I lived in Japan for a few years as a child and just recently again lived on the outskirts of Tokyo for a couple of years. Here are some of my observations, favorite experiences and things I will miss…
Japan is a very rule based and civilized society based on the foundation of respect. You will see this manifested in so many ways. People are generally quiet and don’t talk on their cell phones while in public. Streets are clean. Crime is minimal. If there is a rule, people will follow it. You will get your first taste of this at the airport with the orderly lines. Even at the baggage claim there is a line around the carousel and nobody will crowd closer.
Japan is a mix of big city, small villages, and amazing nature!
Tokyo is a wonderful jumping off point to see the rest of Asia. It is not necessarily cheaper but you don’t have to deal with jet lag and you can find a direct flight to almost everywhere.
For those that have traveled extensively, you appreciate that there is always hot water, toilet paper and you can eat the salad.
Japan has very little trash or excess. As an example, napkins and paper towels are not really a thing and everyone carries a small towel with them. I have continued doing this even after we moved.
Japanese understanding the importance of relaxation and just being. Onsens (public baths) and picnics are both a great example of this. Onsens are a time to relax and spend time with family or friends. No distractions are allowed in the baths (no phones, books, radios etc..). Likewise, hiking and festivals always include family picnics. During a Sakaura (Cherry Blossoms) festival it is common to see families just lying down enjoying the blossoms. No games. No books. Usually some food. Just quite relaxed comradery.
I loved eating Ramen all over the country and finding my favorites. You will never find two bowls of ramen exactly the same. Every village and chef have their own specialty.
Japan is the future while preserving the past. As an example, I love the teamLab Planets and teamLab Borderless digital museums which are a very unique and futuristic experience that was pretty cool and just feels Japanese to me. But Kyoto and Nikko preserve the old ways of Japan and provide a peaceful glimpse to yesteryear. And even within Tokyo there are temples and gardens everywhere preserving the traditional past.
Japan is filled with beautiful nature. And I loved experiencing Japanese culture in the midst of beautiful flora, fauna and foliage – Japan is more than just cherry blossoms…plum blossoms, wisteria, azaleas… April through June and then September through November are gorgeous in Japan. Japan also has some fantastic hiking in the Tama Hills and Fuji regions.
Japan has so much to experience. You will never see it all. You can get a feel for Tokyo in a few days. If you want to get out of Tokyo then you need a least a week, preferably two.