"Japan is the only place in the world where you don't need drugs to be amazed" an American guy once proudly exclaimed. It's probably the best way to sum it up.
Osaka is a mix between highly sophisticated westernisation and traditional values. It's also Japan's gourmet food capital so there's tons of quirky restaurants. The metro is best way to get around, but you need a PHD to use it, as it's far from straightforward.
The anagram lover's Tokyo, Kyoto is the quintessential Japanese experience - known for aesthetic gardens, the city's notable shrines, and potential for encounters with Geishas. A geisha is a dolled up girl in a kimono offering companionship services, although the tradition is dying down. Once the imperial capital, Kyoto is the historical epicentre of Japan, having survived the WWII bombings from the americans intact. There are over 2,000 temples and shrines across the city, it may be difficult to choose which to visit, I initially was going to visit 3 temples but I suffered "temple fatigue" after the 2nd one, so I instead made a beeline for the TOEI animation park, where you can learn about the history of the Power Rangers, see an Edo era village, watch live samurai fight shows and undergo ninja training. Not only was the ninja costume really fun to wear, they also give a ninja certificate at the end of the training, which may or may not be a licence to jump from roof to roof at night.
Just hours from Tokyo, Yamanashi is good for a day trip to see the famous Mount Fuji and experience the "inaka" (rural) Japan.
Polite people, clean streets, trains on time. Tokyo is a megalopolis that must be seen to be believed. It mixes the ultramodern and the traditional, from neon-lit skyscrapers to historic temples. The highlight for me was by far the beya in the Ryogoku area, which is where sumo wrestlers live and train. Every morning, sumo wrestlers grapple with each other in the ring right in front of you - close enough for you to smell their sweat. I challenged one of the wrestler, enthusiastically claiming I can hold him up for at least 10 seconds - which turned out to be very optimistic from my part. He could have wrestled anyone to the ground with just his little finger. Or maybe even just a glance. The most amazing thing about the sumos is that their bellies may look fat but they are actually as hard as a rock.
Tokyo was bustling with activity. Anywhere you go, there are thousands of people on their way somewhere. Train stations are ant hills of activity. And yet despite the urgency with which people move, everyone was so incredibly polite and civilized.
The epitome of Japaness is the Kawaii Monster cafe, where you get exposed to the zany "kawaii" vibe in Japan. Goofy get ups, wild coloured decor, unusual food combination (I had chicken with chocolate) and a very flamboyant show.
In Japan, toilets are very elaborate. All the controls are done via built-in remote on the side, and each button has a function: seat warming, perfume sprinkling, washing, and all kinds of "privacy violations". The first moment of contact was terrifying. There are so many buttons, so many unknown symbols and open-to interpretation figures. First there was a warm jet of water, then a fan blows warm air to dry your private parts. A roll of toilet paper lasts a very, very long time in Japan.
A cool experience to try is the Onsen which is a natural hot spring with bathing facilities. Men and women have separate sections, and once inside you have to strip completely naked. Japanese men might be shy, but in the onsen they sure were not, brazenly striking all kind of poses in the nude.