Konichiwa Japan!

A brief work trip took me to Tokyo last week (October’15). I got lucky with the scheduling of the trip as I could couple it with a weekend and a public holiday in Hong Kong. So apart from the 2 work days I got about 3 days to sneak a peek into the land of the Rising Sun.

When we think of Japan, there are 4 things we distinctly identify it with – Mt Fuji, Bullet trains, Geishas and Sushi.I can’t thank my nakshatras enough that I ticked all these 4 boxes in just 3 days. Apparently, Geishas are the most elusive of the lot. Not many people get lucky with spotting one on the streets, I was the chosen one, dear friends! Though just for a few seconds I managed to bump into two of them. Well, “bump into” is misleading, I was actually lurking around tea houses, peeping through the narrow spaces between the wooden frames of the doors to spot a geisha and suddenly one walked past me. She was swifter than a Shinkansen (Japanese bullet trains) and not without a reason, like me, there were few other shady paparazzi hanging around for the same purpose. (Not particularly proud of my seedy act, but what the heck I couldn’t resist the temptation).Japan in a frame

Some trivia about Geishas – Kyoto is most well known for having geishas, but they exist in other parts of Japan too. The younger, trainee geishas are called Maiko (I spotted a Maiko), the older ones are called Geikos – these are the ones who train maikos and manage tea houses. To know more, read here.

Mt. Fuji or Fuji-san as the Japanese respectfully call it, can be seen on a clear day along the Tokyo-Kyoto route. On my onward journey, the clouds didn’t oblige and blocked my Fuji view. I had made my peace with having to leave Japan without getting a glimpse of it. But strangely enough, I couldn’t get a night bus back to Tokyo and I had to shell out extra and get on to Shinkansen again (was trying to save some bucks, bullets trains are 3x the price of the bus) . This time though the clouds were kind enough to keep clear of my way. Fuji-san appeared at exactly 40mins to (or from) Tokyo. The huge creature just emerges out of no-where towering over the hillocks around. Quite a presence it has.

What do I say about Bullet trains! The distance between Tokyo to Kyoto, which is about 515km, takes a little over 2 hours in a Shinkansen. Frankly, you don’t really feel the speed, its a pretty smooth ride. But when in Japan, you got to do it. Some more information on Shinkansen

I am a vegetarian, so Japan wasn’t a food paradise for me. But with some effort one does find good veg food. For instance, thanks to a local friend, I managed to get some amazing assortment of vegetarian sushi in Tokyo. There are also some vegetarian restaurants, but I didn’t have enough time to check those out.

Beyond these four  mentioned above, there’s so much more to Japan. Even in my three days, these aspects couldn’t escape me. The top in the list are the the people and their mannerisms. Japanese are the most polite of all the nationalities I have met till date. Be it the ticket checker in the trains or the police men in the Koban (Police junctions) or even some random guy who’d bump into you while walking along the street. They’ll make it point to bow and smile. One feature that particularly stands out in contrast to Europe or US is the willingness of parents to let strangers talk to their kids and take pictures. They appreciate the gesture shown to their kids. In Europe, parents frown at you even if you smile at the kid.

Japan_kids

Japanese kids are so cute and so polite and nice that you just want to hug and kiss them. My most favorite memory from Japan is and will remain the sight of Japanese kids dressed in Kimonos strolling around the Meiji Shrine. What beauty! What innocence!

That brings me to Kimonos, not so much in Tokyo but in Kyoto one does find people dressed in colorful Kimonos and elaborate hairdos – both women and men (latter without elaborate hairdos). Women, as always, but men, surprisingly indeed,  look really smart in Kimonos. Especially beautiful is the wedding dress of the bride and the groom (donned in a Shinto wedding).KimonosJapan is quite a high tech city, on one hand. Even Japanese toilets are hi-tech. They auto-cleanse and rinse the user.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

On the other hand, one would still find crowded narrow alleys within the cities. Add to that the numerous Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples that dot the streets. Japan is a country of contrasts, of Technology and tradition, of Modesty and extravagance. Japan faces

(P.S. Shintoism, like our own Hinduism has many Gods, basically they too consider elements of nature as God. A Shinto temple is called a shrine and a Buddhist temple, a temple. On maps, Buddhist temples are indicated with a Swastik)

Some of touristy things I’ll definitely recommend as “must dos”

Kyoto:

Shrines and temples: Kinkakuji Shrine  Kiyomizu dera temple  Fushima Inari Shrine

AreasArashiyama  Gion district (in case you like me want to spot a Giesha)

Castles: Himeji castle ~90 mins out of Kyoto but a view worth the visit.

Tokyo:

Old town Tokyo: Asakusa  Ueno

Modern, downtown Tokyo:  Tokyo is huge and there are quite some areas for Chic living – Roppongi HIlls, Shibuya, Shimbashi etc. But given the time constraint and other historical interests I skipped those. But I did do Odaiba a small island very close to mainland Tokyo converted into a sort of shopping and entertainment area. I went there to see the glitz!

What I missed –> Cherry blossoms and Cherry blossoms, the pictures of Japanese spring are too tempting. Hopefully someday I’ll take a Japanese spring break.

(P.S. Smoking in public places, even roads, is not allowed in Japan. There are designated smoking areas for those who want to smoke)

ॐ शान्ति |

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