Japan isn't a country I'd normally consider visiting, because of its distance from anywhere I've lived, the expensive prices and the difficulty of communication. However, with a cousin teaching English near Tokyo, I took the plunge and paid a two week flying visit, hoping to catch some of the ancient and modern aspects of its culture.
For an experience of the modern, Tokyo can't be beaten. With no hotel booked on the night I arrived, I took the opportunity to wander around Shinjuku, one of the main entertainment districts, until 2AM, thoroughly awake courtesy of jet lag. I then bedded down in a capsule hotel, a refuge for drunken salarymen who have missed the last train home, with hundreds of 8 foot by 3 foot by 3 foot capsules stacked two high, each equipped with mattress, pillow, alarm clock and television set. The next night I visited Akihabara, the world-famous neon lit electronics shopping quarter, where you can buy every imaginable piece of electronic equipment, as well as others unimaginable. Leaving Tokyo, what better way to travel then by the epitome of modern Japan, the Bullet Train.
Tokyo does have some reconstructed history, primarily in the form of the Imperial Palace, but if you really want to see Japan as it used to be, Kyoto and its surrounding area is the best place to visit. Deliberately spared from bombing during World War 2 because of its cultural significance, Kyoto has enough buddhist temples and shinto shrines to satiate even the most enthusiastic visitor. The nearby town of Nara is perhaps even more impressive, with the Todai-ji temple, the world's largest wooden building, and the 50 foot high Buddha figure inside, one of the world's largest bronze statues. A quick stopover in Himeji, some hours to the West of Kyoto by bullet train, allows you to tour historic Himeji Castle, considered Japan's finest.
History of another kind dominates Hiroshima, a surprisingly pleasant city with a number of points of interest in its vicinity. Chief among them, of course, is the symbol of Hiroshima, the Atomic Bomb Dome, one of the few buildings not completely demolished when the bomb exploded. Directly across one of Hiroshima's rivers is the Peace Park, with sculptures, memorials and the Atomic Bomb Museum, a must-see, and a real surprise because of its honesty and unblinkered view of the events surrounding the disaster. As well as its parks and rivers, Hiroshima is located on an ocean bay dotted with oyster farms and with the nearby island of Miya-jima, home to the Floating Torii, long regarded as one of Japan's "Three Best Sights".
Far to the South of Japan's mainland is Okinawa, an island whose culture was long distinct from the rest of Japan. Unfortunately, this culture was almost totally erased in 1945 under the combined assault of Allied bombing and an invasion which took almost three months to subdue the 120km (80 mile) long island. Still, some relics of this battle remain, like the underground Japanese Navy Headquarters where 4000 men committed suicide. Other attractions are in the tropical waters around the island, known for good diving and snorkelling.
Two weeks in Japan wasn't anywhere near enough to do more than scratch the surface, or to see more than a little of the weird and wonderful world of Japanese culture. But I was certainly glad to have had the experience, and I made sure not to ruin it by totalling up the bills!