Japan turned out a world away from what I expected

First Impressions of Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture

Manas Patil
Japonica Publication
5 min readDec 24, 2023


Image by author: First shot through the plane window as we landed in Matsuyama.

After a 21-hour flight and layover journey from Bangalore to Matsuyama, I was exhausted, waiting for my oversized trolley bag at the airport.

Still, my hands couldn’t stop fidgeting. Our company head waited to pick us up right outside the doors. As we made little chit-chat with the tiny bits of Japanese we had learned, we squeezed our luggage into the car.

As I sat squeezed amidst the bags and the backdoor, the roads, pavements, and traffic ethics reminded me of Singapore.

But it was the cars themselves that surprised me. While there were those Mercedes and Mazda Miatas now and then, most other cars here were the perfect box-cut compact ones — like espresso machines with wheels.

I had seen pictures before and always wondered why that white Daihatsu Tanto was never off the frame. I just didn’t think it would be this prevalent.

There were quite many other things that I was informed of earlier. But I never put much thought into it. But when reality hit, I saw how close the words were to reality.

“Japanese people are very respectful. But they are very private people.”

“Japan is super clean. Also, the people are very quiet.”

“Japan’s population is declining!”

These are only a few things I can remember right now. There’s nothing new about this list. But to experience it first-hand and see how true it is, it’s close to impossible to explain it to people.

I can only write these things down, but Japan is simply a place to experience first-hand.

Thus even having heard it, my first-hand encounters with the above points were just blatantly surprising to me all over again.

Image by author: View from my apartment’s balcony.

“Japanese People are very Respectful”

I’ve read stories of the levels of bowing to show respect. But I didn’t realize that this wasn’t constrained to office colleagues, restaurant waiters, and shop staff.

The first day, me and the other colleague who flew with me from Bangalore were unsure of where to head. We both had that Japanese language barricade.

We stood by the road deciding. The next second, the moving cars’ lights stopped. The drivers on either side had assumed we were waiting to cross the road. They stopped and waited for us.

Even worse, they seemed to have stopped a mile away before us. But I can’t argue with that as I’d just shifted from India where most times the cars touch you and then you hear ‘Oops’.

Anyway, we could see the cars slowly piling up behind these cars.

The panic and pressure on our asses made us run across the street bowing ‘Sumimasen!’ to the cars. After crossing, we halted away from the roads to decide our destination.

When we bowed down -Doumo Arigatou after restaurant dinners, the pretty waitresses somehow always managed to bow lower than us. And then there were always those chefs shrieking Arigatou Gozaimashita! in the background.

It was all too much to take in. Were we supposed to keep saying Thank you back? Or were we supposed to be the ‘superior’ customers and walk out?

We never understood.

Image by author: Me, after taking a long hike up the Matsuyama Castle

“Japan is Super Clean.”

The first week in Japan was all breezy evening strolls and cozy restaurants. But when the garbage disposal handbook reached my room after visiting the local City Hall, I drowned in a pickle.

It was all organization. The whole thing was like a library and if every single reader was conscious enough to put back the read books, the library would naturally always be organized — in other words, ‘clean’.

But this was bluntly difficult for someone who threw any waste in hand into the same bin. Try to keep this a secret — but I sat down on my kitchen floor spread out with food waste, plastic wrappers, and receipts to separate them.

It was late, I was sleepy and annoyed. But the garbage truck was due the following day and all it took was a little effort from everybody. I hadn’t much choice anyway.

But in the coming days, I also realized that the river I took morning walks by, wasn’t a river at all. It was, in fact, a drain canal. Yet large fish and ducks were living here… in a damn drain!

Image by author: Walking by the canals.

“Japan’s Population is Declining!”

Coming from a country where there are just a little too many people and nobody to figure out how to slow down the ever-rapid increase, this was hard to imagine.

Japanese culture is one of the most interesting cultures to date. And to hear of it dying is disheartening.

But to witness it, it was a shock.

We sat at the Tokyo domestic terminal waiting for our delayed ANA flight to Matsuyama. I turned around at the vast departure lounge behind with dozens of rows of filled seats. Everybody’s eyes were on the display screen checking their flight status.

That’s when it hit me. There were hundreds of people in sight. Most are sitting, some stand with their phones, and others walk in the backdrop. But not a single child was in sight.

There were the college kids, middle-aged couples, and old people. But I couldn’t find a kid’s face. All my exhaustion from the 7-hour flight from India evaporated in a snap.

What had gone wrong?

Or maybe I was too exhausted to search for one at the terminal. But upon settling in Matsuyama, I was glad to see a few little ones running about the parks.

Nevertheless, the population gap wasn’t something only in the newspapers. It was all visible in broad daylight.

Image by author: Exploring a temple 5 minutes away from my apartment.


Having a little time to settle down in my new apartment, I got a chance to explore parts of the city. We even made it to the beach one day.

There are just so many little things I’ve yet to put in. Things like the little talk I made with a local fisherman in broken Japanese. How a granny was trying to express herself out to us on how sweet the beach was.

But there are just too many things and I think I’ll put them in different pieces over time.

With work, with the settling down — things seem to still be taking a lot of my time. But hey, this is one little piece I could jot down in the moment!



Manas Patil
Japonica Publication

A 22 year-old writer and a travel enthusiast. I also run a travel blog, the Madman's Journey