Whatever opinion one has about a place, the opinion is really more about the person than about the place. A person who only eats 3 things that his mother cooks would tell you that food in country X sucks, because the variety of spices challenges the imagination of his palette. A person who mainly enjoys the night life would say that country Y is boring while disregarding its other qualities, such as scenic landscape or bustling markets. If “things working” is very important to you, Japan is your spot.
Japan is so clean and orderly that you wonder whether it is actually populated by robots in human disguise. Trash cans are far and few in between, which implies that cleanliness is a direct reflection of its people’s sense of civic duty which compels them to carry trash around until they find a proper spot for disposal. The Japanese people are also exceedingly polite and pleasant. You do wonder who those “Please do not head-butt the conductor while intoxicated” signs are meant for.
Tsukiji market is completely worth the hype, especially for sushi fanboys and fangirls, although they might be slightly put off by the idea of eating sushi for breakfast, since most sushi shops in Tsukiji close by 11am. If you can stomach raw fish at 9:30am, the market should be high on the list of places to visit in Tokyo. However, if you expect to pay wholesale price for sashimi you’ll be sorely disappointed. It is by no means a cheap place to eat fish, but the price is very reasonable for the exceptional quality.
Izakaya is the equivalent of a bar in the western world as a place of after work hang out, except instead of wings or nachos people order things like raw liver. The portions are small and the chuhais (shochu mixed with carbonated water or flavored soda) are weak, so you can easily end up with a ton of empty plates and an empty wallet.
High-Roller option: yakiniku (grilled meat). You could break your bank if you let yourself go. Self-discipline is key. You’ll be able to find a 7-11 around the corner in case you need to pack a few rice balls in your purse on your way back.
No-Baller options: ramen (commonly ordered from a machine, which spits out a ticket that you give to the ramen guy, not sexist but they’re usually guys, like sushi chefs, behind the counter), soba (buckwheat noodle with soy based broth), donburi (stuff over rice, commonly chicken and eggs, fried pork cutlet, eel…). As you can see, all options are in line with the universal truth that carbs are cheap.
I love hot springs. The ultimate Japanese experience is to take the 1 night stay 2 meals included option at a traditional Japanese ryokan (hotel). Some places offer “western rooms” with real beds for those who are hipster enough to stay at a traditional inn but not hipster enough to sleep on an authentic Japanese tatami. The popular hot spring destination near Tokyo is a volcanic area called Hakone which is roughly a 2 hour bus ride from Tokyo. The hot spring water appears milky from the minerals, and I’d think twice before throwing it all over your face, if you have sensitive skin. My body was fine but my face turned red and swollen for half an hour after I carelessly splashed it all over my face as if it were the fountain of youth. How therapeutic is the water is probably up for scientific debate. If it’s good enough for these guys, it’s good enough for me. I am not sure whether I fully appreciate the quality of the spring water, or I simply enjoy taking a bath in a really big bathtub. However, one can always use a home-cooked Japanese course meal prepared by the ryokan.
This “city” 30 miles away from Tokyo is really more like a temples galore village. There is a beach, which wouldn’t excite anyone visiting from the Mediterranean region but apparently is good for surfing. Kamakura is a beautiful place for a relaxing stroll. The main touristic street near the train station sells high quality food and goods. Most temples are free entry. The most famous giant Buddha, however, is not for free viewing. If you wish to quickly snap a picture of the Buddha at the entrance without paying, note that they do warn you with a very visible sign which explicitly says “Please do not try to take a picture of the giant Buddha without paying (Buddha is watching you you cheapfck).” Ok they don’t say the thing in the parentheses but I think it’s important to note that Japanese people’s “politeness” can be misinterpreted as “tolerance” when Japan is a society that expects everyone to follow the rules to a T. When rules are broken, be sure that they will confront you, bowing, smiling and apologizing but clearly conveying the message that you are a barbarian.
Credit cards are almost useless in Japan. Cash is needed for most things. Enjoy the seat warming bidet toilet seats, which are installed even in some public bathrooms. Make your money’s worth and take a butt-spa everyday.