Here’s an extract created for AQA GCSE English Language Paper 2 (Writers’ Viewpoints and Perspectives). It is a nonfiction piece of travel writing in letter form on the subject of visiting Japan for the first time — written by Isabella Bird, a famous Victorian explorer, and naturalist. I wrote the exam-style questions below, based on the wording of official AQA Exam papers.

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You can also check out English Language Paper 2 – Practise Diary Extract.

Isabella Bird (1831–1904) was an English explorer, writer and photographer. She is known for her ‘bright, descriptive letters’ which document her travels all around the world. The letter below outlines her first impressions of Japan, and seeing Mount Fuji (Fujisan) for the first time.


Eighteen days of unintermitted rolling over “desolate rainy seas” brought the “City of Tokio” early yesterday morning to Cape King, and by noon we were steaming up the Gulf of Yedo, quite near the shore. The day was soft and grey with a little faint blue sky, and, though the coast of Japan is much more prepossessing than most coasts, there were no startling surprises either of colour or form. Broken wooded ridges, deeply cleft, rise from the water’s edge, grey, deep-roofed villages cluster about the mouths of the ravines, and terraces of rice cultivation, bright with the greenness of English lawns, run up to a great height among the dark masses of upland forest. The populousness of the coast is very impressive, and the gulf everywhere was equally peopled with fishing-boats, of which we passed not only hundreds, but thousands, in five hours. The coast and sea were pale, and the boats were pale too, their hulls being unpainted wood, and their sails pure white duck. Now and then a high-sterned junk drifted by like a phantom galley.

Then we slackened speed to avoid exterminating a fleet of triangular-looking fishing-boats with white square sails, and so on through the grayness and dumbness hour after hour.

For long I looked in vain for Fujisan, and failed to see it, though I heard ecstasies all over the deck, till, accidentally looking heavenwards instead of earthwards, I saw far above any possibility of height, as one would have thought, a huge, truncated cone of pure snow, 13,080 feet above the sea, from which it sweeps upwards in a glorious curve, very wan, against a very pale blue sky, with its base and intervening country veiled in a pale grey mist. It was a wonderful vision, and shortly, as a vision, vanished… I never saw a mountain rise in such lonely majesty, with nothing near or far to detract from its height and grandeur. No wonder that it is a sacred mountain, and so dear to the Japanese that their art is never weary of representing it […]

The air and water alike motionless, the mist was still and pale, grey clouds lay restfully on a bluish sky, the reflections of the white sails of the fishing-boats scarcely quivered; it was all so pale, wan, and ghastly, that the turbulence of crumpled foam which we left behind us, and our noisy, throbbing progress, seemed a boisterous intrusion upon sleeping Asia. The gulf narrowed, the forest-crested hills, the terraced ravines, the picturesque grey villages, the quiet beach life, and the pale blue masses of the mountains of the interior, became more visible. Fuji retired into the mist in which he enfolds his grandeur for most of the summer.


Prepossessing — attractive, striking.

junk — a type of medium or large sailing ship.

phantom galley —a ghostly war ship.

Fujisan — the Japanese name for ‘Mt Fuji’, a famous mountain.

wan — sickly pale, ill.


  1. Read again the first part of the Source, up to the end of the first paragraph ending in “…like a phantom galley.”. Choose four statements below which are TRUE. (4 marks)
  • There was a constant rain during the journey to Japan, but the sky cleared when they arrived there.
  • Isabella travelled to Japan by boat.
  • Isabella thought that Japan was completely different from England and bore no resemblance to the landscape she was used to back at home.
  • The landscape of Japan included rice fields.
  • Isabella saw dense forests rising upwards from the coastline.
  • Not many people lived in the little fishing villages around the coasts.
  • There were lots of vibrant and lively colours when Isabella first encountered the Japanese scenery.
  • Some of the boats were frighteningly large and silent, like ghosts.

2. Write a summary of the first impressions that Isabella encounters when she arrives in Japan, including her experience of the landscape, Mount Fuji, and the people. Use quotations and short analysis to justify your response. (8 marks)

3. How does Isabella use language to try and influence the reader’s beliefs about Japan? Write PEE paragraphs to justify your response. (12 marks)

[Note: for a full Language Paper 2 question, your Question 2 would be a comparative summary that compares and contrasts with another text, and Q4 would be a full comparative essay — both of these aspects of the exam will be explored in the full courses posted below]

Thanks for reading! If you need more help with GCSE English Language, you can take a look at our full courses here.