Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sompo Japan Insurance and Nipponkoa Insurance to Form Joint Holding Company

Sompo Japan Insurance and Nipponkoa Insurance have agreed to establish a joint holding company, through joint stock transfer, for business integration.

The integration is expected to be completed in April 2010. Through the new group Sompo Japan and Nipponkoa Insurance will focus on their business in Japan, and aim to enhance profitability by jointly expanding the overseas insurance business with high growth potential through consideration of mergers and acquisitions, and review of the existing overseas sales network.

Sompo has said that both the companies will also seek to increase the insurance profits by centralizing the risk management process through a joint risk management system and by sharing the know-how of underwriting. They will also consider reduction of procurement cost by reforming the supply chain such as joint purchase of materials and goods, and the distribution system as well as by promoting shared services.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Canal City Hakata

Canal City Hakata
basic information

Canal City Hakata is a large shopping and entertainment complex, calling itself a "city within the city". Attractions include about 250 shops, cafes and restaurants, a theater, game center, cinemas, two hotels and a canal running through the complex.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Botanic Garden

Botanic Garden
basic information

This botanic garden close to Sapporo's city center belongs to the Hokkaido University and primarily serves a scientific and educational purpose. It is also a pleasant place to take a break or to have a (non-alcoholic) picnic.

Established in 1886, the Botanic Garden preserves a small part of the forest which formerly covered the Ishikari Plain. In addition, there is an alpine garden, a greenhouse, a small Ainu museum and several other minor attractions.

Note that an admission fee applies, and that during the winter month, only the greenhouse remains open to the public.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Historic Village of Hokkaido

Historic Village of Hokkaido
basic information

The Historic Village of Hokkaido (kaitaku no mura) is an open air museum in the suburbs of Sapporo. It exhibits about 60 typical buildings from all over Hokkaido, dating from the Meiji and Taisho Periods (1868 to 1926), the era when Hokkaido's development was carried out on a large scale.

The open air museum is divided into a town, fishing village, farm village and mountain village section. The Historical Museum of Hokkaido (kaitaku kinenkan), which documents the history of Hokkaido's development, can be found nearby.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nijo Market

Nijo Market
basic information

Nijo Market is a public market in central Sapporo, where locals and tourists shop for fresh local produce and seafood such as crabs, salmon eggs, sea urchin and various fresh and prepared fish.

A recommended way of visiting the market is by having a fresh seafood breakfast at one of the small restaurants found between the shops.

Among the most popular menu items for starting the day is the uni ikura donburi, sea urchin and salmon eggs on rice (see picture).

The Nijo Market is open from around 7am to around 6pm on all days of the week, with individual shops maintaining their own opening hours and closing days.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sapporo Snow Festival

Sapporo Snow Festival
basic information

The Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) is held during one week every February in Hokkaido's capital Sapporo. In 2010, the Snow Festival will be held from February 5 through February 11, 2010.

The Sapporo Snow Festival was started in 1950, when high school students built a few snow statues in Odori Park. It has since developed into a large, commercialized event, featuring spectacular snow and ice sculptures and attracting more than two million visitors from Japan and across the world.

The Snow Festival is staged on three sites across Sapporo City: the Odori Site, Susukino Site and Tsudome Site.

The main site is the Odori Site in Sapporo's centrally located 1.5 kilometer long Odori Park. The festival's famous large snow sculptures, some more than 15 meters tall and 25 meters wide, are exhibited there. They are lit up daily until 22:00.

Besides about a dozen large snow sculptures, the Odori Site exhibits more than one hundred smaller snow and ice statues and hosts several concerts and events, many of which use the sculptures as their stage.

Odori Site

A great view over Odori Park can be enjoyed from the Sapporo TV Tower, which stands at the eastern end of the park and is opened from 9:00 to 22:30 during the festival (from 8:30 on the weekend). Admission to the top observatory deck costs 700 Yen per adult.

The Susukino Site, located in and named after Sapporo's largest entertainment district, exhibits about one hundred ice sculptures. Susukino is located only one subway stop south of Odori Park. The ice sculptures are lit up daily until midnight (until 22:00 on the festival's final day).

