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Surrounded by sea, the island nation of Japan has long been a stopping place for ocean voyages, absorbing itinerant cultural influences and making them uniquely Japanese. The port cities were often home to samurai, the clan chieftains, and the great feudal lords, who, while fending off foreign rule, were trading with the outside world. These ports then formed the filter through which external influences passed to the interior.

Japan is an intricate blend of East and West. Thus, that modern high-rise may look Western, but it may contain a rustic-looking restaurant with open charcoal grills, corporate offices, a pachinko parlor, a high-tech bar with views of Mount Fuji, a McDonald's, an acupuncture clinic, a computer showroom, and a rooftop shrine. Your pizza may come with octopus, beer gardens are likely to be fitted with Astroturf, and "parsley" refers to unmarried women older than 25 (because parsley is what's left on a plate). City police patrol on bicycles, garbage collectors attack their job with the vigor of a well-trained army, and white-gloved elevator operators, working in some of the world's swankiest department stores, bow and thank you as you exit. Because of this unique synthesis of East and West into a culture distinctly Japanese, discovering it is like peeling an onion - one layer is uncovered only to lead to more layers underneath. No matter how long you stay in Japan, constant discovery is one of the most fascinating aspects of being here.