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I'm going to Japan by myself in February, and I'm thinking of spending about a week visiting the Tohoku region.

Wikitravel mentions that some train services can be infrequent, with buses being a better option. It also suggests renting a car, but long drives by myself in a non-English country with snow on the road doesn't sound like a good idea. I'm not a very good driver!

I also suspect that within their cities, the public transport isn't as extensive, fast, and English-speaking as Tokyo's.

Can tour groups enable you to spend less time going between cities, and also enable you to get around within a city more quickly, and get you to locations you otherwise couldn't easily reach?

I've heard that Japanese people like tour groups. What are their tour groups like? Are they very disciplined, with a rigid schedule and itinerary? Do they go to a variety of lesser-known areas, or just the famous tourist traps? Are they mainly composed of salarymen, or do young people go in tour groups, akin to Contiki Tours?

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I don't have any real inside in the tour business in Japan, I travelled there independently, but here are some thoughts:

Being with a tour group does indeed speed up travelling in and between cities. You don't have to find out which bus or train to take, no waiting for them. no need to look for a parking space. The tour bus picks you up and leaves. On the other hand, you lose all flexibility.

I've been to several places outside of Tokyo (but not really the countryside) and public transport was pretty good everywhere, so I am pretty sure you can get to places unless they are really remote. Don't expect many people speaking English, but most would still be able to read a name of the place you want to go to in English, but having it written in Japanese would be better.

I think Japanese are not very different from other people when it comes to tour groups. Yes many older and insecure people use tour groups but you also meet many young single Japanese girls or guys who travel independently and hate tour groups. Many Japanese people try to get out of the uniformity of the daily Japanese life. Even if their directions only get you to the next corner, they may help.

Do you speak Japanese? I doubt you can find a tour for Japanese people with a guide who speaks English. So unless you book a whole tour for foreigners from abroad, I think it's better to do it independently.

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