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- Places to Visit Between Tokyo and Kyoto
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- Buenos Aires Loves its Dogs
- Japanese Tea Ceremony Soothes the Soul
- Legs Inn a Must for its quirky architecture, Polish food and Lake Michigan Views
- Why I Live in Lawrence KS
- Pisac’s Market More than I Bargained for
- Machu Picchu Better than Imagined
- Ise-Shima Famous for Japan’s Most Revered Shrine and Female Divers
- Beyond Tokyo and Kyoto
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- Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak Always a Draw
- Hiraizumi 12th-century Buddhist Utopia in Japan
- Kume & Kobe Refound
- Two New Tokyo Hotels, Worlds Apart
- Memories of Isla Amantani, Peru
Tag Archives: Beth Reiber
It’s been many years since I spent a month in Peru with my two sons and my sister Kristin’s family, so Memories of Isla Amantani, Peru, is lifted word-for-word from my journal. The island lies in Lake Titicaca, the highest fresh-water lake in the world, and is one of my favorite places in the country. I’ve kept a journal since I was 12. Sometimes I wonder whether I, like seemingly everyone else these days, should write a memoir.
From Puno on the way to Cusco, July 17, 2008
“If this is impossible to read, it’s because we’re on the bus from hell. The seats are broken, there are no seatbelts, the suspension is shot, and we have 7 hours ahead of us. We opted for the local direct bus rather than the tourist bus that made stops along the way because the tourist bus cost $45 per person including admissions and the local bus cost about $8.
We spent the past 4 days on islands on Lake Titicaca, Isla Amantani and Isla Tequile.
Both had red, rocky terrain that rose steeply from the shore, with stone or sand footpaths linking adobe houses schools, the market, tiny stores selling candy, drinks, eggs and central plaza. There was no running water, and everyone hauled water from open wells up the steep slopes. Toilets were outhouses, holes in the ground, though where we stayed toilets had been installed over holes in the ground but you still flushed them by pouring in water. Cooking was done with a propane stove or over a fire. Electricity was limited or nonexistent.
On the way to the islands we stopped at the so-called “Floating Islands,” where communities lived on matted reeds in reed houses. They originally moved to the reeds to escape fiercer people, and there are still families who live isolated just as they have always done, but the families we visited were there purely for us. Being an architect, Kristin found it fascinating, and I was glad they were able to make some money from tourists.
Then it was on to Amantani, the more primitive of the two islands. We stayed with a woman who went by Gladys and her 9-year-0ld daughter. Our 2 rooms were simple, built specifically for tourists, with beds and a table, a wood-plank floor, and candles for lighting. Gladys made us soup for dinner, trout the second night, pancakes for breakfast….
I liked watching the village life, the people were all shyly friendly and greeted with an “Hola” or “Buenas tardes.” They wore traditional dress, the women in full colorful skirts and embroidered black shawls. The children played with balls, tops, marbles. I don’t think people bathed much–why would they, with no bathrooms, no running water, and no hot water. Even we didn’t bathe for 4 days.
Life on Amantani was about the things you had to do daily to survive–haul water, cook meals, herd sheep, gather eggs from chickens, wash clothes by hand and hang them in the sun to dry, weave or knit clothing (which, amazingly, they didn’t try to sell to tourists; in fact, there were no goods produced for tourists). In a way, it was like camping, busy but so much less stressful or busy than our technical lives. And although our stay seemed primitive, and not hygienically clean, we met a couple who had it far worse. The old woman they stayed with (all accommodations on the islands are homestays) kept 7 guinea pigs in her kitchen [guinea pigs are a delicacy in Peru], along with cats, and there was feces on the floor and flies everywhere.
Tequile was more heavily touristed, mainly by day trippers. There was a communal store selling handwoven or hand-knitted hats, gloves and shirts. We hiked, first to a school where a teacher invited us to visit and classroom and then to stone ruins dating from 100 B.C. The ruins were magical, neglected and empty. Peru, perhaps, has so many ruins, something 2,100 years old isn’t special.”
