I Went to Japan

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:

  1. 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.

  2. I visited Tokyo, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Aichi. My favourite was Hiroshima (and Miyajima Island, which is located NW of Hiroshima Bay.)

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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:

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Some introspection as a consumer of news media

We all know what happened in Paris last week. It was all over the news, and there is not a detail that the media hasn’t told us about. My Twitter feed is constantly telling me about the progress on that matter. Each of us felt for and prayed for Paris and its people. My country, unique as always, decided to show solidary by lighting up its jewel with the Dutch flag instead of the French.

 

Where and how did I learn about what happened in Paris? To be honest, my twitter feed. That’s where I read most news because –

 

  1. It’s convenient to follow
  2. I get everything right from New York Times to Bombay Times on a single screen
  3. It’s on my cellphone, and
  4. I cannot stand most Indian news channels. I learn little and end up with a migraine.

 

Something else happened last week, something just as terrible and just as huge in magnitude. Double suicide bombings in Beirut claimed dozens of lives. This too, was perpetrated by the ISIS.

 

Where did I learn about this one? Again, from my Twitter feed. But, this time is was different. Unlike the news from Paris, I learnt about Beirut not from news media feeds, but from multiple retweets from several random handles that alleged that while the world wept for Paris, Beirut bled forgotten and ignored.

 

Facebook too, was full of such enraged posts. We all hate the media for its insensitivity and bias. And this was yet another incident where it failed. I found myself bobbing my head in agreement with many of these posts.

 

But then journalists began to pick up their pens (laptops?) to show us the mirror. Soon, these posts were all over my Twitter and Facebook feed. They make you take a step back, stop pointing fingers, and introspect for a minute.

 

Let me talk about myself here. As I said before, most of the news I read is through Twitter. Lets just say social media. What is social media? Who creates content in social media? In the first instance, it may come from figures of authority or importance, regardless of the genre. But its readership is often determined by the readers – through shares, retweets, replies, etc. Readers get to decide what gets read and how much.

 

As it turns out, the media did cover Beirut extensively. It also covered Baghdad and Abuja. We, as readers, somehow managed to ensure that everyone knew about Paris and few about the others.

 

This article from The Guardian explains it succinctly – “Social media and, more crucially, the ability of new organisations to gauge which stories get the most hits, attention and circulation, mean that we are now as guilty of determining the agenda as editors are, if not more. There is something sanctimonious, maybe even hypocritical, about placing the onus purely on the media – they are often only reflecting back our chatter and activity back at us.”

 

However, because the media has left me rather cynical – I ask myself – while all this is true, and while I share the responsibility here, should I believe all that is said in these articles? Or is this yet another skillful move by the media to manipulate us?

 

Let us assume, in this case, that we as consumers of news are almost entirely responsible for ignoring Beirut and the Middle East in general. Why did this happen? That article from The Guardian attempts to explain this by acknowledging the “simple limitations of what we can care about, its proximity to home…”

 

There is also the element of attention. We are all so accustomed to hearing about violence in the Middle East that it has almost become “normal”. But in Paris, on the other hand – the land of art and culture and fine wine – violence is an aberration. It catches the eye and we give it some time.

 

But this is not an isolated incidence. I remember there were many who complained about the lack of coverage of the suicide bombing in Nigeria because everybody was solely focused on the shootings at the office of Charlie Hebdo. That attack in Nigeria involved a 10 year old child used as a suicide bomber. Boko Haram had also killed over 2000 civilians in Baga just a few days before that.

 

Perhaps even this can be attributed to the apathetic attitude of readers towards Africa and our interest in France. The West because they can relate to it, the East because we are enchanted by all things white and beautiful.

 

But this whole phenomenon isn’t just related to who we care about and who we don’t. This also has to do with what we care about. And what the world cares about.

 

For instance, the greatest environmental disaster of this century has happened. The scale is massive, it is terrifying, and as one journalist describes, it is an eco-apocalypse. Entire cities are in flames, natural resources are depleting and species are vanishing at an unthinkable rate. And this is no tiny island no one has heard of. It’s Indonesia.

 

I did some checking. Turns out, except some reports from New York Times, The Guardian (the most extensive), CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC and few others, this event has received little to no media coverage. Indian media has absolutely nothing to say about it, and we are in the same continent. So the whole theory about the limitation of proximity doesn’t apply here.

 

Tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes – things that one can blame the almighty for – we are ready to take notice. Whatever we are responsible for, we’d rather turn a blind eye. The forest fire in Indonesia is almost entirely because of uncontrolled and injudicious deforestation. Our own handiwork.

 

And lets face it – who has time to care about a forest fire in some Asian country when you have things like the capital markets and terrorism for worry about? Even the media decided that this event didn’t feature in the list of anybody’s priorities.

 

Clearly, the blame game isn’t going to help anyone. I wonder if this is inevitable, or if there is a way we can consciously inquire and read about all the things that matter and that should matter, and not just the ones that we just “happen” to come across. And this is while I turn a blind eye to the existence of paid news.

 

But, I will also acknowledge that the temporary guilt tripping of both sides has pushed me to check my own actions – look around, reflect on my own reading habits and decide to make some changes. Media has its issues, there is no denying that. But I am first going to make the most responsible use of what it has to offer that is of significance before I complain about its inadequacies.

 

PS – I know I was supposed to put up posts from 2nd Nov, but I went on a holiday and came back this Monday. More on that in the next post 😉