Susukino Site

The less centrally located Tsudome Site is a family oriented site with snow slides, snow rafting, snow golf and more snow sculptures. Inside the dome, there are many food stands and a stage for events. The Tsudome Site replaces the Sato Land Site, which was used in the previous three years.

Tsudome Site

Any advice or questions? Voice them in the forum!

how to get there

While the Odori and Susukino Sites are in central Sapporo, the Tsudome Site is located outside of the city center and can be accessed in a short shuttle bus ride (100 yen one way) or a 15 minute walk from Sakaemachi Station, the terminal station of the Toho Subway Line (10 minutes, 240 yen from Sapporo Station).

Shuttle buses to the Tsudome Site are also operated from some other locations, including the Odori Site (200 yen one way). Note that no parking is available near the Tsudome Site.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Odori Park

Odori Park
basic information

Odori Park is the broad median of Odori ("large street") in the center of Sapporo, separating the city into North and South. The park stretches over twelve blocks and offers pleasant green space during the warmer months, while staging the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in February.

At the eastern end of Odori Park stands the TV Tower with an observation deck that offers nice views of Odori Park and the city of Sapporo.

Any advice or questions? Voice them in the forum!

how to get there

Odori Park is five blocks or a 5-10 minute walk south of Sapporo Station. All of Sapporo's three subway lines intersect at Odori Station, which is one station south of Sapporo Station on the Nanboku and Toho Line.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Okurayama Observatory

Okurayama Observatory
basic information

The 90 meter ski jump competitions of the Winter Olympics 1972 were held in the Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium.

Nowadays, when the stadium is not being used for world cup or other ski jump events, the Okurayama Observatory at the top of the hill can be accessed via a chair lift (500 Yen, 8:30-18:00, shorter hours Nov-Mar) for spectacular views of Sapporo.

At the foot of the jump hill stands the Sapporo Winter Sports Museum (600 Yen, 9:00-18:00, shorter hours Nov-Apr) with exhibits about the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics and winter sports in general, including ski jump, bobsled, biathlon and speed skate simulators.

Monday, March 23, 2009


basic information
Ramen Yokocho

Susukino is well known as Japan's largest entertainment district north of Tokyo. It is packed with stores, bars, restaurants, karaoke shops, pachinko parlors and red light establishments. Of special interest to noodle lovers is the Ramen Yokocho, a narrow lane lined with nothing but ramen shops serving the famous Sapporo ramen.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mount Moiwa

Mount Moiwa
basic information

Mount Moiwa is one of several forested, small mountains surrounding the city of Sapporo. There is an observation platform and restaurant on its summit with spectacular day and night time views of the city.

Note that the restaurant on top of Mount Moiwa is not a place for fine dining as suggested by the restaurant's pamphlet. Rather, it is a kind of tourist cafeteria, where meals have to be ordered at vending machines.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taking the train

Taking the train
basic information

The following is a guide on how to use trains and subways in Japan. Elsewhere on the site are more specific pages on train tickets, night trains, shinkansen (bullet trains) and train timetables.

1) Train categories

All types of Japanese trains, from local to shinkansen, are typically classified into the following categories:

Local (kakueki-teisha or futsu-densha)
Local trains stop at every station.
Rapid (kaisoku)
Rapid trains skip some stations. There is no difference in the ticket price between local and rapid trains.
Express (kyuko)
Express trains stop at even fewer stations than rapid trains. Japan Railways (JR) charges an express fee in addition to the base fare.
Limited Express (tokkyu)
Limited express trains stop only at major stations. A limited express fee usually has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 500 and 4000 yen. JR railway companies always charge this fee, but some other private railway companies do not.
Super Express (shinkansen)
Shinkansen are only operated by JR. Shinkansen run along separate tracks and platforms. A limited express fee has to be paid in addition to the base fare. It is typically between 800 and 8000 yen.

2) Seat categories

JR offers the choice between two classes, ordinary and green (first class), on shinkansen, limited express trains and a small number of slower trains. Most local trains carry only ordinary cars. Green cars are less crowded and offer more spacious seats, but are typically 30% to 50% more expensive than ordinary cars.

Most shinkansen and limited express trains carry non-reserved (jiyu-seki) and reserved (shitei-seki) seats, while a few carry reserved seats only. Seats in green cars are often all reserved. On most local, rapid and express trains all seats are non-reserved. Seat reservations cost roughly 300 to 700 yen, but are free with the Japan Rail Pass.