It’s always nice to get recognition in your hometown, especially if most people you know never read anything you write (unless, of course, they happen to be traveling to Japan….).
This short article appeared in the winter edition of Lawrence Magazine, ironically, not long after my spectacular bicycle crash in which I broke my left arm and several fingers in my right hand, thereby rendering me incapable of hefting a suitcase, not to mention typing.
After surgeries in October and November (metal plate and eight screws in my arm; two screws in my right-hand little finger, which had only 15% of the remaining middle joint intact and required a bone graft from my hand) I am much better, since almost anything would be better than not being able to dress yourself, wash your own hair or cut your own food. Indeed, my left arm is now out of its sling and I can remove my finger brace to type, but there are several months of therapy in my future. Someday I’ll be on the road again.
Almost every time I’ve been in Hong Kong–and I can’t even count how many that would be over the past 30-some years–I’ve spent at least part of a day in Stanley, on the south end of Hong Kong Island. It’s
long been known for its market, meaning, of course, that it’s no longer the place to go for bargains. In fact, whereas years ago the market dealt only in clothing, over the past couple of decades souvenirs have crept into the mix–which can only mean one thing: tourists.
But although Stanley Market has changed, I still love going there. Part of it has to do with the wild ride to get there, best done in a double-decker bus that careens around corners and races over hills, gradually revealing glimpses of the South China Sea. The village of Stanley, long a popular enclave for expats, is laid-back and trendy, with good restaurants and a beach popular with families.
For more on Stanley, see this article in Global Traveler:
Tokyo’s working climate has changed dramatically since Debbie Howard came to Japan in 1985 and subsequently set up her own market research company. Japan was on top of the world back then, and most Japanese seemed content with their own products and way of doing business. But the 1992 economic bubble burst made it painfully clear that Japan could no longer live without joining the global market. The 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown was a wake-up call that Japan also needed international tourists.
After launching an aggressive campaign to increase the number of international tourists to Japan, 2014 brought the largest number of foreign visitors ever, 13 million compared to 8.6 million in 2010. Japan’s goal is to have 20 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympic summer games.
Tokyo is also opening itself to foreign investors by creating economic incentives and providing assistance with complicated paperwork. All this and more is in my article Tokyo Focuses On A Successful Future appearing in the June issue of Global Traveler.
My business in Hong Kong is to write about it so others can be informed
and hopefully spend most of their valuable time enjoying it to the utmost. I hit the bars, dine til I can eat no more at restaurants that have stood the test of time and at new ones that are the talk of the town, check out the latest attractions and then drop dead-tired in as many hotels as I can fit in my schedule.
And I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Hong Kong Makes Doing Business a Pleasure is a roundup of some of my discoveries, published in the March issue of Global Traveler. And it’s true, Hong Kong is a great place for business travelers. There are restaurants galore, some of the best hotels in the world, and a wealth of shopping and sightseeing opportunities that can be slipped into a busy itinerary no matter where you are. You can spend all day in a business meeting, go to dinner at a fabulous restaurant with views over the glittering city and then get up on your day off and hike the Dragon’s Back Trail right in the middle of Hong Kong Island.
But no matter how long your trip, it won’t be long enough. It never is for me.
Ah, sleep. Does it matter where we do it? Absolutely!
Every country has its share of unique lodging opportunities, from castles and manors in England to eco-lodge treehouses in South America.
In Japan, there are the usual luxury hotels (though there’s nothing usual
about the wealth of decor and degree of polished service) and mainstream tourist hotels. But there are also traditional Japanese inns, Buddhist temples, love hotels (usually rented by the hour but also available for overnight stays), capsule hotels with coffin-sized accommodations, government-owned lodges in national parks and more.
Information on these and others, as well as where to go for more information, is the focus of my article Japan Lodging: Inns, Temples, Luxury Hotels and More in IndependentTraveler.com.
There’s so much to do in Japan, you could write a book about it! But it seems lists are big these days.
The five best luxury hotels in Hong Kong. The best national parks in the U.S. The best beaches in the world.
