I was in Japan on holiday earlier this month. And it was wonderful! The weather was perfect, the people were lovely and the country was breathtakingly beautiful. Some thoughts/observations:
- We flew to Tokyo via Beijing. Missed the connecting flight from Beijing to and had to catch the next flight out. I don’t think they use air conditioning at that airport; probably just circulate the outside air. I say this because our flight was delayed due to unprecedented snowfall in Beijing. And sitting at the airport Gate waiting for my next flight, I felt as if I’d turn into an ice statue myself.
- I visited Tokyo, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Aichi. My favourite was Hiroshima (and Miyajima Island, which is located NW of Hiroshima Bay.)
- Hiroshima is so lush and beautiful; it’s hard to believe that city was reduced to rubble less than a century ago. The fall colours across the city was a spectacular sight.
- Miyajima Island was, personally speaking, the highlight of the trip. Fall trees spread across the seemingly endless streets, wild deer strolling everywhere, the Itsukushima shrine and its serene beauty and warm waffles served in small cafes. I didn’t want that day to end. Really.
- Much like India, you don’t have to look too far to spot a temple or a shrine. They are there everywhere. These are either Buddhist Temples or Shinto Shrines. Wonderfully maintained. You never really feel like the tranquillity is disturbed because of the sheer number of visitors. It’s also fascinating how everyone speaks of both religions with the same kind of respect. I hear this is one of the few places in the world where two different religions exist in such harmony.
- Luck decided to take an early Christmas vacation on the day we visited the 5th Station at Mt. Fuji hoping to catch a glimpse of that shy, sneaky, gorgeous mountain top. But, as they say, man proposes, God disposes. The Gods decided to shower us with ice-cold rain water, shroud us with fog and clouds so we couldn’t even see what lay 10 feet ahead of us, let alone Mt. Fuji.
- Being vegetarian, Japan obviously wasn’t a food paradise. Especially in the beginning when I had no clue as to what I was supposed to do with the stuff on my plate. In fact, on the second day, this was my diet – green tea, green tea ice cream, green tea cake, green tea Kit-Kat and green tea waffles. It did get better towards the end; perhaps I developed a taste for Japanese food.
Also, twice during the 10-day trip, when it all became a bit too much to handle, I looked (more like hunted) for an Indian restaurant and ate there. One of them turned out to be a sleazy place where people were invited for a “sexy” dance after dinner. But I decided to ignore that as long as they served dal chawal.
- Almost every artefact, statue or souvenir that you find in Japan is a tribute to the Samurai era. Except for the Imperial palace and gardens that make for popular tourist spots, I rarely found anything else that is a conscious effort to treasure and remember the Imperial era. I don’t want to comment too much on this. Just that if my observations are in fact correct, the reasons are perhaps obvious.
- Almost everyone I came across was wonderfully kind and polite. Every taxi driver, people on the streets we asked for help with directions, store managers, just about everyone. On our third day, we lost our way to the hotel and my cellphone also ran out of battery. We knew the hotel was just around the corner, but didn’t know which way to go. When we asked for directions from this old man near a bus stop, he decided to walk all the way up to the hotel with us because he was unable to explain directions in English. He walked for 20 minutes with us, till we finally got into the hotel.
- I was in Japan. So I HAD to buy kitty cat merchandise. I bought a cat bag and a cat wallet and cat napkins and Hello Kitty diaries and pens.
- The only person we personally knew in Japan was one of my mother’s students (Batch of 1995!). We met up with him and his family (he is married to a Japanese and they now have a lovely little boy!) and listened to their rather filmy love story. It seems just the ceremonial formalities managed to shake up both the Ministry of External Affairs in India and Japanese officials! Their son (who is the sweetest child I have met in my life. Really) didn’t care that I didn’t know Japanese but was happy that I recognised Pikachu.
Mom’s student couldn’t believe that I am no more a 5 year old. He said he was just used to playing with me and putting me to sleep on his lap. SO MUCH NOSTALGIA! My memories are not all vivid but I do remember him picking me up from school and playing Snakes & Ladders with him.
- We visited the Toyota Museum. It was like Mom’s Disneyland. She enjoyed the many rides and drove a state of art hybrid car. We also saw this super sexy and very real cross between a motorbike and a car. It is AWESOME.
- It takes in Indian to truly understand the importance of cleanliness in public toilets. I have travelled to quite a few places across Europe, Asia and North America, and never have I come across a place where the washrooms are this clean and well equipped. Not just that – you can warm the toilet seats (which is amazing when it’s so cold outside), adjust the temperature of the water jets and they never seem to run out of toilet rolls. There are also separate buttons for Flush and “Flushing Sound” and I am confounded with respect to the latter. Does anyone know what purpose that serves?
So basically Japan was wonderful and the fall was so pretty that I forgot all about not being able to see cherry blossoms. People are wonderful and warm. And it seems the seafood there is spectacular, if anyone is interested. Especially oysters. Go visit Japan, people!
Here are a few pics: