New bullet train to start rolling on July 1

A Japanese railway says that a new bullet train model will be put into service on the Tokaido Shinkansen line on July 1, in time for Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Shinkansen bullet trains began their service in 1964, right before Tokyo hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games that year.

Central Japan Railway says that the N700S is the first model the company has rolled out in five years. The company plans to introduce five of the trains before the games this summer and 40 by March 2023.

The N700S features a range of new security measures. Each carriage is fitted with six surveillance cameras, while the current model has two.

It can also draw power from built-in lithium-ion batteries to continue running in the event of a power outage.

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Cherry blossom forecast 2020 released! Sakura season shifts to new start time in Tokyo this year

Japan’s cherry blossoms are its most iconic symbol of spring, and if you’re planning a trip to the country, plenty of people will tell you that the most beautiful time to come is during sakura season.

But while we get three months of spring, the sakura themselves are only in full bloom for about a week, so thankfully Japanese weather forecasting company Nihon Kisho has just released its initial cherry blossom forecast for 2020.

In the popular imagination, the peak sakura bloom occurs in April, and the mental association is so strong that a Google image search for “April” in Japanese (4月 ) turns up a virtual blizzard of pink petals.

But if you’re hoping to see the sakura in Tokyo this year, you’ll want to get here before April even starts. Nihon Kishu’s calculations are predicting a warm early spring, and the organization says that cherry blossoms will begin to open in Tokyo on March 19, seven days earlier than average for the capital, with full bloom happening the following week, on March 27.

As a matter of fact, Nihon Kisho expects sakura season to arrive three or four days earlier than usual in just about all of Japan, with predicated dates for blossom opening and full bloom in other prefectures being:

● Kochi: March 19/March 27
● Fukuoka: March 20/March 29
● Aichi: March 21/March 30
● Hiroshima: March 22/April 1
● Kyoto: March 23/April 1
● Wakayama: March 24/April 1
● Osaka: March 25/April 1
● Kagoshima: March 25/April 5
● Ishikawa: April 1/April 7
● Miyagi: April 7/April 12
● Nagano: April 9/April 14
● Aomori: April 23/April 27
● Hokkaido: May 1/May 5

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No. of foreign visitors to Japan hits record high in 2019

The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached a record high of 31.88 million in 2019, but the growth was limited by a sharp fall in tourists from South Korea amid deteriorating bilateral ties, the tourism minister said Friday.

The figure marked an all-time high for the seventh consecutive year but the margin of growth stood at 2.2 percent, remaining in single digits for the second straight year, according to Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba.

The outcome clouded the outlook for the government to achieve its goal of attracting 40 million in 2020.

While overall visitors are expected to increase in 2020 due to the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, some previous host cities have seen a decline in tourists as they tried to avoid large crowds and sharp hikes in accommodation fees.

With the number of flights connecting Japan and South Korea already cut on reduced demand amid the strained ties, major travel agency JTB Corp. has estimated the number of overseas travelers in 2020 will only reach 34.3 million.

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Tokyo’s Kitty Theme Park

Tokyo has no shortage of theme parks to entertain visitors and residents. Tokyo Disneyland is the biggest and most well known but on the other side of the city, a 39 minute train ride from Shinjuku is Sanrio Puroland – the Tokyo home to Hello Kitty and her universe of friends.

Fans will ove this place – but what about me? I’m an adult without much connect to Kittychan. Can someone like me also love Sanrio Puroland? I’m here to learn about the park and explore – and with me is Jennifer Julien, my cat loving friend who asks the important question: Is Hello Kitty even a cat? (The answer is no, but you know that, right?)  We’ll also explore their food court and outrageous blue and pink curry rice dish!

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Russia, heat cloud Tokyo Olympics with six months to go

Uncertainty over Russia’s participation for the third consecutive Olympics and concerns over the heat hang heavy over Tokyo 2020 preparations, with only six months until the opening ceremony.

The Japanese capital has avoided many of the crises that dogged previous Games — International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach said the city is the best prepared host city he has seen, with facilities complete well ahead of schedule and tickets massively oversubscribed.

But elements largely out of organizers’ control have overshadowed the run-up to the 2020 Games, the second time they will have been held in Tokyo after 1964, when a post-war Japan wowed the world with its technological prowess and economic “miracle”.

Chief among these is whether Russian athletes will compete after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) imposed a four-year ban from international sporting events over what it views as a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Moscow has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but sources have told AFP a decision is not expected before May, just weeks before the Games open on July 24.

Bach has urged CAS, the world’s highest sports court, to give a decision that “does not leave room for any kind of interpretation”, warning of “real, total confusion” if the ruling is not watertight.

Russia’s up-in-the-air participation follows confusion at the Rio Games, where the IOC allowed individual federations to decide whether to permit athletes to compete.

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