive at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. Among the carriers offering flights to Tokyo are American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines.
Osaka's Kansei International Airport is about one hour and 45 minutes by Airport Limousine bus to JR Kyoto Station. Visitors also have the option to take JR Rapid trains from Osaka to Kyoto.
Entry requirements: U.S. citizens will need a passport to enter the country.
Taxi: If the red light in the lower left corner of a taxi's windshield is lit, then the cab is available. Taxis are a little different in Japan—the left rear door is opened and closed automatically from within by the driver, so tell your clients to watch their hands.
Rail: The most convenient way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto is by high-speed rail on the Shinkansen bullet train or on the JR Limited Express Haruka, which can be boarded at Tokyo Station.
If your clients are considering a fair amount of rail travel, advise them to purchase a Japan Rail Pass. There are two types of passes: Green for superior-class Green Cars and Ordinary for coach class. Each of these types can be purchased in a 7-, 14-or 21-day pass. The rail pass has to be purchased before arriving in Japan. There are six agencies in the U.S. selling the exchange order for a pass; go to www.japanrailpass.net for more information.
Once your clients are in Japan, they'll have to turn in the exchange order to receive the actual pass. It's easiest to head to the Japan Rail Pass office in Tokyo's Narita Airport on arrival. (The pass doesn't have to be activated on the day of arrival; instead, it can be activated on the date clients actually begin riding the rails.) A rail pass allows passengers to reserve seats on certain classes of trains, according to the type of pass issued. Definitely advise your clients to do this—it will save a lot of stress at boarding time. Reserved seats also cost a bit more, so the cars will be less crowded.
Accommodations: The Hyatt Regency Kyoto (www.kyoto.regency.hyatt.com) is top-of-the-line and the only Virtuoso hotel in Kyoto. The 189-room, five-star hotel opened in March 2006. One attractive feature of the hotel is the decor—in all of the rooms, seven rectangles of fabric from antique kimonos hang on the walls behind the headboards. Each room is different, with some showcasing colorful kimonos, while others are decorated in a more subdued palette of browns and grays. Rooms face either the hotel's interior Zen garden, which has its own cherry trees that blossom in season, or the Kyoto National Museum and the city beyond. The Regency Executive Suite has an interesting feature: a traditional room with a tatami mat, much like those in a ryokan, as well as a room with Western-style beds. (Ryokans are traditional Japanese country-style inns.)
There are three great restaurants to choose from at the Hyatt Regency Kyoto: The Grill (French fare and western-style breakfast), Touzan (Japanese cuisine—great food and hip interior design) and Trattoria Sette (Italian cuisine).
The spa, Riraku, has 10 treatment rooms. Riraku also has an unusual specialty—Ishku Dogen, a Japanese form of acupuncture using very slender needles. For advance reservations, e-mail [email protected] or call 011-81-75-541-3130.
Travel agents can reach out to Ashley Takayama, associate director of sales ([email protected], 011-81-75-541-1234).
The 18-room Yoshi-ima ryokan (www.yoshi-ima.co.jp) has an ideal location in the heart of the Gion District. During the slow season (winter and summer) a room at Yoshi-ima goes for approximately $190, double occupancy ($250 during the spring and autumn). Dinner and breakfast are included in the price.
Entertainment: Gion Corner is an entertainment venue that makes it easy to experience an assortment of traditional Japanese arts. During a single performance, the audience will see Kyoto-style dance, an exhibition of flower arranging, a tea ceremony, a Japanese harp performance, a comic play, a puppet play and traditional music from the days of the Kyoto court. Performances are given twice a day, at 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Attending a performance at Gion Corner can be combined with dinner in a traditional restaurant or teahouse in the Gion District, as well as browsing the numerous antiques shops.
Currency: The unit of Japanese currency is the yen. The exchange rate at press time was 99 yen to $1 U.S.
Tipping: It's not the custom to tip in Japan. A 10 to 15 percent service charge is added to bills at higher-priced hotels and restaurants.
Time Zone: Japan is nine hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
Electricity: 100 volts AC. Three-pin plugs are not used in Japan; two-flat-pin plugs are used instead, so tell clients to bring an adaptor.
Tour Operators: A partial list of tour operators with programs to Japan includes Abercrombie & Kent (www.abercrombiekent.com, 800-323-7308); China Travel Service (U.S.A.) (www.chinatravelservice.com, 800-899-8618); Collette Vacations (www.collettevacations.com, 800-832-4656); Gate 1 Travel (www.gate1travel.com, 800-682-3333); General Tours (www.generaltours.com, 800-221-2216); GTS Globotours (www.globotours.net, 800-988-4833); IsramWorld (www.isram.com, 800-223-7460); INTRAV (www.intrav.com, 800-456-8100); Orient Flexi Pax Tours (www.orientflexipax.com, 800-545-5540); Pacific Delight Tours (www.pacificdelighttours.com, 800-221-7179); Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantholidays.com, 800-377-1080); Ritz Tours (www.ritztours.com, 800-900-2446); Swain Tours (www.swaintours.com, 800-22-SWAIN); Tauck World Discovery (www.tauck.com, 800-468-2825); and Travel Bound (www.booktravelbound.com, 800-808-9541). —MR