woman wearing orange and white kimono dress standing near the house

My Time in Japan

Practice for Part 5 of the Reading and Use of English paper by reading this extract from an article about someone’s experience of living in Japan. They discuss challenges, learning about Japanese traditions and language, and how it influenced their view of the world.

Read the text and then go through questions 1 – 6 below and choose the correct answer, A, B, C or D which you thinks fits best according to the text.

Living in Japan for a cultural exchange program showed me a world that was very different from mine. When I first got to Tokyo, the capital city, I was surprised to see how old traditions and modern ways of living were combined together so effortlessly. The city was a blend of ancient temples and towering skyscrapers, each telling a unique story of Japan’s rich history and rapid modernization.

My host family, the Tanakas, were incredibly welcoming. They were eager to share their culture with me, and I was just as eager to learn. Mrs. Tanaka, in particular, played a big role in my cultural education. She taught ikebana, which is the traditional Japanese way of arranging flowers. At first, I thought ikebana was quite complicated, but Mrs. Tanaka helped me understand and appreciate the deeper meaning behind each flower arrangement. Ikebana wasn’t just about making things look pretty;it was a way to express harmony and balance, key aspects of Japanese philosophy.

Talking in Japanese was one of my biggest challenges. I knew a bit of the language before I got there, but I wasn’t ready for how difficult everyday conversations would be. My host family was very patient, and the kids at school were kind and helped me a lot. This supportive environment helped me improve my language skills much faster. Besides going to school, I also helped out at a nearby community centre, helping teach English to kids. This experience was not only rewarding but also a great opportunity to see firsthand how language can connect people from different backgrounds.

One experience that stands out in my memory is attending a traditional Japanese festival, or matsuri. The festival was full of bright colours, loud sounds, and a lot of excitement with everyone participating in dances and celebrations. Being there, I really understood how significant cultural traditions are in Japan. The feeling of community and shared history was strong and made me value the cultural beliefs that bring the people in Japan together.

Towards the end of my stay in Japan, I visited Kyoto, the historical heart of Japan. Kyoto was incredibly beautiful, with old temples, shrines and gardens. Everywhere I went in the city was full of history and traditions. I remember spending a quiet afternoon in the Ryoan-ji temple garden, admiring the carefully placed rocks and raked gravel. This peaceful time was so different from my busy life at home. It was then that I realised how much my perspective on life and culture had expanded during my time in Japan.

Adjusting to how people behave and what they expect in Japan was sometimes hard. For example, maintaining ‘wa’ or harmony is a crucial aspect of Japanese culture. This often means avoiding direct confrontation and finding more appropriate ways to express disagreement. This way of communicating was very different from what I was used to in my own country. It took patience and an open mind to adapt to these cultural differences.

Returning home was a mix of emotions. I was excited to reunite with my family and friends, but I was also really sad to leave Japan, which had started to feel like a second home. The experience taught me invaluable lessons on how to adapt, understand others better, and see life from different points of view.

My cultural exchange experience in Japan was more than just an overseas adventure. It changed the way I understand the world. My time in Japan was a major moment in my life, showing me how important it is to connect with people from different cultures, especially in our world today where everything is so connected.

What was the author’s initial impression upon arriving in Tokyo?
  • They were impressed by the mix of old and new
  • They were surprised by the size of the buildings
  • They were disappointed at the number of modern buildings
  • They were impressed by the amount traditional temples
What did the author learn by doing ikebana?
  • How difficult flower arranging was
  • The significance of precision and detail in traditional arts
  • How it can affect other aspects of people’s lives
  • The importance of learning about different cultures
What challenge did the author face with the Japanese language?
  • Keeping up with the speed people talk
  • Understanding the other children at school
  • Difficulty in participating in general conversations
  • Lack of interest in learning Japanese
What did the author learn from attending a matsuri?
  • The importance of participating in traditional Japanese dance
  • The importance of traditions in Japanese culture
  • The importance of learning about Japanese history
  • The importance of being part of a community
How did the author feel about adapting to Japanese social behaviours?
  • They found it mostly easy and straightforward
  • They didn’t like the normal social behaviours in Japan
  • They struggled with the concept of ‘wa’
  • They preferred the way people behave in Japan compared to their country
What was the impact of the author’s cultural exchange experience in Japan?
  • It led to a career in teaching English
  • It caused them to feel disconnected from their own culture
  • It made them decide to experience other countries and cultures
  • It changed their perspective on life and culture

(1)   A

(2)   C

(3)   C

(4)   B

(5)   C

(6)   D