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A must see when visiting Tokyo is a stop (or at least a day) at Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan. A large public park, it is home to an array of museums, shrines, a zoological garden and a popular viewing spot for cherry blossoms in the spring.

  The Tokyo National Museum was established in 1872 is by far the oldest and has the most extensive collection of over 110,000 objects mostly focusing on Japan. The museum itself consists of 5 main exhibition buildings: Honkan (Japanese Gallery); Toyokan (Asian Gallery); Hyokeikan; Heiseikan; and Horyu-ji Homotsukan (The Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures). Admission for adults is ¥600; High school/junior/elementary school children are FREE. Hours are from 9:30 am – 5:00 pm.  

The National Science Museum of Japan opened in 1871. The permanent exhibits are divided into the Japan Gallery and the Global Gallery. Some of the highlights of the Japan Gallery include: Nature of the Japanese Archipelago and Japanese People and Nature. As for the Global Gallery the “Thoughts and works of the people of Japan” is intriguing as it shows how the Japanese people took in foreign cultural influences but still remain rooted in its own culture.

 The Ueno Zoological Gardens is the oldest zoo in Japan with its establishment in 1882. It is now home for over 2600 animals representing 464 species. Hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm (closed on Mondays). Admission is ¥600 for adults with children under 12 free. 

In the spring, it seems that almost everyone flocks to Ueno Park to view and have hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties. With over 1000 cherry trees, it is not only popular but crowded.  

Ueno Park, a must see when in Tokyo. A day may not be enough!

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Over the years, travel agents learn things which make them invaluable when booking flights. All of us have had good (and not so good) experiences when flying. These are three tips provided by the staff of Kobayashi Travel to hopefully make your next journey a little more enjoyable.

In many cases your travel may include flights with a single aisle and 3 seats on each side. In the event there are two of you, you usually sit next to each other but that usually means someone else will be in the window seat or in the aisle seat. This is what one agent recommends: Book seats slightly towards the back of the plane and take the aisle seat and window seat, leaving the seat in the middle unoccupied. If the flight is not full, the chances of someone choosing the seat between the two you is less. No guarantees but you can always offer to slide over if someone does take the seat.   

You are what you eat. Well it is true especially when flying. In today’s world where many airlines now charge for meals, these are some tips to remember. First, drink lots of water. The pressurized cabin does bring about dehydration so plenty of water will make that flight over the Pacific a lot more pleasant. Second, alcohol and coffee in moderation as they both do the opposite of drinking water. Third, eat light. Studies have shown that eating light before and during your flight allows your body to digest food with less effort. You’ll feel much better when you land and will be thanking yourself for being so sensible. 

Last but not least, travel agents unfortunately do not have a crystal ball to know when fares will be at its lowest. Airfares are constantly changing and a price that you receive today may not be the price tomorrow. So what should you do? First, understand that the travel agent is working for you (not the airlines). They have the ability to look at various airlines, routings, etc to get you the best value (not necessarily the lowest price) for you. They provide value by being able to give you a choice. Next, understand that the prices change frequently and travel agents have no control over what the airlines decide to do. And finally, if you have your travel dates or a range of dates will help the agent find airfares that are best for you.

Traveling is not a perfect world but travel agents do their part by being your advocate. They use their knowledge and experience to be of service to you.

 

Spring brings forth the crisp air, emerging greenery and Cherry Blossoms in Japan. Cherry Blossoms, “Sakura” is the national flower of Japan and is held in reverence throughout Japan. A large number of festivals are held to honor and celebrate the beauty of the cherry blossom. Cherry Blossom begins to bloom from the southern island of Kyushu in late March and moves northward blooming in early May in Hokkaido.

You will be amazed by the sights of the cherry blossoms on your spring trip to Japan. But we asked Carol Enomoto who is the tour manager of Aloha World, a leading tour operator of escorted tours to Japan to name her three most favorite “cherry blossom” viewing locations. Although subjective, her choices are held by many including visitors and people living in Japan.Takada Castle, Niigata  

Takada Park in Joetsu city, Niigata prefecture is the well known for the night time view of cherry blossoms. Takada Castle which is on the grounds is lit up by as well as over 3000 lanterns hanging from 4000 cherry trees. All of this illuminates the park and provides a festive mood for park goers. The moat surrounding the castle reflects the light of Takada castle and the lanterns creating a mystical atmosphere.   Viewing during the day is no slouch as visitors are able to walk down Sakura Road, which is a narrow path, lined with cherry blossom trees on both sides.

Himeji Castle and Cherry BlossomsHimeji Castle in Hyogo prefecture is well known as one of the 3 most famous castles in Japan. It is also a favorite of cherry blossom watchers. One needs to realize that in Japan, there are many festivals which honor the sakura and Himeji Castle is no different. It hosts the Himeji Castle cherry blossom viewing Fair which features music performances.   With over 1000 sakura trees on the grounds, it is known as a very popular spot in Japan for viewing.

 Hirosaki Park is built on the grounds of Hirosaki Castle in Hirosaki, Aomori prefecture. With over 2600 cherry blossom trees, it is touted by several travel journalists as the best spot to view cherry blossoms in the Tohoku region. The cherry blossoms are set against the white walls of Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecturethe castle and the pine trees. Over a million people annually visit Hirosaki Park during this time which usually runs from late April to early May which coincides with Golden Week in Japan.  

The viewing of cherry blossoms in Japan is more than just an appreciation of the beauty,  as many enjoy the camaraderie of family and friends. Festivals can be found throughout Japan no doubt due to the “sakuras” stature as the national flower. It is a time to enjoy good sake, good food, family and the beauty of spring. On your next visit to Japan, you too will be in awe of the Cherry Blossom.

