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 and yet 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 some spectacular 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 kitchens and bath- rooms 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 work- shops in a variety of traditional arts, including the tea ceremony, calligraphy, Noh drama dance, Zen meditation and even flower arrangement. kyoto-machiya.com
Explore the weird and even 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
Shop from craft shops to department stores (where even a single small purchase will be beautifully wrapped). Shopping in Japan is nothing less than a cultural experience. And if you like garage sales, you’ll love the major flea markets at Tokyo’s Togo Shrine and Kyoto’s Toji Temple, where a sea of antique ceramics, silk kimonos, and lacquerware attract visitors as well as residents.
Learn more at jnto.go.jp.