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The Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) publishes a wealth of free, colorful brochures and maps. Be sure to get "The Tourist's Language Handbook," a phrase booklet to help foreign visitors communicate with Japanese. Other useful JNTO publications include the free "Tourist Map of Japan," showing the four major islands and major highway and railway lines, with maps of major cities on the reverse side; a "Directory of Welcome Inns," which lists inexpensive accommodations throughout Japan, with a free reservation system; and the invaluable "Railway Timetable," which contains timetables for Shinkansen trains and major train lines throughout Japan.

JNTO Online: You can reach JNTO via the Internet at www.jnto.go.jp (and at www.japantravelinfo.com for North American travelers; www.seejapan.co.uk for British travelers; and www.jnto.org.au for Australian travelers), where you can read up on what's new, view maps, get the latest weather report, find links to online hotel reservation companies and tour companies, and browse through information ranging from hints on budget travel to regional events. JNTO also showcases local's tourism attractions, Japanese cuisine, and other topics on YouTube at www.youtube.com/visitjapan.

JNTO Overseas: If you'd like information on Japan before leaving home, contact one of the following JNTO offices:

In the United States: 11 W. 42nd St., 19th floor, New York, NY 10036 (tel. 212/757-5640; visitjapan@jntonyc.org); and Little Tokyo Plaza 340 E. 2nd St., Ste. 302, Los Angeles, CA 90012 (tel. 213/623-1952; info@jnto-lax.org).

In Canada: 481 University Ave., Ste. 306, Toronto, ON M5G 2E9, Canada (tel. 416/366-7140; info@jntoyyz.com).

In the United Kingdom: Fifth Floor, 12 Nicholas Lane, London EC4N 7BN, England (tel. 020/7398-5678; info@jnto.co.uk).

In Australia: Level 7, 36-38 Clarence St., Sydney NSW 2000, Australia (no phone; travelinfo@jnto.org.au).

JNTO in Japan: Your best bet for general or specific information on Japan is at one of JNTO's three excellent Tourist Information Centers (TICs). They're located in downtown Tokyo, at Narita Airport outside Tokyo, and at Kansai International Airport outside Osaka. All distribute leaflets on destinations throughout Japan and can provide train, bus, and ferry schedules and leaflets on major attractions and sights -- for example, Japanese gardens, hot springs, museums, and art galleries. They also carry information on hotels and ryokan and will book accommodations for you for free.

Local Information: You'll also find locally run tourist offices in nearly every city and town throughout Japan, most of them conveniently located at or near the main train station. Look for the logo of a red question mark with the word INFORMATION written below. Although the staff at a particular tourist office may not speak English (many do), they can point you in the direction of your hotel, perhaps provide you with an English-language map (usually free), and, in many cases, even make hotel bookings for you. Note, however, that they're not equipped to provide you with information on other regions of Japan (for that, go to a TIC). I've included information on local tourist offices throughout, including how to reach them after you disembark from the train and their open hours.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.