First impression of Japan

Recently I went on a vacation. Destination? Japan. I decided that the day by day recount of my experience (such as when I described my New Zealand trip) is too much (for me and you). So I’m going to just drip feed the stories.

It was a self-prepared itinerary. My brother was the one planning everything. The hotels my brother and I stayed at (there were 2) are based in Tokyo. I also learnt that Tokyo is a very big place. There’s no formal boundary. So let me be more specific. We stayed near the Tokyo train station (2 stations away) for the first part of my vacation. The second part? Let me tell you some other time.

Today, I’m going to just tell you some of my first impressions. In no particular order:

Single digit temperatures

In Singapore, I’m like a heat generator powering a small city. In Japan, I’m nothing. The chilly wind was biting, and the cold seeps into my clothing. My hands were in my wool clothes’ pockets and I’m still bordering on shivers.

The morning temperatures range between 7 to 10 degrees. The highest temperature was 12 and at night, dropped to 3 degrees. Well, it’s a break from Singapore’s steaming weather…


Japan seems to simultaneously promote smoking and ban it at the same time. There are vending machines selling “tabaco” (tobacco) or cigarettes. And on the sidewalks, there are signs painted onto the floor that translates roughly to “no smoking while walking on pavement”.

Some restaurants also permit smoking within its premises, even if it’s air conditioned. There was once where we went into an Italian restaurant (Italian food is seemingly quite popular), and there were people smoking. I had decided to experience the Japanese culture, so despite my distaste for the tainted air, I told my brother (who shares my distaste) that we’ll just quickly finish our food and be on our way. I’d never be able to see Japanese in their normal environment otherwise.

Litter bins

Despite the extremely small number of litter bins, Japan streets are relatively clean. This is in contrast with Singapore, where litter bins are placed quite generously about.

My brother told me that their litter bins are outside of convenience stores (there aren’t a lot of them), and are usually recycle bins. Oh yes, Japanese are big on recycling. I didn’t dare buy any foods or drinks to consume on the streets for fear of the inability to dispose of the wrappers and papers.

Few plant life

Except for parks, the major parts of residential and business areas are sparsely covered with vegetation. Again, in contrast with Singapore, where streets are lined with trees.

My first hotel was in Ochanomizu, which is roughly “tea and/or/of water”. When I first came out of the subway, the first blast of cold air scraped over my bare arms (I was wearing just a normal shirt). There’s a faint whiff of factory-produced smoke. And there’s a slight wash of grey over the entire place. No greens at all. But it’s still winter going into spring.

Face masks

I haven’t seen face masks since the SARS period. There’s a higher than usual occurrence of people wearing face masks. So after some discussion with my brother, and some thinking on my own, I came up with 4 reasons:

  • Person is sick, and this avoids transmitting disease to others
  • Person is protecting himself/herself from getting diseases transmitted
  • Keep the mouth area free from the biting wind
  • It’s a fashion statement

My brother found it so intriguing that he bought a set of face masks himself. Then promptly remembered on our last day that he didn’t wear one at all as a fashion statement…

  1. Jonathan Wong

    Did you manage to go to Akihabara? You have not been to Japan if you haven’t gone and experienced the otaku/pop culture madness that happens in Akihabara.

    Anyway, one thing that I love about Japan is that everyone is so civil-minded, which explains why they don’t need any litter bins and yet can still be so clean.

    Jonathan Wongs last blog post..My Twitter Rules of Engagement

  2. Vincent Tan

    Yes, Jonathan, I did go to Akihabara! I remember the video game sounds blasting as I was walking on the streets. And they have different arcade games (I went into one to check it out).

    There is this store selling old Nintendo games, with an accompanying hardware device to play it. I was browsing through the old games, and recognising “Oh I played this! And I played that!” Fun.

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