On arrival in Japan, you are instantly confronted by the utter foreignness of its language, customs and aesthetics. In a world that is becoming increasingly homogenized, this culture shock can be wonderfully exhilarating. Although the size of the Japanese archipelago is roughly equivalent to that of California, most of the terrain is mountainous, and there is very little usable land. The close proximity in which people are obliged to live has famously resulted in an elaborate code of conduct designed to promote social harmony. Allied to this is a highly evolved concept of hospitality: Hotel employees are exquisitely polite, and shopkeepers greet you with gracious formality.

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