It's ridiculous that a large, reputable West Coast newspaper cannot find a better qualified writer to discuss traveling in Japan.
Simon Hoggart's article ("Land of the Paper Birds: A Journey Through Beautiful, Baffling Japan") is the worst form of journalism: snide, patronizing and arrogant.
To perpetuate instead of disperse cultural barriers is irresponsible. Bowing in Japan is the equivalent of shaking hands or hugging or kissing as a greeting.
A more observant traveler would know the Japanese do not always travel in groups. Even on tours, there are tours that only get you a discount ticket and baggage service. The rest of the time you are free to do as you please.
There are also many books about hiking, biking or walking around the world--alone or with a friend. Japan has a tradition of solitary travelers and hermits.
I personally know about 10 Japanese nationals, men and women, who have gone abroad by themselves. The number of people who I have known or bumped into that have done so in Japan is over a hundred.
Lacking the observational skills, adequate linguistic knowledge and being too lazy to research, Hoggart falls back on stereotypes.
It's insulting and almost unforgivable that the L.A. Times should include such an ethnocentric article, particularly when such a large percentage of its readers have ties both culturally and economically with Japan.