Smoking cars or smoking rooms are provided on only a small number of long distance trains. On all other trains, smoking is not permitted.

3) Buying a ticket

Tickets for short distance trips are best purchased at vending machines, while tickets and seat reservations for long distance trips can be purchased at ticket counters in train stations.

a) Purchase a ticket at a vending machine

1. Find your destination and the corresponding fare on the map above the vending machine. The map shows the train lines and stations of the region. Ticket prices are shown beside each station.
2. Insert the money into the vending machine. Most machines accept coins of 10, 50, 100 and 500 yen and bills of 1000 yen. Many machines also accept larger bills.
3. Select the number of tickets that you wish to buy. The default is one, so if you are traveling alone, you can skip this step.
4. Press the button that shows the amount for your ticket.
5. Collect the ticket(s) and change.
Ticket vending machines with map of lines and stations

Sometimes the station names on the maps are written only in Japanese. If you are unable to find your destination and the corresponding fare, you can purchase a ticket for the lowest possible price, and pay the difference at a fare adjustment machine at the destination station.

b) Purchase a ticket at a ticket counter

In order to purchase a ticket, you need to provide the following information:

  • Number of travelers
  • Date of travel
  • Departure Station
  • Destination Station
  • Ordinary or green car
  • Preference of reserved or non-reserved seat

If you wish to reserve a seat, you need to provide the following additional information:

  • Train name and number OR departure time
  • Preference of smoking or non-smoking seat

If you do not speak Japanese and there is a lineup, it is recommended that you write the data on a piece of paper and present it to the salesperson in order to make the purchasing process smoother. Special forms for that purpose (some in English) are actually provided at some stations, but are rarely used by customers.

4) Entering the paid fare zone

After buying the ticket, you can proceed through the ticket gate. At automatic ticket gates, which are found at busy stations, insert the ticket into the slot, walk through the gate and pick up the ticket on the other side. If you insert an invalid ticket, the gate will close and an alarm will sound.

If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you cannot use automatic gates, but must pass through a manned gate, showing your pass to the station staff.

In order to access shinkansen platforms, you need to pass through a second or separate set of ticket gates. They are usually well marked.

5) Station platforms

Find your platform by looking for your train line and direction. Most important signs are written in Japanese and English, and increasingly also in Chinese and Korean.

On many platforms, marks on the floor indicate where the doors of the arriving train will be located. Waiting passengers will line up behind those marks. Train drivers are trained to stop within centimeters.

Passengers waiting in lines on the platform

In case of long distance trains, additional marks will indicate car numbers and whether the car is an ordinary or green car, and whether it carries reserved or non-reserved, and smoking or non-smoking seats.

Note that some platforms are served by trains of different train categories (e.g. local and rapid trains). Displays indicate the next arriving train's category and, at some stations, the set of upcoming stations served by it.

6) Riding the train

Wait for passengers to exit before entering the train. Be careful not to block the door at stations, especially if the train is crowded. Put backpacks on the floor or onto the baggage shelves.

Most passengers on Japanese trains are either reading, sleeping or using their mobile phones for sending messages, browsing the web or playing games. Talking on mobile phones inside trains, however, is forbidden, except in the entrance sections of shinkansen and limited express trains.

Upcoming stations and connecting lines are announced in Japanese. On shinkansen and some other lines frequently used by foreign visitors, the announcements are also made in English. Shinkansen and other newer trains have electronic signs in each car that display the upcoming station.

7) At the destination station

The station names on platforms are written in kanji, hiragana, and English. The previous and upcoming station names are also written.

At your destination, leave the paid fare zone through the ticket gates in the same way as you entered. When paying with a single ticket, the ticket is retained in the machine upon exiting.

If you did not pay the correct fare for your destination station, you have to pay the difference at a "Fare Adjustment" machine before leaving through the gates. If there are no such machines, you can pay the difference at the manned gate.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Seishun 18 Kippu

Seishun 18 Kippu
basic information

The Seishun Juhachi Kippu, meaning something like "Youthful 18 Ticket", is a seasonally available railway ticket, which gives you five days of unlimited, nationwide travel on local and rapid JR (Japan Railways) trains for only 11,500 Yen, or 2,300 Yen per day!


