Take a Japan Whirlwind Tour?

Another question from Japan Guide.  I imagine many people might consider taking a tour to take the stress out of planning a Japan trip.

Japan Tour

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I am planning to travel solo to Japan 2017 and would feel safer with a tour.

First of all, I’m assuming the asker meant “safer” as in “less worried” rather than “less afraid for my life.”  It goes without saying that Japan is totally safe for a solo traveler.  But I can see the appeal of leaving all the schedule planning up to a tour company rather than having to figure out for yourself where to go, how to get there, what to eat, where to stay, etc.

And if you look at the links to the suggested tour, boy do they ever take care of that:

22 Day “Japan-All-Over” Tour 2016

16 Day Japan Cherry Blossom Dreams – 2016

In both cases they are whirlwind tours covering lots of cities in very short periods of time.  You spend just a day here or there and then it is off to the next destination.  Aside from the time lost traveling, I imagine anyone who goes on such a tour must be exhausted nearly from the start.

That being said, I think someone who has some decent knowledge about Japanese culture and geography with a some basic understanding of regional differences and has been to Japan at least a couple of times already might get a lot out of such a tour.  Of course, I imagine that this person could easily arrange such a trip for themselves and match it up to their own exact tastes much better.

In any case, I could not discourage a first time visitor enough from taking this sort of tour.  If you’re new and nervous about visiting Japan for the first time (and on your own as the asker is planning), you’ll only do yourself a disservice by selecting such a whirlwind tour as these.  You won’t have the basic understanding to get very much out of the experience of seeing various regions, city and countryside, etc. and will just feel assaulted by the huge mishmash of Japanese culture coming at you all at once.  Essentially, the basic problem is that Japan is very different from the rest of the world, and especially the West.  To get a feel for Japan and a beginning of an understanding you need time.  A slow, almost motionless trip is the best for an unsure (or even overly sure) beginner.

My alternative recommendation for this person would not be to try and figure out a complicated schedule for yourself to rival those offered by the tour company, but to schedule little to nothing.  Take however long you might have and just plan to stay in Tokyo during its entirety.  Maybe make a list of things you’re interested in seeing, but don’t plan any more than one or two places per day.  Then, after you arrive, be flexible.  Go where your mood and your feet take you.  If something catches your eye, go investigate it.  Spend time just wandering aimlessly about the streets, soaking in the differences in architecture, urban design, people’s fashions and mannerism, etc.  Waste away hours in a convenience store pouring over all the different snacks available, then spend the rest of the day looking at their manga corner.  Take that evening in your hotel to savor your selections.  Get on the Yamanote-sen loop line and take a tour of the city for $1.40, or get off anywhere that piques your interest.  Go up to the free observation deck in the Tocho city hall building and marvel over the vastness of the largest city ever built in human history.

But whatever you do, take your time.  Take your time to adjust, to soak in the differences, and to feel.  At the end your trip will look far less impressive on paper than the person who shelled out for the whirlwind tour, and your photos (while probably just as numerous) will be of a more daily life nature compared to theirs which will be a hodgepodge of major tourist attractions, but I guarantee you’ll walk away the more knowledgeable of Japan, Japanese culture, and Japanese people.  You’ll be lightyears closer to understanding what Japan is and what it feels like, rather than just what it looks like through a camera’s lens.

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