Tokyo is back! (Kyoto never left)

Steve here: Two months ago, the US Government announced that there are no significant risks to US citizens outside of the nuclear power plant area. Yet foreign tourism has Japan dropped by 90% and continues to be low, reflecting fears that the nation is significantly destroyed and covered in radiation. While tragic indeed, the facts are that Japan is larger than Great Britain and the largely rural tsunami area is far from where most people live and travel. W.H.O says that travel to non-tsunami areas is safe. Drinking water, vegetables and air are safe. Shops, restaurants and almost all public transportation are business-as-usual. The horrible disaster directly affected about 1% of the population and 3% of the land mass. This reminds me of when I was in Los Angeles during Katrina and e-mails from Japan said “we are praying for your safety.

Japan needs tourists to return, both for economic growth and for moral support. I live in Japan and have been involved here since 1971. As a long term resident, my view of Japan is different than a briefly visiting Sunday Travel Section writer.

My “Sunday Travel Section” article begins your Japan tour in Tokyo at the world’s largest fish market, housing hundreds of fast-talking vendors and plenty of upbeat Japanese enthusiasm. Try my favorite sushi bar just outside the market gate for the freshest, cheapest and best sushi, anywhere.

Next move on to the Ginza district, a focal point of international wealth and fashion that is purely Japanese in its refinement and civility. Tokyo is a world center for retail architecture and in this bustling showplace district are buildings as notable in their creative design as the fashions they showcase.

You will marvel at Japan’s streets–clean, free of litter and in good repair. The train system leads the world in efficiency, safety and comprehensive coverage and is secure enough for small children to ride to school by themselves. If you forget something on a train, more than likely, it would show up 20 minutes after reporting it lost. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.

You’ll be overwhelmed at the Ozu Washi shop, featuring hand-made mulberry paper from rural villages in hundreds of colors and textures. Afterwards, take a subway to Musee Tomo Museum to see the best of contemporary ceramics. Japan has led the world in ceramics for generations.

Move on to the Omotesando district, a center for cutting-edge youth culture. Kids here embrace clothing as a personal and highly creative form of self-expression. The range of style is astounding and attracts fashion spies from all over the world. Also, see more amazing buildings designed by the world’s most recognized architects, including Pritzker award winners. Then head over to the Roppongi area. Billions of dollars have transformed this area into a stunning cultural and social hub, with four new museums within eight minutes walk of each other. You will not want to miss Nuno Studio, inventive textile designers. Nuno’s genius combines great design and traditional Japanese textile know-how with high tech processes resulting in pure Japanese innovation.

Dinner time! Try Honmura-an, a noodle restaurant that has redefined traditional cuisine for the 21st century. Or, choose a Michelin star-rated restaurant. There are more in Tokyo than any city in the world. Tokyo is alive at night in pubs, bars and cafes. Clubs feature every kind of live music. Jazz is bigger here than in the U.S. Traditional Kabuki plays and western classical music venues attract large, discerning crowds.

My article then sends you to Japan’s other most popular tourist destination, Kyoto, by high speed bullet train. Kyoto is both a 1200 year-old city and a modern metropolis of 1.5 million people. Like most of Japan during the disaster and its aftermath, life in Kyoto has been completely normal. No damage or tremors. Normal food, water and gasoline supplies. And so much to do!

Follow my directions through lovely old neighborhoods. Witness a Zen monk silently raking a sand garden. At dawn, attend a Buddhist service and fire ceremony with 40 chanting monks. See majestic Buddhist and Shinto wooden architecture. Chat with priests and street vendors or a master weaver of fine silk kimono. Watch indigo dyers in their workshop. Take a lesson in flower arrangement. Attend a tea ceremony. Experience one of the great shopping cities of the world. Visit a few of Kyoto’s 35 museums. Try a cooking lesson in a private home. Explore calligraphy at the studio of a true master. Witness a sacred Shinto offertory dance. Watch chefs behind the counter create pure culinary art. See young people on dates in kimono, part of a spontaneous revival of Japanese traditional culture. Take in a colorful dance performance by Geisha; their once dwindling numbers have seen a 50% increase over the past 10 years.

Come to Japan. It is safe, welcoming and full of life. I have great faith in this country to rebuild the damaged northern district. Remember, every major city here completely burned to the ground in World War II. However, it only took nineteen years to rebuild the cities, industries and infrastructure and to host the 1964 Olympics! The current damage is small in comparison. Japan will recover and be better and stronger and the new resulting technologies will benefit the entire world.