The Seishun 18 Kippu is only available three times a year during school holiday seasons, as shown in the table below (subject to change):

On Sale
March 1 to April 10
February 20 to March 31
July 20 to September 10
July 1 to August 31
December 10 to January 20
December 1 to January 10


Despite its name, the Seishun 18 Kippu can be used by people of any age. It is available to foreign tourists as well as Japanese nationals and foreign residents of Japan. However, there is no child fare.


Where is it sold?
The Seishun 18 Kippu can be bought at most JR stations across Japan. Consult the table above for the dates during which the ticket is on sale.

How does the ticket look like?
The ticket is one small card with five fields to be stamped on each day it is being used.

Can it be shared?
The Seishun 18 Kippu is a non-personal, transferable ticket, meaning that it can be used either by one person on five days or be shared by up to five different people. When sharing one ticket as a group, you always need to travel together, and each person uses up one of the ticket's five days of validity. Some examples on how the ticket can be used are listed below:

  • 1 person uses it on 5 days (it can be a different person each day)
  • 2 people share it on 2 days, and 1 person uses it on 1 day
  • 2 people share it on 1 day, and 1 person uses it on 3 days
  • 3 people share it on 1 day, and 2 people share it on 1 day
  • 5 people share it on 1 day
  • etc.

How to use it?
You cannot use automatic gates with the Seishun 18 Kippu. Instead, you have to pass through the manned gates and show the ticket to the station staff. At the beginning of each day's usage, the station staff will stamp one of the five fields with a stamp showing the current date. If you travel in a group, one field will be stamped for each member in your group.

When is it valid?
The ticket is valid on five days during the period of validity (see table above). The five days do not need to be consecutive days. One day is defined as from midnight to midnight, except in the Tokyo and Osaka areas where the ticket is valid until the last train. In all other areas, when you are on board of a train at midnight, the ticket is valid up to the first station reached after midnight.

Which trains can be used?
The ticket is valid only on local trains (futsudensha/kakuekiteisha) and rapid trains (kaisoku), operated by the Japan Railways (JR). It cannot be used on express (kyuko), limited express (tokkyu) and bullet trains (shinkansen).

Is it valid on night trains?
Most night trains are classified as either express or limited express and cannot be used with the Seishun 18 Kippu. There are, however, a few night trains which are classified rapid trains (kaisoku) and can be used with the ticket. They are very popular among Seishun 18 users, because they allow you to maximize the distance traveled during a 24 hour period. Some of those kaisoku night trains are:

  • Moonlight Nagara: Tokyo - Nagoya - Ogaki (daily)
  • Moonlight Echigo: Shinjuku - Niigata (daily)
  • Moonlight Kyushu: Shin-Osaka - Hakata (on selected days)
  • Moonlight Matsuyama: Kyoto - Matsuyama (on selected days)
  • Moonlight Kochi: Kyoto - Kochi (on selected days)

Is it valid on non-JR trains?
The ticket can be used only on trains operated by the Japan Railways (JR). (Note that there are a small number of JR trains which partially use the tracks of a different railway company. An additional fee has to be paid on such trains.)

Travel Tips and Timetable Examples

Traveling by local trains is naturally much slower than by shinkansen or limited express. From Tokyo, for example, it takes roughly nine hours and typically one to four transfers of trains to reach Kyoto. (With the shinkansen it takes less than three hours, but the ticket costs more than five times as much.)

On major lines, such as the Tokaido Line and the Sanyo Line, local train service is so frequent that you could actually "survive" without preparing a prior itinerary, but on many other lines, local service is infrequent and connections inconvenient. Therefore, it is highly recommended to create an itinerary in advance by studying the timetables.

Below are some example timetables to give you an idea of how far you can get in one day:

From Tokyo:
To Western Japan (Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Shikoku, Hiroshima, Kyushu)
To Tohoku (Sendai, Morioka, Akita, Aomori)
To Hokkaido (Hakodate, Sapporo)

All information on these pages is subject to change. Double-check before starting your trip!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Guide to Japanese Train Tickets

Guide to Japanese Train Tickets
basic information

Below is a list of the various railway tickets available in Japan:

Regular Train Tickets

Regular tickets simply get you from A to B. Our page about regular train tickets provides an introduction to the various fares and fees, such as the base fare and limited express fee, and the rules for using tickets. Read more...