Here’s my contribution to the world of lists: The 12 Best Japan Experiences, published February 2014 in IndependentTraveler.com. Japanese cuisine, the Buddhist temples of Mt. Koya, biking across the Shimanami Kaido, the art island of Naoshima, hot-spring baths and more are on the list. But seriously, it should be The 100 Best Japan Experiences.
AAA is offering a guided tour of Japan, which I think is great (Japan still needs tourists, even two years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant fiasco devastated the Tohoku coast and sent the economy into a tailspin). This tour will take in Tokyo and Kyoto, plus a stop in Hakone along the way. You can read more about the tour in AAA Traveler’s March/April 2013 issue in my article, The Many Faces of Japan. (Well, maybe; you have to enter a zip code for Northern CA, Utah or Nevada; try 89501 for Reno).
In the same issue’s emag is my spread on Japanese baths and etiquette in Japan called Getting into Hot Water.
My Branson app, Branson & Beyond Traveler, was featured in an article in the Branson Tri-Lakes News. There aren’t any other apps out there on Branson that are written by an independent author (the others are from specific resorts or organizations pushing specific products). Here’s the link:
The Japan National Tourist Organization said my first video in May drew 1,000 hits over the past month–more hits, in fact, than Justin Bieber! (My friend Debbie calls it Reiber fever). JNTO filmed a second interview just before I departed Tokyo last week; you can see me just after Lady Gaga. Rubbing elbows with celebrities, if only in cyberspace.
I was interviewed by a reporter at the Washington Post. Unfortunately, after he turned it in a copy editor inserted that Frommer’s Tokyo had been canceled for 2012, which obviously isn’t true. Otherwise, it’s a good story.
I’ve been in Tokyo five days. The most noticeable change occurred right when I landed at Narita airport. The plane was full, but only a handful of people got off the plane and the rest flew onwards to Vietnam. I have never seen Narita so empty.
Otherwise, not many changes. Everything is running normally, with the exceptions that many establishments that deal with foreigners are keeping shorter hours because they don’t have enough customers, some restaurants have lowered the prices of their set meals, and lights are dimmed. Many businesses that depend on foreigners are suffering. I don’t think I’ve seen so few foreigners since I first arrived in the mid-80s.
The Japan National Tourism Organization interviewed me for their site. I came right after Justin Bieber! You can see me at this link to YouTube
My Hong Kong App, called Hong Kong Explorations, is now out on iTunes. Produced by Sutro Media, which has more than 200 apps out there, it covers about everything you can think of about Hong Kong, including lodging, dining, museums, sights, nightlife, and more. There are almost 200 individual write-ups and about 1,000 photos. It’s available at
I finally got my guide book contract for Frommer’s Tokyo yesterday, with the due date of this 12th edition set for November. My original plan to depart for Tokyo in mid-March was of course dashed by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, and though I optimistically thought I’d go in April, I’m now wondering whether I’ll even make it in May.
Tokyoites are working hard to get their world back to normal, but the prospect of rolling power blackouts this summer when air conditioning kicks in makes it hard to predict exactly what the future might bring. And of course, there’s that vexing question of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Who would have thought, a month after the disaster, that we are no closer to a solution than we were back then?
I’ve always tried to time my month in Tokyo when the cherry blossoms and then the azalea bushes are in bloom, making sure I’m headed back home before Golden Week (end of April). The absolute worst time to be in Tokyo as far as I’m concerned is during the rainy season, from about mid-June to mid-July, when it rains almost every day and I’m battling crowded sidewalks alive with enemy umbrellas and then have to stash my wet umbrella every few minutes while I duck into a store, restaurant or hotel to update my guide. Of course, it’s even worse when the rains stop, when the humidity rises to the equivalent of a steam bath.
But I’d take any of this if Tokyo were its old self, vibrant, quirky, fascinating, mind-boggling and alive. How can I do my work when the government is predicting factories will have to curb their energy usage by 25% or more, small businesses and stores in Tokyo by 20%, and residences by 15%? When I ask museums, stores and restaurants what their open hours might be next year when the guide book is published, won’t they just look at me in astonishment for asking such a stupid–and unanswerable–question? How can anyone know anything about next year? We all have hopes, but not much about the future seems to be in our control. And it seems futile to be writing a guide book about a future we know nothing about.
