Travel and Tourism

Why Pinoys will love this new hotel chain in Japan

OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes - The Philippine Star
Why Pinoys will love this new hotel chain in Japan
Osaka’s shopping mecca: Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s biggest shopping arcade, boasts a wide array of fashion and beauty shops with both local and well-known international brands.

It’s so easy to fall in love with Japan — its fascinating culture, the delicious food, the incredible innovation, the fully automated (heated) toilet seats, the capsule hotels, the faster-than-lightning bullet trains and the strict code of conduct when you meet someone local.

There’s this mesmerizing gracefulness about the way Japan can simultaneously be obsessed with every quirky contemporary fad, while still maintaining a reverent respect for its past.

I first went to Japan in 2006 on a whirlwind tour of Tokyo. Coming back to Japan (Osaka) just this month for a work trip, it felt like the first time all over again.

Osaka is less challenging than Tokyo. I also find the locals friendlier, less uptight.

And just like Tokyo, it’s a shopper’s mecca. Be prepared to get lost in a (shopping) maze called Don Quijote, that crazy department store/supermarket that offers every flavor of KitKat found only in Japan, kawaii items, even dildos!

Osaka’s biggest shopping arcade — Shinsaibashi — starts from one end of the Dotonbori Bridge. It boasts a wide variety of fashion and beauty shops with both local and well-known international brands. Shinsaibashi is the best place to people watch and get a sense of the local trends and fashions. The strip is also peppered with restaurants and cafes that offer waffles and crepes to pizzas, takoyaki and okonomiyaki, to Wagyu ramen, even green tea soft-serve ice cream.

In terms of food, Osaka rocks! Sure, there are posh Michelin-star restaurants in Tokyo, but when it comes to comfort Japanese food — ramen, takoyaki, okonomiya, yakitori, etc. — Osaka takes the spotlight. Lest you forget, Osaka is the birthplace of Pablo, known for the freshly baked cheese tarts Pinoys are crazy about.

These, I guess, are some of the things that endear Osaka to travelers — make that Pinoy tourists.

Your home away from home

With visa rules relaxed, visiting Japan has become an attractive option to budget-minded, travel-savvy Filipinos who make it a habit to regularly check online for discounted flights offered by low-cost carries like Cebu Pacific, which flies daily from Manila-Tokyo, three times weekly from Cebu-Tokyo and five times weekly from Manila-Osaka.

Add to that the availability of different types of accommodation. While capsule hotels appeal to backpackers, others have bookmarked the home-sharing app Airbnb on their smartphones for more options.

This growing market of Filipino visitors is exactly what the Japanese real estate group Xymax wants to tap. Partnering with Gokongwei-led property developer Robinsons Land Corp., Xymax has introduced a new budget hotel chain called Karaksa Hotels, which caters mainly to Filipinos and other Southeast Asian tourists.

“My colleagues chanced upon representatives of Go Hotels, Robinsons Land’s budget hotel chain, in a convention in Singapore a few years back,” shared Ryuhei Mori, head of overseas business development, Xymax, during the press briefing held at Xymax’s office in Osaka. “We’ve been hearing so many good things about Go Hotels. Needless to say, it became our peg for Karaksa.”

Ryuhei was joined by his colleague business development officer (for the Philippines) Karen Barretto, who noted that the growth in Southeast Asian tourists in Japan has surpassed that of Chinese visitors.

“Karaksa Hotels in Osaka and Kyoto have taken into account the preferences of Southeast Asians — particularly Filipinos — taking a page from Robinsons Land’s budget hotel chain, Go Hotels,” explained Karen, who hails from Bicol.

But unlike Go Hotels, the Karaksa Hotels is somewhere between economy and high-end. It does not have a gym or swimming pool, but it boasts complete room facilities, including a separate toilet and bath that’s roomy by Japanese standards.

Under the partnership, Go Hotels serves as the marketing arm of Karaksa Hotels. In fact, it has started selling hotel rooms in Japan’s newly opened Karaksa Hotels in Osaka and Kyoto via its online distribution platform, allowing it to serve the growing number of Filipino tourists in Japan. Karaksa, on the other, hand, used Go Hotels as its inspiration for its rooms and services.

Happy to serve (Pinoys)

During our four-day trip, which was organized by Xymax and Robinsons Land Corporation led by RLC director for corporate and public relations Roseann Coscolluela-Villegas and Go Hotels marketing manager Jacquelyn Flores Lim, we were billeted at Karaksa Hotel Osaka Shinsaibashi, which is an hour away from the airport (by the Karaksa bus). If you’re traveling with a group (say, four people) on a budget, it’s best to take the Nankai train to Namba (approximately 40 minutes) than a limo service. The train fare costs around P500. From Namba, you can take a cab (a 10-minute ride) to the hotel.

“We had the Filipino travelers in mind when designing the room,” Karen said with an impish grin. Filipinos love to shop so they always bring several pieces of luggage. At Karaksa Hotels, the beds are elevated so guests can slide their luggage underneath to save space. Cabinets were replaced by wall-mounted hooks — again, to save space.

And since Filipinos always complain about the centrally controlled air conditioning when they stay in Japan, Karaksa Hotels opted to have an air conditioner installed in each room. Electrical outlets are aplenty so guests can charge their gadgets at the same time. The Wi-Fi signal is strong, too.

There’s a social lounge with vending machines and coin-operated massage chairs where guests can relax and have a quick fix. Just across it is the dining hall where breakfast is served.

Despite these Pinoy touches, Karaksa Hotels still includes Japanese elements such as the fully automated toilet seat, sanitized room slippers and the freshly washed, neatly ironed pajama set, apart from the Shiseido toiletries.
On top of these, Karaksa Hotels has its own bus service and tour packages to provide guests a complete experience in the city.

Osaka on foot

If you’re staying at Karaksa Hotels Osaka, look for Grace Saayo. She’s Pinay so she’ll gladly share tips on where to shop and dine.

If you want to explore Shinsaibashi on foot, from the hotel, go to Nagahoribashi station, which is already connected to the underground shopping arcade (Crystal) to Shinsaibashi. You don’t have to take the train, just enjoy the walk. If you get hungry, drop by Wako, the tonkatsu place highly recommended by Grace. From Wako, just keep on walking until you reach the 3-Coin Shop where everything sells for Y324 (P160). Take the escalator right beside the shop and voila, you’re already at Shinsaibashi facing Zara, H&M and Uniqlo where you can raid the “sale” racks that offers items for as low as Y500 (P250). I got an Ines de Fressange hoodie and Airism top for only P250 each. For beauty junkies, go to Matsumoto Kiyoshi where you can find Shiseido eyebrow pencils and eyeliners for only P60; and Canmake, an affordable makeup brand for teens.

One-hundred-yen (Y100) junkies are in for a treat at Seria and Daiso. Don’t leave Osaka without trying the macha soft serve ice cream at Shinsaibashi; having a tempura lunch at Orankuya in Umeda; a bowl of ramen at Ichiran; yakitori yatai-style (turo-turo); and if you have extra dough, an authentic Japanese meal at Sakuichi, a Michelin-star restaurant in Shinsaibashi.

“These places are just a short ride/walk away from Karaksa Hotels. So, the next time you visit Osaka, consider Karaksa Hotels as your home away from home,” enthused Karen. Writing about all these things makes me want to pack my bag and fly back to Osaka soon.

* * *

Karaksa Hotels is expected to continue its expansion in the coming years, with another branch in Osaka set to open in 2017. A hotel in Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido slated for 2018 launch. Xymax is also targeting to open a hotel in Tokyo in 2019, just in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
For reservations, visit www.gohotels.com.



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