I've never been to Japan before. Does anyone have any recommendations as to where to stay and even what to do if I'm a tourist? I plan on learning some basic conversational Japanese between now and April.
Staying: Japan has many hotels and usually you can find something even on short notice. Some sites that I use when booking hotels:
recently been expanding the coverage in Japan and usually you can find pretty good deals
was one of the first English-language booking aggregators and still has some places which are not on other sites. They also offer tours and packages.
. I think they provide the results to Japanican so probably have the same set of hotels, but maybe there are some additional ones.
- a cheap business hotel chain which can only(?) be booked directly.
Note that some of the cheaper places don't have a bath (or sometimes even a toilet) in the room and you'll have to use a communal bath. This is not as bad as it sounds as often there is a heated pool where you can soak for a bit, or sometimes a sauna. Check the room descriptions carefully.
Whatever hotel you book, make sure it's close to transportation and doesn't take too long to get there. It's less of an issue these days with smartphones and map applications but Japanese addressing is peculiar to say the least, and finding the place may be a challenge. Even taxi drivers often need help, so better to print out the address and directions if you plan to take a taxi from the nearest station.
What to visit depends on your interests and how much time and funds you have. If you have a week or less, you could pretty much spend it in Tokyo and around. If more, you can take a train to other cities like Kyoto or Osaka. In that case I'd recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass which lets you ride on all JR lines (including shinkansen) for no additional charge.
One site that offers good advice for travel is Japan Guide