Japan is an interesting country to visit, both ancient and exotic yet up to date and modern. In the larger cities finding someone who speaks English is not impossible, as everyone takes English as a second language in high school or elementary school. Unlike Westerners who can be quite rude to foreign visitors who do not have fluency, you will find people in Japan are charmed by your effort to "try." There is no expectation that one would be fluent in their language, as it is a subtle language with myriad layers of politeness. One either has a instinct for the subtleness or not. Saying less, leaving out the subject in a sentence (implying the subject by your verb form is most elegant) and trailing off the end of a sentence, are all manner of speaking "like a native."

Japan is not as ancient as China. It's very name "Land of the Rising Sun" connotes it was named by someone standing on the mainland of Asia looking across the inland sea. After all, if you were standing on Japanese soil, the sun would appear to be rising to the East. Some Americans think that Chinese and Japanese are related languages because Japanese makes some use of the Chinese characters, known as "kanji" in Japanese. In truth there is no linguistic connection between the two languages. Chinese is a tonal language, where Japanese, much like Western European languages relies on verb endings and modifications to denote tense and level of politeness. The Japanese took the Chinese characters for meaning only, and then created a phonetic alphabetic system of their own to symbolize the necessary sound endings for verbs and plurals. Therefore, the same written character meaning "to walk" would be used in both languages, but in Japanese additional phonetic characters would follow for verb endings like "ing" or "s" etc.

Medieval Japanese also followed Chinese in the textile industry, creating silks of intense beauty and striking patterns. Traditional kimono are rarely worn today except for ceremonial events, like a wedding, none the less they are collectibles as works of art. They are often displayed both framed and unframed. In addition to silk, cotton textiles and quilting is popular. The pattern shown on kimono and the shorter yukata are usually symbolic, referencing old fairy tales, warrior heroes, or beautiful places in Japan.

Food in Japan is something many Westerners find daunting, because it's just so different. Traditional Japanese food, contrary to popular belief, is not all healthy. I encourage you to try some of the more fun Japanese Junk Food. Street vendors will be only to happy to ply you with sweet roasted chestnuts in the winter, fried squid coated in an exquisite sauce, and then there's noodles. The main types of noodles are the flat, slightly spongy Udon noodles, the more slender Saimin, and the grayish colored buckwheat noodles. What's different about noodles? you ask. Try them with a raw egg cracked on top. The steaming heat will only half cook the egg, leaving the yolk to make a yummy broth. Other popular add-ins are tofu, sea weed (called "nori") and ginger.

"Omiyage" In American culture we're quite familiar with the concept of souvenirs. Who doesn't like a buy a cute reminder from a nice vacation? The object may not be a particularly useful one, but it reminds us fondly of places we've visited. In Japan there is a similar concept of "omiyage." These are site specific objects, often food for tourists to buy. The main difference being, you would buy a souvenir for yourself, whereas you would buy "omiyage" for your office mates, your neighbors, friends, i.e. other people to show them where you've been. Certain geographic locations will become famous for hainvg certain fabric, wrapping paper, styles of pottery or food treats associated with them.

Theater in Japan spans all sort of dimension. There is modern Western style events, both Western style classical music and ballet are fairly popular. But there are also ancient style such as the puppet theater "Bunraku", the famous "Kabuki," the quasi-religious "Noh", the more accessible comedic form of Rakugo. The costuming for any of these events is colorful, fabulous and very Japanese. No trip would be complete with out at least on theatrical event.