What's new in Japan?
Updated: Mar 26
When Japan is ready for us, and we are ready for Japan, you will want to check out what is new ........... so let's start wandering Japan and take a peek!
Ghibli Park, Aichi Prefecture
This is the theme park that everyone who loves anime has been waiting for! Studio Ghibli is currently building Ghibli Park in Aichi Prefecture, within the grounds of the Aichi Earth Expo Memorial Park. Due to open in November this year, it will be divided into five sections. The first three sections to be built include Ghibli's Grand Warehouse (based on Spirited Away), Hill of Youth (based on Howl's Moving Castle), and Dondoko Forest (based on My Neighbour Totoro). Attractions that will be added later include Valley of Witches (based on Kiki's Delivery Service) and Mononoke Village (based on Princess Mononoke). Ghibli's vision will be seen throughout the theme park. The rotary park is a feature from Whisper of the Heart, a miniature reproduction of the Cat Bureau from The Cat Returns and an existing elevator is being remodelled to resemble the elevator tower in Castle in the Sky.
Satsuki and Mei's house, My Neighbour Totoro, was built in the park for the Aichi World Expo in 2005. The house still stands and this led to Studio Ghibli putting forward a proposal to Aichi Prefecture in regards to a Ghibli theme park. There will be no big rides or attractions instead visitors are asked to "Take a stroll, feel the wind and discover the wonders". At the request of Aichi Prefecture, Studio Ghibli has produced its first promotional video which showcases the prefecture's tourist sights and is called "Play along with the Wind - Aichi, home of the Ghibli Park".
Gundam Factory Yokohama
For children and adults alike Gundam has stood the test of time. When we lived in Japan my primary school son loved anything to do with Gundam! Unfortunately it appears that the pandemic has signalled the end for the Gundam Cafes that have sprung up in recent years throughout Japan. The good news is that Gundam Cafe Yokohama and Gundam Factory Yokohama will continue to stay open, currently until March 2023 but hopefully this deadline will be extended as international tourists return to Japan. The huge 18-metre tall Gundam robot with flashing lights and moving limbs was unveiled in December 2020. You can see Gundam as it steps out of its dock at the main venue, GUNDAM-DOCK. At GUNDAM-LAB you can learn about robotics and other similar engineering technologies. You can also visit the on-site shop known as GUNDAM-BASE and of course GUNDAM Café.
GUNDAM FACTORY is situated at Yokohama's Yamashita Pier, a 7-minute walk from Exit 4 (Marine Tower Exit) at Motomachi-Chukagai Station on the Minatomirai Line. Other things to see in this port area are the Yokohama Doll Museum, the Silk Museum, shops and parks including Yamashita Park which stretches along the busy port foreground.
Gundam Park Fukuoka
Needing to see more of Gundam? Gundam fans will be excited to learn that Fukuoka will not only have the largest Gundam statue in Japan but will also have an entire theme park called GUNDAM PARK FUKUOKA. The full size Nu-Gundam statue stands nearly 25 meters (81 feet) tall and the park is due to open very soon, scheduled for the 24th April this year! This indoor park is situated at Fukuoka's large shopping centre called Mitsui Shopping Park LalaPort. The park is divided into three main areas - Gundam Side-F will feature special Gundam exhibitions, Gundam models and a Gundam shop. Namco Arcade and VS Park feature arcade games, many with Gundam features and Gundam prizes.
The huge LaLaport Fukuoka shopping park will also open in April this year. It is situated in Hakata on the former site of the Fukuoka City Wholesale Produce Market. Besides GUNDAM PARK FUKUOKA the shopping park will have a multitude of shops, cafes and restaurants plus KidZania Fukuoka and Fukuoka Toy Museum.
teamLab Forest Fukuoka
Whilst you are in Fukuoka you might like to also check out the newest teamLab aptly named teamLab Forest Fukuoka. It opened in 2020 and is located in the Boss E.ZO FUKUOKA complex on the grounds of the Fukuoka PayPay Dome (baseball field). teamLab Forest Fukuoka has two main areas and describes their Catching and Collecting Forest as a new learning space based on the principle of catch, study and release. Using a smart phone app participants are able to catch various animal images and study them before releasing. There is also an Athletics Forest whereby you can immerse yourself into the three-dimensional and interactive world. Features include high mountains, deep valleys and waterfalls. This month the virtual exhibition has showcased cherry blossoms for a short season......... perhaps you may need to include a visit next year? As always, bookings are essential so make sure you contact us prior to visiting teamLab for your group bookings.
Universal Studios Japan, Osaka
We love USJ and missed the March 2021 opening of its latest world, Super Nintendo World. Even the website, showcasing Super Nintendo World, is exciting to enter so we can't wait to visit the real thing! We love visiting USJ, we love sending our school groups to USJ and we love hearing from USJ with their latest news outlining new worlds, new events and new parades. Ever wanted to race in a Mario Cart? Then get yourself to USJ! Go on an adventure with Yoshi, eat at Kinopio's Cafe and go shopping for Super Mario souvenirs and merchandise. Besides the new Super Nintendo World there are so many other worlds to discover and enjoy. Just a few include the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Minion Park, Jurassic Park, Amity Village and WaterWorld.
