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Japan – Love in Tokyo

For the longest time, my perspective of Japan was distorted by the cinemascopic lens of Asha Parekh and Joy Mukherjee (of the pink lipstick and drain pipe trouser fame), cavorting on the flyovers of Tokyo amidst perplexed looking Japanese men and women, lustily singing about Love in Tokyo with neon signs psychedelically blinking away in the background and bullet trains whizzing past. (it seems the Japanese have been trying to sell us the bullet train since 1966!) The Land of the Rising Sun seemed to me to be a bit dyspeptic in a very avant-garde sort of way.

The next time Japan popped up in my mental itinerary was when my father made one random official trip there and mother dictated to him in no uncertain terms that unless he came back with two Mikimoto pearl necklaces for his two daughters, he would be deemed persona non grata. My poor dad I think survived on bread and water, but made sure that the two necklaces were dutifully brought back. Japan’s lustre went up marginally in my mind after these gifts but it still remained fairly low down the ‘likes’ ladder.

Much later a friend who came back from Japan informed me in awe struck tones that if there were earthlings living their plebeian existence here on the one hand, and then there were higher order Martians somewhere lolling about on their planet, the Japanese came in between the two of us, so impressed was he by the technological advances he saw in that country! Japan moved up quite a notch in my list with that description; however, we finally got around to going there only this year.

As a person I am not very easily impressed and am even less likely to go around showering fulsome praise on anything, which comes from being of a morose disposition having been forced to read Thomas Hardy by my mother in my formative years. However, I must tell you several things that completely bowled me over about that country and their society which makes me strongly urge that all of you should go there at least once (especially us loud and noisy Indians!)

1. The food, my god the food!! If sushi is the only thing you equate Japanese food with, my dears, the wagyu beef, the tonkatsu, the ramen and O-nigiri are to die for. We had a different type of meal every single day and are still not able to come to a common ground about which our favourite meal was!

2. The loos – which frankly where the one place I truly saw the technological marvel my friend was raving about. But again what a marvel! Hands free, six buttons to do various interesting things, everything automatic with sub sections to appeal to different requirements and preferences. Let me say no more ….

3. The cleanliness – Despite the high population density of Tokyo there was not a speck of garbage anywhere in the city. Not on the roads, not on the by-lanes, not even on the side of railway tracks. There was enough and more plastic being used, people were eating and drinking in the parks and on the roads, but not a scrap anywhere, despite (hold your breath here) a singular lack of public dustbins! And that was because everyone carries their garbage home!
No matter how many systems and processes one puts in place, the reality is that till the attitude of people changes, one cannot change anything. If only we understood that change begins from within – there would be no need to ban plastic, try and figure out ways to clear the masses of litter we dump on the roads, spend crores on setting up dust bins in public places and then even more money to ensure nobody robs the lids of said dustbins!

4. Their gardens- oases of peace and beauty and calmness amidst the stresses of quotidian life.

5. Finally, the lack of noise – no one honks, no one talks on cell phones in public places, basically no one speaks loudly in public places.

The basic tenet around all these I was given to understand, is respect for fellow citizens and the belief that communal spaces require every individual contributing to take care of them!

Travel is supposed to energize, educate and expand the mind and truly our Japan visit did just that. We came back recharged and reinvigorated with our souls filled with Zen like peace – and then the plane landed and barely had it touched the tarmac, our fellow passenger whipped his cell phone out of his pocket, furiously dialled a number and right next to my ear loudly bellowed “Heloooo kemccho, hun avigyo chuu….” Sigh!