Language Classes & Cultural Experiences
You won't become fluent in Japanese in a week or two, but for longer stays there are language schools throughout Tokyo that cater to both the beginner and the intermediate. Check the classified sections of city magazines such as Metropolis for lists of language schools.
Two Hong Kong import luxury hotels offer a variety of cultural classes for its guests -- all at a price, of course. The Peninsula Tokyo offers a flower-arranging class and a sushi-making class, among others, while the Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, offers private lessons in the tea ceremony, ikebana flower arranging, and calligraphy lasting from 60 to 90 minutes.
Several hotels have tea ceremony rooms and demonstrations open to the public, including the New Otani, Okura, and Imperial.
For extra pampering, many upper-range hotels also offer spas, but for the traditional Japanese spa experience, you'll want to visit a hot-spring bath. Tokyo has two hot-spring baths, the Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari and Spa LaQua, but for a real hot-spring experience, consider a trip to Hakone or Izu.
Escorted General-Interest Tours
Escorted tours are structured group tours, with a group leader. The price usually includes everything from airfare to hotels, meals, tours, admission costs, and local transportation.
Despite the fact that escorted tours require big deposits and predetermine hotels, restaurants, and itineraries, many people derive security and peace of mind from the structure they offer. Escorted tours -- whether they're navigated by bus, motor coach, train, or boat -- let travelers sit back and enjoy the trip without having to drive or worry about details. They take you to the maximum number of sights in the minimum amount of time with the least amount of hassle. They're particularly convenient for people with limited mobility, and they can be a great way to make new friends.
On the downside, you'll have little opportunity for serendipitous interactions with locals. The tours can be jam-packed with activities, leaving little room for individual sightseeing, whim, or adventure -- plus they often focus on the heavily touristed sites, so you miss out on many a lesser-known gem.
That said, lots of tour companies offer group trips that include a stop in Tokyo, including General Tours (tel. 800/221-2216; www.generaltours.com), which offers tours to major tourist destinations in Japan. JTB USA (tel. 800/235-3523; www.jtbusa.com) offers tours that may highlight anything from Japanese cuisine to art. Esprit Travel & Tours (tel. 800/377-7481; www.esprittravel.com) specializes in small-group walking, hiking, and cultural tours that cover such interests as textile arts, Japanese gardens, and the old Tokaido Road. If you want someone else to take care of logistics but don't like group tours, Artisans of Leisure (tel. 800/214-8144; www.artisansofleisure.com) provides luxury tours with private guides that are tailored to your interests. For more information on escorted tours departing from North America, go to www.japantravelinfo.com; for tours departing from England, go to www.seejapan.co.uk.
For more information on escorted general-interest tours, including questions to ask before booking your trip, see www.frommers.com/planning.