One whole week in Japan? They only eat sushi! How will you survive?"
...And between meals?
You’ll walk off every morsel sightseeing. They’re all sprawled out in Osaka and Hiroshima. They cover hillsides in Kyoto. Even hyper-cramped Tokyo finds acres of room for temples.
Walk, walk, walk up the 16th century Osaka Castle to look out over 21st century skyscrapers and manicured gardens. See if you can walk past the half-charred, half-preserved uniforms of child victims at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum without weeping (you can’t).
Walk, eyes-closed, the 20 metres between two Love Stones in Kyoto’s Kiyomizu temple to have a romantic wish granted. Walk through Gion, Kyoto’s former geisha district, at night, to see painted ladies bow goodbyes to their clients ever so elegantly.
But mostly, walk in Tokyo to see how disciplined citizens can be. They say Singapore has the fastest walkers, but Tokyoites have got to be the best behaved.
At Shibuya – the world’s busiest crossing, where some 16 roads intersect – walk, briskly with thousands as all traffic lights turn red simultaneously to let people cross. Pedestrians swarm into “coming” and “going” streams as if guided by an invisible policeman.
What will take your breath away in Tokyo are the trains themselves. Where NYC’s subways baffle users and where Mumbai’s trains crush the dignity out of them, Tokyo’s 35 routes cover 13 train lines that go overground, underground and in a continuous loop. And they all run unfailingly on time.
Nippon on my mind: (From left to right) A standing sushi bar; sip from the Kiyomizu fountains for long life, success or love; Hiroshima is both horrific and humbling.
On the trains – used by everyone from suited CEOs and Hermès-swathed ladies to punk-rocker teens – no phones ring, no voices chatter. Everyone moves aside automatically after entering a carriage, making room, unasked. And officers don’t shove people in anymore. More trains have now been added.
...So there is space
Not quite. Much of Japan is roomy, but Tokyo is packed tighter than sticky rice in sushi. I marvelled at the legroom on Japan Airlines (Row 26 is the most spacious); I could do the Tango in my room in Hiroshima. In the capital, however, a budget double room will have a bed so narrow, you’ll make babies without meaning to, and pay rates you’d have saved for its education.
Regardless, there’s room to breathe. No one bothers tourists. Not even if you’re a lone woman on the train at night with drunk men in the carriage. Locals are insular, but will gladly help if their responses require simple English.
Routes (including train changes) are easy to plot before you head out. Lunch is cheaper than dinner at most places. They have their own Disneyland if you’re so inclined, but honestly, the country is a fairground in itself. And the toilets are really space-age: pre-warmed seats, warm bidets, pressure controls, music...
Oops! Looks like I have quite a few tips of my own!
Word On The Street
Someone who loves to eat. And who will love the term “Tabehoudai” all you can eat.
“I’ll leave it to you”. This is what to tell the chef if you’re an adventurous omnivore.
A souvenir for gifting. It’s traditional to bring back a small gift, usually specialty food.
Non-rhyming poem. Strictly 17 syllables. Like this one I wrote.
Cute. The bright cartoony art that dominates their culture is kawaii. Hello Kitty, who was born in Japan, is so, so kawaii.
Thank you. This is a nation of compulsive thankers, with six ways of expressing it. This one is the simplest.
It’s how they answer the phone instead of saying hello.
Bullet trains. India and Japan are conducting feasibility studies to start them here.
Delicious. Even packaged food can be oishii in Japan.
Obsessive geek with no life. You can be a gadget otaku, a rail otaku etc. But if you’re a fake, you’re a fotaku!
Enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. This is why they never complain!
A beautiful babe. There are many, many of these all across the country.
Buying books and not reading them. You know you’re guilty.
Koi no yokan:
The feeling on first meeting that you two will fall in love. Aww.
A place or object that evokes fond memories and longing. For me, it’s the tons of matcha tea I lugged home.
Oh and if something isn’t funny in Japan, they just call it an
(This trip was sponsored in part by the Japan National Tourist Organisation)
@GreaterBombay on Twitter
From HT Brunch, February 8
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch