Japan: The Best of Old and New

View Photo AlbumView Larger Map| | But rather than becoming more like everyone else, the Japanese and their sprawling island home have become more distinct. (To read the full story, get the digital version of the April/May issue.)Plan Your Trip: Japan * Fly nonstop from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT) on Korean Air. koreanair.com * Stay at the Hotel Seiyo-Ginza in downtown Tokyo, a stylish modern boutique within walking distance of the fish market, main train station and all that Ginza shopping, seiyo-ginza.com. Those who prefer big hotels should consider The Peninsula Tokyo, which offers five-star panoramic views of the Imperial Palace Gardens, peninsula.com. Kyoto's most convenient digs are at the Hotel Granvia Kyoto, which towers right above the train station. The Sky Lounge bar offers awesome views of Kyoto, granviakyoto.com. For a different take on Kyoto, rent a machiya (traditional Japanese-style townhouse) near the medieval Gion or across the river in the market district. The romantic wooden structures are all fully restored with modern bathrooms and kitchens and are filled with art and antiques. kyoto-machiya.com * Eat yakitori (grilled meats) in outdoor restaurants beneath the brick railway arches of the Yurakucho district in downtown Tokyo. Not only is the food great, but the beer is cheap and the conversation lively. Tokyo's absolutely best sushi is found in the tiny restaurants (such as Ryu-zushi) that cluster along two narrow lanes inside Tsukiji Fish Market. And the best time to eat is the crack of dawn, when the tuna and other seafood are literally fresh off the boat. And don't forget to chase it with copious amounts of sake. For a totally different vibe, pop into one of Akihabara's innumerable "maid cafes" for an omelet slathered in ketchup hearts. MaiDreamin offers English menus and has two branches in Akihabara (third floor of the Zeniya Building and the sixth floor of the Sumiyoshi Building). maidreamin.com * Get around the islands with a Japan rail pass, which must be purchased before arrival in Japan. Train schedules are posted online, and be sure to reserve your seat the day before travel, especially on popular routes like Tokyo to Kyoto. japanrailpass.net * Fight like a samurai or wrestle like a sumo after taking workshops offered by H.I.S. Experience Japan. Courses range from Samurai Sword Action or A Day in the Life of a Sumo Wrestler to more tranquil pursuits like Make Your Own Sushi and Japanese Potter, hisexperience.jp. In Kyoto, Iori's ORIGIN Program offers workshops in a variety of traditional arts, including the tea ceremony, calligraphy, Noh drama dance, Zen meditation and flower arrangement. kyoto-machiya.com * Explore the weird and wonderful world of Japanese manga (comic books) and anime (animation) at the Tokyo Anime Center in Akihabara. animecenter.jp * Watch Kabuki at the legendary Kabuki-Za Theatre in Tokyo. Full-length Kabuki can run very long, but visitors can purchase separate admission to the three or four shows that comprise an entire play. kabuki-za.co.jp * Learn more at jnto.go.jp.|