Kyoto, Japan’s ancient imperial capital for over 1,000 years and home to Japan’s many cultural traditions, arts and crafts, is going up in popularity. The ancient city continues to inspire the hearts and minds of an increasing number of nationals from the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, with the total number of visitors from the region opting for overnight stays in Kyoto increasing by 33 per cent in 2016 compared to 2015 figures. In 2016, nationals from UAE increased by 51 per cent, followed by nationals from Qatar at 43 per cent and Saudi Arabia at 11 per cent respectively. According to the latest figures available, 2017 results for the months of January and February show the trend is continuing at a 30 per cent increase across the region.
To further encourage Middle Eastern guests to visit and return to Kyoto, a new attraction known as Shinrin-yoku in Japanese, or ‘Forest Bathing’, is presented as a new attraction to not only experience the natural beauty of Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, but provide visitors with wellness effects that are reported to reduce stress while increasing wellbeing.
Shuhei Akahoshi, managing director of Kyoto Convention and Visitors Bureau, says, “Contemplative walks through the woods that reconnect the individual with nature can lead to decreased stress, natural mood elevation and even a stronger immune system. This means of mobile meditation has been recognised by the Japanese government since 1982 and has been endorsed by the Forest Agency of Japan as a means of improving quality of life. We invite visitors from the Middle East to share in this unique Kyoto experience, to not only enjoy the cultural, shopping and gourmet offerings that Kyoto is famous for, but also to return home feeling uplifted, healthy and inspired by nature.”
Forest Bathing can be enjoyed throughout the year, with each season providing its own unique experience. In addition to strolling along the bamboo grove paths, visitors have the option of traversing the groves by rickshaw. For female visitors, there is even the possibility of choosing a female rickshaw driver.
Dr Qing Li, President of the Japanese Society of Forest Medicine and senior professor at Nippon Medical School in Tokyo, has studied the effects of Forest Bathing and found that by using a mood profile, participants' feelings of stress, anxiety or anger had decreased through Forest Bathing experiences, and their perceptions of energy or vigour had improved. In two other related studies, Li and fellow researchers sent groups of young men and women on three-day trips that included several forest baths and a stay in a hotel in the middle of the forest. Blood tests taken before and after these trips showed a significant boost in natural killer cells, which play a vital role in the immune system's ability to fight off illness. Li speculated that Forest Bathing allows participants to breathe in air that contains essential oils from surrounding trees with active components such as limonene that have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties.
Several packages for the GCC market have been developed. A seven-day family package for a minimum of six persons highlighting the best of Kyoto and Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, start from $2,287 per person. The package includes return economy class flights from Dubai with Cathay Pacific, three-star hotel accommodation with breakfasts, seat-in-coach tours in both Kyoto and Hokkaido and airport transfers by English-speaking drivers. Starting from $4,165 per person, the package can be easily upgraded with business class flights and accommodation at higher grade hotels such as the Sapporo Prince Hotel and Hotel Granvia Kyoto, which includes private tours in Hokkaido and Kyoto. (Packages do not include domestic flights between Hokkaido and Kyoto and seasonal surcharges). The package is available through local UAE travel agents and is valid until the end of December 2017.
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