We can organise group entry tickets and hotel accommodation at Osaka or in a partner hotel situated on USJ's doorstep, such as Hotel Keihan Universal Tower or Hotel Universal Port.
Photo Scavenger Hunt, Tokyo
This is one of our newest, fun activities in Tokyo for students and teachers alike. Groups can be let loose in either Shibuya/Harajuku or Asakusa. They are given a list with instructions of popular instagram photo sites, statues, traditional shops etc. They must find these places and take a photo and/or answer a question. The course lasts 3 hours, includes a tour guide and is priced at approximately ¥1,500 per person depending on the size of the group. For an additional fee this can be combined with local school students. Alternatively, if preferred, we may be able to obtain a discount price for the Scavenger Hunt without including a guide.
Taiyaki Sweet Making Experience, Tokyo
Whilst your group is in Asakusa why not have a Taiyaki sweet making hands-on experience at the traditional TAIYAKI shop located near the Asakusa Station? Firstly you will be shown a video in English outlining the history and the making of Taiyaki sweets. Then the fun starts with preparing the sweet cake mixture and adding a filling. You will have a choice from the traditional sweet anko red bean paste (my favourite) or vanilla custard cream. You can even choose a unique flavour such as curry, cheese, natto, kimchi or sticky mochi rice. It takes approximately one hour and each person receives 6 pieces. The shop is very traditional with many group and instagram photo opportunities. This would be a great lunchtime experience for school groups! Our group price, depending on group size, is approximately ¥3,000 per student with a free soft drink included.
JR East Joyful Trains
Now this is a joyful experience and one I am looking forward to returning to Japan and riding on some of these trains! So what are Joyful Trains? JR East explains a Joyful Train as "not only a means of transportation, but also a package of various pleasures, allowing for the train journey itself to become the purpose of travel". Another joyful note is that most of the trains can be ridden free using a JR East Pass or JR Tokyo Wide Pass. There are 14 trains in total.
The trains can be divided into a few different categories, all with fun themed carriages - those with unique interiors, those with unique exteriors, scenic trains with fun stations, steam trains and scenic restaurant trains.
The SL Ginga is a restored steam locomotive that operates between Hanamaki and Kamaishi on the Kamaishi Line in Tohoku. The cars are decorated to depict Miyazawa's "Night on the Galactic Railway" set in the early 20th century with stained glass windows and gas lamps.
Pokémon also travels in the Tohoku region from Ichinoseki Station to Kessenuma Station. The theme is "have fun with Pickachu". To this end you will find Pickachu everywhere on the train exterior and inside the train carriages including the seat backrests, the curtains and fun gadgets throughout.
The Oykot Joyful train runs from Nagano Station to Tokamachi Station in Niigata Prefecture. The train has been created around its rural setting and feel of rustic Japan. The Iiyama Line follows villages, rice fields, woods, mountains and the Chikuma-gawa River. The Oykot's interior is in the style of a traditional rural home with local goods for sale on board and at stations (see JR East images above). By the way, Oykot is named for its peaceful, traditional ambience and is the opposite of bustling modern Tokyo. Have you worked out the link? It is Tokyo spelt backwards! If you are wanting to spend more time in the Iiyama area with your group we can organise a village welcome, home stay, craft and cooking activities plus a local school visit for 2 nights / 3 days. There are spring/summer activities and autumn/winter activities in the snow!
Lastly there is even a train with foot onsen on board! Called the Toreiyu Tsubasa it is the first shinkansen to have foot baths on board. It runs on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line between Fukushima and Shinjo Stations. As well as the foot baths there is a bar and lounge car with traditional Japanese style tables and tatami seating. The train is seasonal and you will need to purchase a separate Ashi-yu (foot bath) ticket to enter the foot onsen carriage.
Fantasy Springs is the name of the newest Tokyo DisneySea themed port due to open in 2023. Fantasy Springs will be divided into three separate areas, each dedicated to a different Walt Disney Animation Studios film - Frozen, Tangled, and Peter Pan. There will be a hotel, themed rides, three restaurants and attractions showcasing each animated film and taking guests on a water wonderland journey inside each of these three stories.
Tokyo Disneyland's newest themed world and its largest expansion since Tokyo Disneyland's opening is based on the Beauty and the Beast movie. It opened in September 2020 and features the Fantasy Forest Theatre, The Happy Ride with Baymax, Minnie's Style Studio, Village Shoppes inspired by the village in Beauty and the Beast and the restaurant inspired by Gaston's frequent visits to the tavern, La Taverne de Gaston. There is also LeFou's snack shop and a popcorn wagon located right next door to the restaurant. The Happy Ride has guests boarding magical cups that “dance” in rhythm to this famous animation film’s well-known music as they go on a magic cup-and-saucer ride that moves through the various scenes featured in this enchanting movie. I have probably been more than 30 times to Tokyo Disneyland with school groups and it still never ceases to enchant!
Written by Rondell Herriot, Co-Managing Director Saizen Tours
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