A First Timer’s Impressions of Japan

Today’s guest post comes from Amanda Carnagie who traveled to Japan for the first time earlier this year and is sharing her first impressions of the country. Amanda is a full-time workaholic trying to see the world with her limited vacation days. She believes you don’t need to give up your career to live a life of travel. Be inspired by reading her blog at TheWorldIncorporated.com and follow her travels on Twitter and Instagram.

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See these shorts? You’ll learn more about their elastic waistband later in this post

I woke up one morning with no intention to visit Japan.

That night, after a few minutes of deliberation and $450 (and maybe a glass of wine), I went to sleep with dreams of shrines and sushi. We booked impromptu tickets to Japan.

Spontaneous ticket-buying is not conducive to proper trip preparation, so when I say I didn’t know what to expect, that statement is not entirely true. I did have a stereotypical perception of what to expect in Japan, but didn’t give myself the time to learn about the country’s customs. I’ve always held a curiosity about the Far East, but when it came to my interest and study of Asian culture, I gravitated to China. I never got deeper than my surface level understanding of Japan.

That being said, how I interpret my first impressions of Japan are limited to those stereotypes, lack of proper research and planning, and experience through my tourist eyes.

Japan: Expectations vs. First Impressions

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Apologies to the eonochlophobics.

EXPECTATION: The crowds will suffocate me.

FIRST IMPRESSION: I know you’ve seen it — photos of crowds so dense, the reigning Where’s Waldo Champion would fail trying to find him. These types of crowds exist, but they are not pervasive. Train traveling during rush hour? Crowds. Visiting popular tourist sites in the middle of the day? Crowds. I found Japan to be a little less crowded than expected when I was smart about avoiding popular places at peak times.

EXPECTATION: Everyone will be dressed like a Harajuku girl.

FIRST IMPRESSION: Where did all these business suits come from? Every morning, a sea of black and white pencil skirts, tailored pants, and crisp blazers swarmed on and off the trains. Of course every region in Japan is different — Tokyo reigned with the business suits and Kyoto embraced tradition with an abundance of kimono. I expected to see bright, child-like attire on every corner, but even in places like Akihabara and Harajuku, that stereotype was drastically toned down.

EXPECTATION: The Japanese will be overly kind.

FIRST IMPRESSION: Japanese hospitality is the stuff of legends. Many travelers share tales of kindness and generosity and I can validate that narrative. It’s true — the Japanese are very polite, but they will not fawn over you. They’ve figured out the formula that balances intrusiveness with amiable regard.

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Navigating the train system… with the English option.

EXPECTATION: Nobody will speak English. I’m in trouble.

FIRST IMPRESSION: While I’d never assume that a country should cater to me because of the language I speak, I was surprised at the ease and convenience to navigate around and communicate with no Japanese language background. Of course, I stayed on the typical tourist track, so I can’t verify that this is the case off the beaten path. For anyone too intimidated to visit Japan because of a language barrier, don’t let that hold you back.

EXPECTATION: Japan is going to be the cleanest place ever.

FIRST IMPRESSION: My first few hours in Japan led me to believe I’d been teleported into some future utopian society where everything is clean and pristine. But then I spent time in smoke-filled restaurants. And carried trash in my bag because there were no rubbish bins in sight. And attempted to wash my hands in bathrooms with no soap or hand dryers. Japan is clean, albeit a lack of hygiene and sanitation access.

EXPECTATION: The food will be very healthy.

FIRST IMPRESSION: Japanese food is delicious. It’s unique. And it’s also very easy to slip into unhealthiness. You may think, raw fish! green tea! healthy! But start throwing in cute desserts and salty ramen and tempura everything and you’ll be craving a juice cleanse by the time you return home.

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Construction zone? Why use orange barrels when you have Hello Kitty?

EXPECTATION: Anime and Hello Kitty will run the town.

FIRST IMPRESSION: No, Japan is not Comic-Con on steroids. I imagined all of Tokyo to look like Akihabara. Instead, Tokyo is broken up into what I would call different “districts” — each has its own distinct and unique personality. There were sprinklings of anime and Hello Kitty, but it didn’t dominate.

EXPECTATION: My hotel room will be too tiny to stand in.

FIRST IMPRESSION: Not every hotel is a capsule hotel. The rooms were small, but just large enough to fit comfortably. In a country with limited space, you need to make the most of it. The most spacious accommodations we experienced were at a traditional ryokan.

EXPECTATION: I will be a giant.

FIRST IMPRESSION: I did have to go up a size in shorts because the elastic waistband (elastic!!) wouldn’t stretch over my butt. Besides my giant butt, I didn’t feel so giant. Although my husband, Eric, who would classify himself as “average” on the American scale, felt pretty massive when he bought XLs in everything while shopping. Strangely, the most common question we’ve received since returning home is, “did you feel like a giant?!” to which my butt promptly responds, why yes, I did.

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