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Tokyo features on almost every tour of Japan. Read brochures carefully and try to see through the inevitable pictures of cherry trees and geisha—to check whether what is planned fits your idea of a holiday. Is it temple after temple? Does the tour include experiences such as sushi and sumo—or are these only pricey options? Is the domestic travel by bullet train, plane, or bus? Japan can be quite a culture shock, so resist the temptation to pack in too much, and go for tours that include half days of freedom, because just stepping outside the hotel into the local streets is likely to provide some unexpected sights and experiences.
Japan is daunting for first-time visitors and anyone without Japanese-language skills, so a package tour is a great way to get into the country and find your feet. However, beware of expensive optional tours such as tea ceremonies, Kabuki tours, and night views. Local tourist offices can probably tell you how to have the same experience more economically.
Explorient Travel Services (800/785–1233 in U.S. www.explorient.com.)
General Tours (800/221–2216 in U.S. www.generaltours.com.)
Kintetsu (630/250–8840 in U.S. www.kintetsu.com.)
Japan, Tokyo included, is overflowing with art—from pottery and painting to the precise skills of flower arranging and calligraphy. Many tours include museums and art galleries, but only some get you right into the artists' studios with English-language help to understand their skills and the chance to try your hand.
Absolute Travel (212/627–1950 in U.S. www.absolutetravel.com.)
Smithsonian Journeys (855/330–1542 in U.S. www.smithsonianjourneys.org.)
There is no better way to learn the language than to immerse yourself by studying Japanese in Japan, with classes, a homestay, and cultural tours on which to put the newfound skills into action. The Japanese Information and Culture Center (JICC) website has good links to schools and procedures for study-abroad programs.
Japan Information and Culture Center (JICC) (877/338–8687 in U.S. www.us.emb-japan.go.jp/jicc.)