Rail Passes

Rail passes entitle their holders to unlimited usage of trains in a designated area. There is a variety of nationwide and regional rail passes available in Japan. The best of them all is the Japan Rail Pass, but other rail passes can be more suitable, depending on your itinerary. View a list of rail passes...

Tokaido Shinkansen Discount Offers

Japan's most important shinkansen line, the Tokaido Shinkansen connects Tokyo with Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. The following are some of the discount offers available on the Tokaido Shinkansen:

Hikari Hayatoku Kippu (about 10 percent discounted)
This ticket is available for trips between Tokyo or Yokohama and Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Himeji or some other minor stations. You have to use a reserved seat on a hikari train, and you have to purchase the ticket at least one week in advance of the departure date.

Hikari Kodama Jiyusekiyo Hayatoku Kippu (25 percent discounted)
This ticket is available for trips between Nagoya and Osaka. You have to use a non-reserved seat on a hikari or kodama train, and you have to purchase the ticket at least one week in advance of the departure date.

Puratto Kodama Economy Plan (about 25 percent discounted)
You have to use a reserved seat on the relatively slow kodama train, and you have to purchase this travel plan at least one day ahead of the departure date. You will get one can of beer, soft drink or a coffee as a free bonus.

City Passes

Passes for unlimited city travel on subways, trams, trains and buses on one calendar day and similar tickets are offered in many cities across Japan. Take a look at the "special ticket" section at the bottom of the following city pages:
Tokyo Osaka
Kyoto Kobe

Sets of Multiple JR Tickets

For any route, which covers 200 kilometers or less, it is possible to purchase eleven tickets (basic fare only) for the price of ten.

Between selected stations on some shinkansen and limited express routes, it is also possible to purchase sets of multiple tickets. They usually come in sets of four or six tickets and are discounted by about 5 to 10 percent.

Multiple tickets have to be used within a certain time frame, typically three months, and can be used in either direction.

Discounts on JR Roundtrip Tickets

On any route, which covers more than 600 kilometers one way, a round trip ticket (basic fare only) can be purchased at a 10 percent discount.

Between selected stations on some shinkansen and limited express routes, it is also possible to purchase round trip tickets, which are typically discounted by about 10 to 15 percent.

Tour Packages

Tour packages combine transportation and accommodation at big discounts to individual or group travelers. They are offered by travel agencies inside and outside of Japan, including the railway companies themselves. Much of the information, however, is available in Japanese only.

Discount Ticket Shops

Discount ticket shops purchase large amounts of discounted tickets and re-sell them to individual shoppers at prices which are typically 5 to 10 percent below the cost of regular tickets. Discount ticket shops can be found around major railway stations in large cities.

Monday, March 9, 2009


basic information

A guesthouse (or "gaijin house", meaning "foreigner house") is an inexpensive type of accommodation for foreigners, who stay in Japan for one month or longer, and who want to avoid the hassle and the expense of renting and furnishing a conventional apartment. Some guesthouses also offer weekly contracts.

There are many guesthouses in Tokyo, but they can also be found in other major Japanese cities. While some are single, independently managed houses, others are owned by realty companies, which may operate multiple houses across the city. Some companies maintain a "foreigners only" policy.

Guesthouses come as shared or private apartments and with Japanese or Western style rooms. Naturally, private apartments are more expensive than rooms in shared apartments, where kitchen and bathrooms are typically shared.

Depending on the room and company, the monthly rent for a shared apartment in Tokyo is typically between 40,000 and 100,000 yen per person per month, while a private apartment usually costs at least 100,000 yen per month. Whether cost for utilities is included depends on the company.

Guesthouses do not tend to be the newest or most modern buildings, although the apartments are usually equipped with basic kitchen utensils, a futon, a pay phone, and possibly a television.

By living in a guesthouse, a foreigner has the opportunity to closely experience Japanese everyday life, buy food and household goods in Japanese supermarkets, dispose of garbage in the correct way, etc.