Always a tourist favourite in Asia, Japan's mostly homogenistic society has made it something of a mystery to outsiders for centuries. Even Tokyo, its high-tech, thriving capital, is cloaked in an impenetrable Japanese culture that no amount of Starbucks can destroy. In almost all ways, this is a good thing. Travellers can experience authentic Japanese culture throughout the country. However, it also means that very little English (or other language) is spoken or written, and navigation and comprehension can be a massive challenge for travellers Japan-wide.
Japan is a culture-addict's dream, with its plethora of temples, castles, shrines, hot springs, gardens, national parks, well-preserved historic districts, and multitude of yearly festivals. Outdoor lovers can get their nature rush climbing Mount Fuji, Japan's highest and most prominent mountain, skiing in Sapporo and Nagoya, and biking the famous 88 temples route in Shikoku.
Japan's cold, frothy beer has been known to convert non-beer drinkers during its hot summer months, and its steaming, delicious sake keeps everyone warm throughout the cold winter time. Of course, these drinks are best accompanied by the country's world-famous cuisine, which is so much more than just sushi. Head to an izakaya, the Japanese interpretation of a pub, to sample many different kinds of foods, with friends (the phrase 'sharing is caring' has never been more appropriate than in Japan).
Though everything in Japan is very "Japanese", a few Japanese customs can't be missed, including staying in a traditional ryokan in Kyoto, where you sleep on a thin mat on the floor and are brought your dinner on a wooden tray; singing karaoke in your own private room at a bar in Osaka, overlooking the city's immense skyline; seeing the Hanami trees covered in cherry blossoms at one of Japan's many cherry blossom festivals during Spring, and experiencing a Japanese onsen, a traditional spa where everyone takes it all off and goes in the so-hot-it-almost-hurts water for a soak.
It's not a budget traveller destination by any stretch, but it's possible to see Japan on a smaller budget than you might think. Flying rather than taking the bullet train, though less cool, is smarter (often cheaper and always faster). Eating local food and staying in Japan's famous 'capsule hotels' is another great money-saving tip. Much of Japan's culture can be seen and experienced for free, you just have to discover it for yourself.