Planning foreign travel in today’s world

I am planning a trip to Japan in May, and right now I’m working on finding places to stay for a few nights in Tokyo. It’s Japan, so naturally I want to stay in a ryokan to get the full experience. I browse the various ryokan websites and check review sites to get other travelers’ impressions. And then — lo and behold — in walks Youtube. You can search for a ryokan’s name and get videos people have posted from their stays, e.g., this video walkthrough of a room at Hotel Edoya (a ryokan, despite the name). It’s fascinating and yet somehow eerie to be able to preview the rooms in this informal way (perhaps made more eerie by the guy behind the camera getting a shot of his shirtless self in the bathroom mirror).

The other ultra-cool thing about trip planning, at least with respect to Japan, is Google Maps. I requested directions from Tokyo to Kyoto just to get a sense of how far apart they were. Instead of driving directions, gave me train directions. What does that say about cultural assumptions? I was blown away by how cool this integration is. It shows you four alternate trips, starting with the next departure time, and lists each train you need to take, how much time between connections, and how far you’ll need to walk (if at all). You can also give it future departure times to plan ahead. Why can’t we have this for the U.S.? I’d love it if the LA Metro schedule were integrated into Google Maps. You get all of the beautiful google zooming and panning, topography and satellite images, and you can (for example) follow your planned path and see just how close the train gets to Mt. Fuji. Totally awesome.