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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2005

International airports debut local bus tours for transit passengers

Staff writer

William White did not expect to have a chance for sake tasting at Narita airport while in transit from Vietnam to the U.S.

News photo
A tour group takes in the Iinuma Honke sake brewery in Shisui, Chiba Prefecture. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHIBA CONVENTION BUREAU AND INTERNATIONAL CENTER

But an hour after arriving, he was touring a sake brewery, glimpsing the production process and tasting various brews in a period house.

The last time he changed flights at Narita, White slept on a bench in the lobby for eight hours. But he learned about the three-hour tour from a brochure he was handed at the airport, he said.

The 27-year-old Californian decided not to just waste his time and instead see a little bit of Japan. "I think I want to come back here sometime. It was very fun."

White was the first to join the tour, which is among new sightseeing courses around Narita airport called "Glimpse of Japan" designed for transit passengers.

The bus tours, launched Saturday on a trial basis, are run by the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, Chiba Prefecture, Narita International Airport Corp. and airlines.

The buses include an English-speaking guide.

The tour of the Iinuma Honke sake brewery, which is more than 300 years old, was also attended by 10 people engaged in the travel business in Australia who were invited by the government to promote the short trips and other sightseeing courses in Chiba.

"I think (the government's idea to organize the tours) is fantastic and they should have done it before," said Sonia Ware, one of the Australians, noting that her country does not have such jaunts because transit passengers are few, but Singapore offers similar sightseeing activities.

The three-hour tour around Narita focuses on different sites and experiences depending on the day of the week, including visiting Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and making decorated candles at a museum of local traditional culture.

The shorter tours range in price from 500 yen to 3,000 yen for an adult.

Full-day tours for passengers who stop over at Narita range from 5,000 yen to 7,000 yen.

The ministry also provides short tours for transit passengers at Kansai International Airport and Chubu International Airport.

Hirokazu Tanaka, of the ministry's Civil Aviation Bureau, said the tours were based on proposals by a transport ministry panel that wanted to enhance services at international airports.

Many passengers who transit Narita spend an average of three to six hours at the airport, Tanaka said.

In fiscal 2003, Narita had some 3 million transit passengers and Kansai had 530,000, the ministry said.

In the next fiscal year, the tours will be improved and conducted by travel agencies, Tanaka said.

The Narita tours run until Dec. 28 and from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20. For reservations and information, call (03) 5796-5454 or look at www.jtbgmt.com/sunrisetour/

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