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Bus Tours Offer Unrivaled Access to Capital's Sights (April 18, 2003)

Hato Bus
Guides stand in front of an enormous Hato bus. (Jiji)
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.

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.

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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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