First Impressions of Japan

First Impressions of Japan

Below are some observations of what I found unusual or interesting about Japan from my visit there. I hope they entertain you and give you a glimpse of my experience in this wacky and wonderful country! If you’ve been to Japan and want to add anything to this list or share your own stories, please do in the comments section, I’d love to hear about it.

• People are really polite and go out of their way to be helpful, to the point where it can even become inconvenient, such as showing you how to get on a train you don’t want or directing you how to take the best photograph.
• If you ask for directions, you will probably be led in person right to your destination.
• Most people are very petite and it is rare to see someone slightly overweight, making it impossible to fit in as large westerners!
• There are vending machines absolutely everywhere, selling every kind of soft drink imaginable as well as beer, cigarettes, chocolate and even cooked food.
• The main train stations are massive, and we got lost more than once whilst trying to find the right exit.
• Each train station has its own little jingle which plays when a train arrives. Lots of these are from well known songs, and some can be quite majestic.
• In rural areas especially, there are lots of cyclists who never use the bike paths and choose to disturb pedestrian walkways. Instead of ringing the bell to ask you to move, they artfully weave in and out of the people who are walking.
• There is matcha tea flavoured everything!
• The toilets range from being very high tech (with self-opening, self-flushing, music playing and rinsing capabilities) to basic squat toilets. Sometimes in one bathroom there is a choice of both to suit what people are most comfortable with.
• Every street is lined with loads of cables and power lines, which make quite impressive silhouettes in the evening.
• Most things, such as shrines, shops and museums, close early around 4 or 5pm outside the city centre, making lazy lay-ins impossible.
• Except for in certain night-life areas, in the evenings the streets are completely silent and barely anyone is around.
• Women dress very fashionably – mostly in loose, plain clothing – and have immaculately clear skin.
• People can smoke in bars and drink on the street, which takes a while getting used to.
• People rarely talk on the train, but often have a nap instead. I also didn’t see anyone eat or drink at the station or on the trains.
• Of all the Japanese manners I learnt before arriving, very few were followed by modern Japanese people, such as not displaying public affection or ordering the same drink in the first round.
• If in doubt, nodding and smiling gets positive feedback in all social interactions even if you can’t say anything other than “sorry”, “please” and “thank you”.
• Despite there being no rubbish bins to be found, the streets are very clean and tidy. Our hosts were strict on waste disposal and it seems to be taken very seriously here.
• The rural landscape consists mainly of forested areas instead of the meadows, farmland and shrubbery of the UK countryside. It is very beautiful.
• People are obsessed with cute animals here since pet ownership isn’t as commonplace – meaning cat, hedgehog and owl cafes are common! However animal welfare for both pets and livestock is questionable…
• Every single temple and castle we visited had been burnt down due to lightning or war and rebuilt.
• Food is either soft, sticky or slimy. Finding hard food in a meal is a rare treasure!
• The Japanese diet relies heavily on rice, which constitutes for the bulk of both savoury and sweet food.
• Zebra crossings alert you that you may walk by playing various bird noises.
• Ponds often have thriving communities of terrapin and koi fish who beg for food by gathering under bridges and opening their mouths.
• You can buy a decent meal out for £7.
• As a hobby or treat, Japanese people hire traditional kimonos and accompanying outfits, and walk around pretty parks and temples in them taking selfies.
• Animals are huge, especially butterflies, wasps, fish, crows and ants. Strangely the cats are still skinny though.
• People seem to be quite pious and often visit shrines and temples to pray. There are all sorts of good luck charms you can buy from shrines to help with love, study, wealth, family and health.
• Nothing is done by halves in Japan, and everything from adverts to shop signs to themed cafes are taken to the extreme by being loud, bold and obvious at all times!


Read more about my travel experiences such as what you come to appreciate living in Cambodia, or Misa’s story of starting a business as a young Cambodian woman in rural Battambang.


Thanks for reading!

A Glance at Endangered Species in Britain and Cambodia

Every week our volunteer team for VSO ICS in Banan, Cambodia has an Active Citizenship Day, which is where two volunteers teach the rest of the group about an important global issue. The first step to combatting these issues is by developing a personal understanding about the topic and then sharing the information with other people in order to bring about change. This week, Julia and Polin discussed endangered species.

We are currently facing the 6th stage of mass extinction. This means that a large percentage of the species on this earth is being threatened (over 16’000 animal and plant species are endangered species facing extinction now). A famous example of mass extinction was the time of the dinosaurs. In the past, these periods of destruction have thought to have happened due to natural disasters, such as volcanic eruptions and comets colliding with earth. However, the most recent phase is sadly due to mankind’s intervention in the world.

The four culprits of extinction today are:

• Tree clearing, to make room for building houses etc. and for commercially selling logs
• Introduction of invasive species, which out-compete the native species for resources
• Carbon emissions, which lead to climate change and acidifying oceans
• Meat consumption, which contributes towards CO2 emissions

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has compiled a “Red List of Threatened Species”, which rates animals from “least concern” to “extinct” according to their research. Among these, 41% of amphibians are threatened by extinction; 13% of birds; 25% of mammals and 33% of warm water reef building corals.

The colony of wrinkle-lipped bats coming out of the caves of Phnom Sampeau for their evening hunt

Endangered Species Near Us

In Cambodia, there are many endangered species, including the wrinkle-lipped bats which I talked about in my blog Bats and Rice. The Siamese crocodile is also critically endangered, as is the wild water buffalo, Eld’s Deer (which declined by a massive 90% between 2000 and 2010), and the irrawaddy dolphins living in the Mekong river, which are currently threatened by the construction of Don Saying Dam, despite there being only 80 dolphins left of that species.

In the UK, there are similar concerns for native wildlife. The species threatened include the nationally beloved hedgehog, the natterjack toad, the turtle dove, and the red squirrel, which is famously in decline because of the introduction of the more dominant American grey squirrel. Many insects are also listed as endangered, including the small tortoiseshell butterfly, which has plummeted in number by 77% in 10 years, the cicida, and cosnard’s net-wing beetle. The reduction in species for both of these countries is mainly due to climate change and habitat destruction.


How You Can Help Endangered Species

We are all responsible for saving this earth, but helping to protect endangered species doesn’t mean tying yourself to a tree for a month. There are many small ways you can contribute towards protecting the wildlife near you.
• Don’t use herbicides or pesticides, despite how good your garden will look
• Make your home animal-friendly by correctly disposing rubbish, growing a range of native plants in your garden, and leaving logs or compost heaps to shelter hedgehogs and insects
• Recycle, and wherever possible buy recycled products or things made from sustainable materials, such as bamboo
• Be conscious of your carbon emissions and cut down where possible (e.g. by cycling, or using public transport)
• Learn more: the first step to conservation is understanding the issues, so we can make informed decisions about how to deal with them
• Spread the word about the importance of conservation by talking to people, through social media, and conservation events
• Show support to organisations such as WWF, parks and wildlife sanctuaries which help to protect the animals’ natural habitat


The human race depends on a variety of animal and plant life in order to survive. Protecting wildlife may sometimes seem like a noble and pointless pursuit, but it is to ensure our own existence as a species and is therefore a concern for every person, whether they value the preciousness of life on this planet or not.