Bus Tours Offer Unrivaled Access to Capital's Sights (April 18, 2003)
One element of the Tokyo streetscape that is hard to miss
is the giant black-and-yellow coaches of Hato
Bus Co., a well-known bus-tour provider that has operated in the city for
over 50 years. Hato buses play a role similar to that of New York City's Gray
Line and London's open-top double-deckers. Although Hato experienced a slump in
business for a time, its daytrips around the city and its environs have recently
been making a comeback. The company's recent route adjustments, which were based
on the findings of detailed customer surveys, appear to be paying off.
|Guides stand in front of an enormous Hato bus. (Jiji)
New Sightseeing Routes
Hato Bus Co. was founded in 1948 under the auspices of the Tokyo Metropolitan
Government. Its mission was to introduce Tokyo, Japan's capital city, to the world.
The company's tours, complete with running commentary by cheerful female guides,
earned widespread popularity and a reputation for good value. Passenger numbers
declined, however, perhaps in part because the sightseeing routes had become stale,
and in 1989 Hato's troubles reached a crisis point. This prompted the company to
reconfigure its routes in an effort to attract new business and entice its existing
customers to come back for more.
Hato also purchased new vehicles for its fleet. In making this purchase, the company
took very seriously a comment it had received from passengers: that being able
to look down at the coaches of other companies from a tour-bus window gave them
a sense of superiority. In response to this feedback, Hato invested an extra ¥2
million ($16,667 at ¥120 to the dollar) in each of its new buses to have the
seats raised by 5 centimeters. The company's determined efforts to boost customer
satisfaction helped to reverse its decline, and at the end of the June 2002 business
term, Hato Bus was able to resume dividend payments to shareholders.
Tours to Suit Every Taste
Hato Bus offers a variety of tours. One of the most popular these days is the
Hanamachi Geisha tour, which features dinner at a traditional Japanese restaurant
in Mukojima, a district famous for being home to large numbers of geisha. Seated
on the restaurant's tatami floor, participants partake of a feast served on individual
lacquered trays and are entertained by geisha performing a traditional dance.
Ordinarily, visitors would have to shell out an eye-popping amount of money to
experience such a slice of traditional dining and dance. But the Hato Bus tour
costs just ¥9,800 ($81.67) per person, putting a taste of old Edo well within
reach of many travelers.
Among the firm's other packages are one that features lunch
at a restaurant in Yokohama's Chinatown and one that includes a day pass to Tokyo
Disneyland. Other tours feature trips to watch sumo or baseball or to see a traditional
Japanese garden. By offering a window on aspects of city life that are not readily
accessible to ordinary individuals, Hato Bus tours have found favor not only among
visitors to Tokyo but also among residents of the capital.
Tea Ceremony and Kabuki Popular Among Foreign Tourists
Hato Bus tours attracted a total of about 210,000 customers in 2002, a 50% increase
over the previous year's figure. In an effort to further boost its business, the
company is targeting not only travel agencies and individuals within Japan but
also visitors from overseas. Two of the company's English-language tours are particularly
popular among foreigners: Dynamic Tokyo, which offers a sampling of highlights
including visits to Tokyo Tower, a traditional tea ceremony, a Japanese barbecue,
and the downtown district of Asakusa; and Kabuki Night, which makes Kabuki accessible
to non-Japanese-speaking audiences by taking participants to a Kabuki performance
at which English-language narration is provided through earphones.
Hato, which prides itself on showcasing Tokyo as a vibrant international city,
is striving to develop new products that will further delight its growing ranks
of satisfied customers.
Related Web Sites
Hato Bus Co.
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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