|By Eriko Arita, Japan Times,
TokyoMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 20, 2010 --Want to get away from it all? Then why not fly 2,000 km toward the Equator from Tokyo to Ishigaki, the main island of the southerly Yaeyama group in Okinawa Prefecture. And once there, then treat yourself to a stay at Club Med Kabira Beach, where you can do almost anything you want -- or nothing at all.
From the airport, a hotel car makes a leisurely 40-minute drive along roads lined with palm trees and flowers to the resort in Kabira, which is known for its bay that's classed as one of the 100 most beautiful scenic spots in Japan.
Upon arrival, hotel staff offer welcoming jasmine tea known as sanpincha. Then, going through the lobby with its Asian-modern styling leads to a spacious pool bordered by loungers and white parasols. Beyond the pool, the eye is immediately drawn to the turquoise and cobalt-blue ocean fringed with gleaming white sandy beaches.
Due to the resort hotel's location on a cape, guests have exclusive use of the beautiful, peaceful beach, while taking one of the boats that goes a few hundred meters offshore opens up an undersea realm where, with a snorkel and face mask, you can watch schools of brightly colored fish swimming among gorgeous corals.
For scuba divers, too, Kabira's sea is "paradise" -- according to Club Med -- and that includes the sight of 3-meter manta rays flying through the crystal-clear ocean waters as a bonus for many.
Because Kabira has constant ocean breezes, the sea is also great for windsurfing, while there are kayaks for those with more easygoing inclinations.
Meanwhile, anyone interested in the ecology of Ishigakijima can join one of the resort's programs touring the shore with a local specialist between July 26 and Aug. 26 (at an extra charge of Â¥9,800).
Indeed, Club Med -- which is an international resort-hotel chain -- selected the Kabira location on Ishigakijima Island because of its great natural environment, said Heidi Kunkel, Club Med's general manager for Japan and Korea.
"We chose this site because of the beautiful beach and the wonderful diving, because Club Med runs a large number of sports activities," said Kunkel, an Australian originally hailing from Sydney.
In addition to the marine activities, the resort offers facilities for such terrestrial sports as archery, mountain biking, tennis and even trapeze-flying, Kunkel said.
With instruction by Club Med's G.O. (Gentle Organizer) staff, guests, including children, can enjoy any of these sports from beginner level up -- and it's all (except scuba diving) included in the price of the package.
In fact, the price of a Club Med holiday package covers the return flight from the mainland, transportation to and from the airport, accommodation, dining, drinking and snacking at the bar, sports activities, entertainment and childcare. It's all aimed at offering guests a stress-free, fun-filled vacation at an affordable price, according to the staff. Specifically, a three-night package from Tokyo (departing July 18-20) costs Â¥181,000 for an adult and Â¥139,500 for children aged 3 to 11.
That all-inclusive pricing system is one of the unique characteristics of Paris-based Club Med, whose first resort opened in 1950 on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca. Now, the company founded by a Belgian named Gerard Blitz and a Frenchman, Gilbert Trigano, boasts no fewer than 80 resorts in 25 countries, Kunkel said.
"Club Med started in the 1950s with the idea of bringing people together, especially single adults, to enjoy sports activities. Then, by the end of the '60s, we had people who'd been as singles but want to come back and bring their children," she said, explaining that the hotel chain launched its daycare service for children in 1967.
At the Kabira resort that opened in 1990, G.Os. take care of children from the age of 4 to 17 in either a Mini Club or a Junior Club -- though for an extra Â¥5,250 a day, children aged 2 to 3 can also be looked after.
As well as all this, though, what makes Club Med Kabira Beach so different from other resort hotels on Ishigakijima and in other parts of Japan is its multicultural environment. The unique blend of Okinawan, Japanese, other Asian and also Western cultures is there to see wherever you look, whether in Okinawa's traditional minsa fabric used for bed linens, the cocktails incorporating Okinawa's local awamori liquor and tropical fruit juices, or the sumptuous arrays of Okinawan, Japanese, Chinese and Western food -- including fabulous desserts, freshly baked breads and pastries.
At the restaurant, the bar and everywhere else in the resort, G.Os. -- who speak Japanese, English and often also French, Chinese or Korean -- help guests have fun during their stay and encourage them to meet others to build a friendly atmosphere together.
Emphasizing how guests are able to enjoy an international experience at the Ishigakijima resort, Kunkel said, "It's a very attractive package for Japanese people, who can come and have a domestic holiday as well as a safe, friendly and wonderful experience . . . and we have Okinawan and international culture here."
Every night, indeed, such attractions are in full flow at the resort as G.Os. lead entertainments including singing, dancing, acrobatics and juggling in its theater -- and that's after their day jobs as bartenders, receptionists, sports instructors or whatever.
In fact, really rising to his role one evening, at the finale of a show titled "Fiesta Latina," the lead G.O. invited the audience on stage to join in the dancing to passionate music. That night, one of the performers in the show was Singapore-born Chief of Village Merlin Chelliah, who said, "I do the performance because it makes it easier for the guests to join the entertainment when they see me, the person representing Club Med, being part of it."
Whether it's to enjoy nature, sports, entertainment, gourmet meals or sheer subtropical pampering, there are undoubtedly many reasons to join Club Med's show on Ishigakijima Island.
Club Med Kabira Beach flew Eriko Arita to Ishigakijima Island and covered the cost of her stay. For more information on Club Med Kabira Beach, visit www.clubmed.co.jp or call 0088 (21) 7005.
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Copyright (c) 2010, Japan Times, Tokyo
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