You're visiting Japan for the first time and have booked a very busy schedule. Much of what you will see and hear may be difficult to comprehend. How about a quick trip to the Tokyo National Museum near Ueno station for a little history lesson?
A very affordable fee of 620 yen can get you into 10 different exhibition rooms filled with colorful Japanese history, while you also enjoy some very interesting art. This will help your journey throughout Japan. When entering one of the historic sites, temples, or shrines you will say, "Oh...I read about that at the museum!"
During the self-tour, travel back almost 12,000 years coming forward to the late 19th century. Since Japan, China, and Korea all had early relationships you will explore certain periods where they influenced this beautiful island nation.
Upon entering through the gate there are six separate buildings to choose from. I recommend starting with Hokan Japanese Gallery especially if you have a limited time schedule.
Almost all the exhibits have English explanations, which makes this a fun experience. The museum is spacious with excellent lighting throughout. We started our tour with the beginning of Japanese art, moving on to how Buddhism was established in Japan during the 6th century by Korean royalty.
Yes, you can take pictures, but be aware that certain exhibits have a camera symbol with an X through it indicating no photography.
In other sections of the building you will learn about Zen and Ink Painting, The Art of the Tea Ceremony, Military gear, (do not miss the very nice sword exhibit), Noh Japanese Performing art, Edo period fashion, Painting Screens/Folding Doors, and Calligraphy.
If time allows, visit the Heiseikan Japanese archaeology building, Toyokan Asian Gallery, Museum Garden and Tea House. There is an English brochure available, which provides information on all the other exhibits. Walk across Uneo Park back towards the station and you will run into several other interesting museums making this a full day.
Wherever you end up in this country there will be something historic along your path. By understanding a little about the culture and way of life it will make your experience much more interesting.
I highly recommend Tokyo National Museum as a starting point for your Japan adventure.