The Things I Did Not Know About Japan
Perceptions and reality are two different things. You are bound to feel the difference even more once you land in Tokyo after an 8 hour direct flight from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in India. It’s much longer if you are based out of South India. But none of that matters once you step in to Narita International Airport, one of the two most important airports in Japan. It’s a whole new world and I don’t just mean technologically so!
I was all of 23 when I took my first flight (it’s sad but true!) and headed straight to the Land of the Rising Sun. Yes, there were apprehensions. a) because I was going to live away from India for the first time, thanks to my husband’s new job transfer. b) because I knew nothing about the place except studying about its frequent earthquakes back in school, watching Asha Parekh do a Sayonara Sayonara number rather loosely dressed like a geisha à la Love in Tokyo and the horror movies – The Grudge and The Ring (brrrr…). My pact in definitive terms was: We will be coming back in less than a year.
By the end of our second year in Tokyo, I never wanted to come back. I had realized that the place actually grows on you.
The Japanese Philosophy
Such is the magic of Japan. A country known more for its automatic doors, robots, toilet seat warmers and sushi, but deserves to be celebrated for much more. “Mono no aware”, a beautiful Japanese phrase meaning “awareness of impermanence”, is one such example. This philosophy pretty much guides what the Japanese live by. Years of successful practicing of the same has lent them a deep sense of quiet, contentment and peace. As a result, they are respectful of YOU and put their needs on second priority. That means there will be no disturbances of any kind. The traffic is always smooth, there is no crime, car-honking is a sin and pedestrians have first right to the roads.
Let me describe a common sight at the supermarket. A lady lugging several heavy shopping bags trying to load them on to her bicycle is often helped by someone on the street. The helper says sumimasen (excuse me) and the one being helped says sumimasen. Sometimes, there is an overdose of courtesies. But who said, overdoses were bad when it comes to being kind. The spirit of the Japanese after the earthquake of 2011 is a classic example.
Japan is also one place where the police are often seen helping gaijins (foreigners) like me find their way around. Just walk up to any Koban (police station) and they will help you irrespective of the fact that they are not well-versed in English.
Mind Your Language
“Nihon-go wakara nai” is one of the few Japanese phrases I picked up. Loosely translated, it means “I can’t speak in Japanese”. Not only did it win me some cuteness points with my counterparts but also made communication so much more fun. Who knew you could talk largely dependent on gestures! Soon, I realized that the Japanese do understand English. They may give you the impression that they don’t. But they do. After all, they study English for six years in school but are culturally very shy to talk in any language other than their own. The key is: Talk in English but slowly, enunciating properly, and you are sorted. That said it’s always nice to pick up a book of useful phrases in Japanese so you can explore and learn at the same time.
If Food Be The Love Of Life, Bring It On!
Food is as intrinsic to the Japanese culture as the Beatles are to music. Both the former and the latter (especially John Lennon and his Japanese wife Yoko) are loved on almost equal terms here. If you are a fish- eater, you are in for a ball. The sushi bars will keep you busy plenty and your taste buds asking for more. That’s when you can introduce them to sashimi, oysters, squids and the whole sea food razzmatazz. A special mention to the onigiri, a delicious rice ball with hints of red-kidney beans (rajmah) neatly wrapped with seaweed.
Then there are the noodles. A glance at a restaurant’s menu or one look at the endless stacks of noodles in the supermarket will tell you plain and simple that this is a noodle-loving nation. Go berserk on udon, soba, ramen and other varieties. And let the vegetarian fraternity not fret because you can always say “niku naashi” (no meat) and you will be served a green version at most restaurants. I personally loved the boiled beans aka edamame that many Izakayas (restaurants) serve. You will also notice that outside every restaurant, the plasticized replicas of the dishes are displayed so that you know exactly how your dish will look like as well as the portion served. But if you like to play it really really safe, then there are plenty Mexican, Italian and Indian (the Japanese L-O-V-E it) eateries at every station in Tokyo!
Ever heard of a Cat Café and a Dog Café? Wonder what it is? My musings on Japan continue…
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
|Saba Shaikh is a nomad at heart. Having lived in 12 cities and studied at 8 schools, she looks to experience different cultures and is dying to trot all over the world in more than 80 days (what’s the rush!). Daydreaming and baking are her other love interests!|