 

 

I could probably spend pages and pages writing on things to do in San Francisco and its surrounding areas. That would be an easy task, as time and words would not be a limitation. But, I asked myself, what if I had just 2 days to explore San Francisco, what would I do? Now that is a truly difficult and intriguing task.   

Day one:

One needs to do some sightseeing (yes, San Francisco is more than just food and shopping). I personally would take a narrated bus tour. You will be able to see such sights as: Coit Tower (built in 1933 as a memorial for Lillie Hitchcock Coit and for the San Francisco firemen); Golden Gate Bridge; and Twin Peaks (weather permitting). When I took this tour, the view from the Golden Gate Park was nothing less than breathtaking.

Of course now I am hungry, so it’s off to Chinatown where you can find restaurants that serve some great dim sum. In my experience, I found it to be very reasonable and it hits the spot. The best way to explore San Francisco’s Chinatown is by meandering through its streets and exploring the various shops. Don’t forget the photo opportunity at the entrance known as the Chinatown Gate. Although it covers over 24 blocks, it is best to concentrate your exploration between Stockton and Grant Street. 

For dinner, there are so many excellent places to eat. I won’t even attempt to pick a place as it all depends upon your budget and taste.

Day Two:

What would be a visit to San Francisco without riding the cable cars?   Unthinkable! So we take the cable car down to Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf. I remember the excitement and novelty of riding the cable cars (I played it safe and rode inside). There are three current operating lines: Powell-Mason; Powell-Hyde; and Cable Car -Fisherman's WharfCalifornia Street. Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf is actually 2 areas but has blended into one LARGE area.   First we take a look at the famous sea lions, probably because everybody talks about them. They are sort of cute in their own way.   Lots of specialty shops in the area where you can pick up those San Francisco souvenirs.  

Again, with so many places to eat and from what I heard all of them are excellent. However, I personally did have lunch at Alioto’s on Fisherman’s Wharf. Located on the 2nd floor, the host was a gracious Italian gentleman who said all the right things.   Service was excellent, prices were reasonable and the food was delicious.

Then it’s back on the cable car back to Union Square and the remainder of the day shopping at probably one of the best shopping “destinations” in the world. Macy’s flagship store as well as Nordstrom and Neiman-Marcus can be found here. The list of stores, both national names as well as smaller boutiques make this a shopper’s dream. I’m not a shopper, but it’s hard not to enjoy the atmosphere and excitement.

Two days. But there is so much more to do and see. It is not surprising why San Francisco continually draws visitors back again and again. I am too sold on San Francisco!

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Are you planning to visit South Korea. If yes then you are truly privileged. It is famous for its distinctive culture and heritage. Read on to acquaint yourself about some interesting facts of this fascinating country.

Facts about South Korea Korea has 6,228 km of coastline and nearly 3,000 islands located mainly in the Yellow Sea and Korea Strait. Only a few of them lie off the East Sea. Its total area is 38,462.49 square miles. Its terrain is mostly rugged and mountainous with little arable land. Hallasan, an extinct volcano at a height of 1950 meters is the highest point in South Korea. It is also known as 'Hermit Kingdom' and 'Land of the Morning Calm'. South KoreaKorea has a Continental climate with hot, humid summers and dry, cold winters. The major cities of South Korea are Seoul, Pusan, Taegu, Inchan and Kwangju. Its largest and capital city is Seoul, which is the world's second-largest metropolitan city. Their national anthem is 'Aegukka' (The Song of Love of Country) which was adopted on August 15,1948. Confucianism, shamanism (traditional spirit worship), Christianity, Buddhism and Chondokyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way) are the religions followed in South Korea. Korean is the main language and English is widely taught in schools. The Korean language is related to the Mongolian and Japanese languages. A large number of Chinese cognates exist in the Korean language. Around 1,300 Chinese characters are used in modern Korean.It has a population of over 49 million people by current estimates. It is one of the world's leading economies and has a large and sophisticated technological base. It has the 13th-largest economy in the world and the third- largest in Asia. It has the seventh largest fishing industry in the world. It is known as one of the Four Asian Tiger economies. It has 63 daily newspapers.

Facts about South Korean culture The eldest in the house is considered the most wise, and therefore makes most of the important decisions. When you enter a South Korean home, the first thing you do is remove your shoes. When the first night of the new year comes everybody hides their shoes. This is because there is a belief that a ghost will come down and try on everyone's shoes. If the ghost finds a pair it likes it will take it. It is thought that the owner of the shoes will then have bad luck for the whole year. Korean architecture is influenced by China. The martial art 'Tae kwon do' originated in Korea.

Facts about South Korean History South Korea has a history of over 5000 years. In Korean mythology there is a story about how the Korean nation was born. The story is that a god named Hwanung came from heaven and transformed a bear into a woman. He married her and she gave birth to a son, Tangun, the founder of Korea. Tangun created the first capital of the Korean nation in 2333 B.C and called it Joseon - 'Land of the Morning Calm'. Prehistoric remains found throughout Korea indicate that early in the history of the Korean Peninsula the inhabitants used sophisticated technologies. These people believed that all objects had spirits (also called animism). They also believed that some people had the power to communicate with these spirits, which is also known as shamanism. Farming at this time included cultivating rice. This was around 3,500 years ago at the start of the Bronze Age. Many farm tools have been found from this period. In 1910, Korea became a Japanese colony. Korea was under Japanese rule for 35 years. North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950 with goal of unifying the Koreas under communist rule, The United Nations intervened in the war and there was a ceasefire in 1953. The border between South and North Korea remains one of the heaviest militarized zones in the world. Efforts are going on for their peaceful reunification googleitt.com info

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