Junko, my friend in Tokyo, pleaded with me a few weeks ago to come to Tokyo, saying Japan needed me to promote the country to foreign tourists more than ever. I pointed out that people don’t go to Japan because of my guide book; they buy my book when they’ve already decided to go. And not many people are going to Japan right now, even though the vast majority of the country–southern Honshu, Kyushu, Okinawa, Hokkaido–is physically untouched by the disaster (being spiritually devastated is another issue). A week later Junko said I shouldn’t come, maybe not even until autumn, because I’d just be depressed seeing how much Tokyo has changed, like the life had been sucked right out of it.
The cherry blossoms came out anyway, and though festivals heralding the event were canceled and the mood was more subdued, people flocked to see them and to take solace. I’m always amazed at the crowds that turn up year after year, photographing and admiring the blossoms like it’s the first time they’ve seen them. To the Japanese, the cherry blossoms are like life itself, reborn each spring, fleetingly beautiful and expiring all too quickly.
It’s been more than three weeks since I received an early-morning telephone call on March 11 from a concerned cousin, calling to make sure I wasn’t in Japan. I shrugged it off, having heard of an earthquake that had caused minor damage a few days before and knowing that Japan is continuously shaken by tremors and quakes. I then checked my computer (I don’t have cable TV so rarely use that as a news source) and saw a video of a massive tsunami rolling across fields near Sendai and then replayed it over and over again in disbelief. I read that there were about 300 confirmed dead and that the quake had rocked Tokyo 200 miles away, disrupting train and cellular service. Convinced that Tokyo had survived relatively unscathed, I shot emails to Tokyo friends asking whether they were ok, looked at possible flights to Tokyo in preparation of updating Frommer’s Tokyo and sent an email to my publisher stating that despite the destruction around Sendai, I planned to go ahead with my itinerary to depart for Tokyo in two weeks.
The next day I heard back from several friends. Debs wrote, “We felt it plenty here in Tokyo–worst I’ve felt in 25 years, for sure; I literally saw my cupboards burst open and glass fly out and break all over the place! Then we started drinking, pretty much immediately…..There have been aftershocks all day….March 25th sounds great for your arrival.”
From my friend Junko, who works as a tour guide: “I took my clients to Ginza by walking and found many stores were closing because no elevators were working. Since no public transportation was running, I had no choice but to walk home. It took me three hours….I agree with you that it is ok to upate Tokyo now as we do not have any damage….”
Though clearly rattled by the earthquake and fearful because of powerful aftershocks, they and others confirmed that Tokyo had escaped relatively unscathed and that everything would be back to normal by the time I arrived.
From that point on, everything seemed to go to hell.
I saw my first TV footage of the tsunami later that day at a friend’s house, stunned by what I saw, overwhelmed by the images of towns being swept away, knowing that not everyone could have had time to get away. As the author of Frommer’s Japan for more than 25 years, I’ve often traveled through the Sendai area, mostly to the picturesque coastal town of Matsushima, just 50 minutes by ferry from Sendai. It didn’t seem possible that Matsushima could have been spared. Although only a few hundred people were confirmed dead from the disaster, I told my friend I expected the death toll to be between 20,000 and 30,000.
In the coming days, we all saw news from the stricken area that was absolutely heartbreaking. There was the anguished firefighter, who, when the tsunami warning sirens had gone off, left his family to help where needed, only to find his whole family gone by the time he made it back and crying that he shouldn’t have left them. There was the grandfather who went back to his home to retrieve photographs of his grandchildren; he was never seen again. There were people wandering in a daze, searching piles of rubble that had once been homes, calling out the names of sons, daughters, grandchildren, parents. The wasteland of debris was so massive and so shocking, it seemed like a war zone impossible to ever erase.
