First impressions of Japan
Coming to Japan has been quite an eye-opening and exciting experience. After only a few days in this country I have compiled a number of my first impression observations. Although these observations may not be standard or the case for all people visiting Japan for the first time, these are my experiences and points of view as they unfolded.
A few things to note. I traveled with a small group of 16 people on a small bus. We have been brought around from place to place so this experience is based on being led around by someone knowing the local language and customs.
First of all Tokyo is a large city. One where English and Japanese signs are displayed side by side on road signs as well as in some stores, shops and at historical attractions. This makes it relatively easy to get around and understand. For the first time visitor, just learning a few simple words was a challenge to remember so having information in English is to say the least, very helpful.
Outside of Tokyo translations were a little less prevalent. Most of the handouts given to me by restaurants and hotels did not have a single bit of English on them, perhaps due to the little need they had to promote their place to English speaking visitors. They probably promote their products to local tour operators or local Japanese visitors.
Finding people that spoke Japanese was sometimes difficult. Although there were many cases where people did not understand English very well, a few gestures, pointing or simply bowing seemed to, if not get the message across, bring about a polite bow and smile in return. When buying food, pointing at pictures seemed to work the best. When asking directions, a few gestures seemed to do the trick, and if not, it was an adventure to discover what was around the next corner.
I found myself frequently trying to explain things with gestures only to later find that the person did speak English so simply learning how to say, “Do you speak English” in Japanese is a useful phrase.
Internet access is available in the Tokyo area but I have found it very difficult to find a place to plug in my own laptop for Internet access. This does tend to make things a bit difficult as the coin operated Internet computers I used did occasionally have widows based pop up messages in Japaneese. I couldn’t really tell if I was clicking “Yes”, “No” or “Cancel”. I just had to depend upon my experience with using a computer and hope that I was clicking on the right things so that the information I was typing in was not saved on the computer.
Food is a delight in Japan. But after just a few days of eating Japanese, food it is necessary for anyone visiting this country to taste some foods familiar to home. I have been brought to a variety of places and although there were a variety of things placed in front of me at each restaurant, there are some standard tastes that seem to repeat themselves over and over again which I was not used to. As a result, having the occasional piece of fruit was a special treat. Japanese food is delicious but it does take some getting used when eating it three times a day.
Coin operated vending machines are found everywhere and for everything. Not just one or two machines but in many cases up to a dozen or more machines. It seems like the majority of vending machines are for a dozen or more varieties of coffee or tea but you can also always find a can of coca cola and the rare flavour of Fanta. Make sure to pay attention though, blue means a cold drink and red mean it is a hot drink in a can. If you feel like a hot meal, sometimes you will find machines that sell deep fried food like french fries. It seems that you could live off of buying foods from vending machines although it can be a surprise to discover what it really is that you ordered as most items did not have English translations. Although I have not tried it myself, I am told vending machine fries are as good as those cooked in a restaurant.
Japan is the cleanest country I have ever seen. I have not yet seen any garbage on the ground except for the occasional cigarette butt. Even then these pieces of trash are not usually disposed of on the street, and when they are, they are not usually left uncollected. I saw a lady from a 7-11 convenience store run across the street to a parking area to sweep us a few cigarette butts that she saw on the ground. The area in front of her store was already meticulously clean. Obviously pride is placed in the cleanliness of their country.
Japanese people are among the most polite and courteous people I have met in my travels. They always seem to have a smile (although it makes me wonder if they are sometimes not laughing at me) and will always respond to you with a polite and definitive bow. Although it seems impossible to know what a Japanese person is thinking, it is gratifying to receive a courteous greeting and to reciprocate with the same greeting.