And despite the grim situation in the shelters that had been set up for the newly homeless, with no running water, no heat and no electricity, I knew the Japanese would be thoughtful, patient and orderly (in fact, the possibility of crime or looting never even crossed my mind). One news report showed that despite the mounds of destruction surrounding them, people in a shelter had dutifully set up bags for recycling.
But all this was overshadowed by what came next: the unraveling of the Fukushima nuclear power station 150 miles north of Tokyo. First there were the evacuations near the plant, then there were rolling power outages in Tokyo to conserve energy, then there was the exodus of thousands of expatriates and Tokyoites to the south or out of the country, leaving the capital eerily quiet and only a shadow of its usually neon-lit bustling self. And finally there was the growing fear of radiation and contamination, with no end in sight.
I have to say I am not surprised that failings at Fukushima were shielded from the public for far too long—Japanese authorities have never been known for transparency (the Japanese are averse to declaring bad news; even the dying are never told that their situation is hopeless). But I was particularly dismayed that more than 300,000 people—many of them elderly—who had suffered the unimaginable loss of homes and loved ones were still languishing in evacuation centers a week later, short of food, water, fuel and medicine. The Japanese bathe more than any people I have ever seen; the fact that these refugees had been deprived of one of their greatest comforts seemed doubly cruel.
As for my friends in Tokyo, subsequent emails gave voice voice to their growing concerns and fears. My friend Debs, who had left Tokyo days earlier amid growing concerns over the Fukushima power plant, wrote on March 17: “I am learning to write emails while simultaneously weeping…..Let us all hope and pray that things calm down. Meanwhile, I bought a ticket out of Osaka on Monday (the earliest available flight—they are FULLY BOOKED, as are the hotels).”
On March 20, Junko, who admitted that nervousness had prevented her from boarding a train since March 11, wrote that “many foreigners living in Tokyo have left Japan and are moving their offices/shops to southern part of Japan…Tokyo seems so quiet anywhere I go. I still feel frequent earthquakes in Tokyo and our fear for the crisis about the nuclear power plants is not over yet….Sometimes I feel that the history of Tokyo as a capital may end and [sic] goes to Osaka.”
Needless to say, I never bought my plane ticket to Tokyo. I am still in mourning; it is almost like someone in my family has died.
I am waiting. Waiting to see what happens in Fukushima. Waiting to see when power might be fully restored in and around Tokyo (there are fears now of summer power shortages due to air conditioning needs), waiting for the stores, restaurants and museums that I write about to return to normal open hours, waiting for “normalcy” in a metropolis I never before thought of as exactly normal (which is why I love it).
Of course I am worried about future earthquakes. There’s not a time I have traveled to Japan that I wasn’t. After all, I cover a country that has been plagued by earthquakes from the beginning of time. Never far from my mind is the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo that claimed an unimaginable 100,000 lives. I covered Kobe before and after its earthquake that killed more than 6,500 people. So when Tokyo is up and running, I will return; it deserves no less. And I’m still convinced there is no country better prepared for earthquakes than Japan; the tsunami was a disaster no one could have foretold.
As for Frommer’s Japan, I’d been planning to start traveling the rest of the country in June, but now my publisher wants to wait to see what happens. I suppose that’s prudent—after all, no publisher wants to publish a book no one will buy—but eventually Japan will be ready to embrace tourism again and it will need all the overseas visitors it can get. Since its economic bubble burst in 1992, small businesses in Japan—from inns to shops to restaurants—have become increasingly dependent on international travelers. It’s now estimated that the combined quake and tsunami might be the world’s most expensive natural disaster on record, with $310 billion in damages.
Sadly, Japan was in the midst of its VISIT JAPAN Campaign when the disaster struck, launched with the express goal of attracting 11 million overseas visitors in 2011 and 30 million by 2020. A few days after the earthquake, I received a small package from the Japan Tourism Agency, mailed just before the earthquake. It contained my new business cards declaring me a VISIT JAPAN Ambassador and a letter saying “We trust that you will continue your efforts toward making the ‘VISIT JAPAN Project’ as a success.” It was a bittersweet and poignant reminder of just how quickly everything can change.