Japan – beyond the kimonos

Growing up, my dad narrated the story of a Japanese lady who stitched the torn seat of the train she was traveling by. Exceptional people, I thought

My memories also include, a Japanese calendar that used to change every year. Starting December I used to look forward to a new kimono-clad lady that would adorn our side wall. In my little head, it was an event!

Japanese women in Kimono. Waiting for her loved one at the sight of perfect blossom.
Shot near Kamo river, Kyoto

Fast forward, 16 years later, I knew a lot more about Japan. I knew about the lightning-quick Shinkansen, the beautiful Geishas, stunning cherry blossom and Japanese tenacity in the wake of natural disasters. Drawing a ten-day plan we hopped onto our Nippon Airways flight. A simple itinerary with five days in Tokyo, followed by five in Kyoto – and day trips from our two base locations.

As we boarded our first metro, the melodious chant of “Shibuya, Shibuya” echoed from the recorded announcement. Once inside, I noticed that in spite of the metro being fairly crowded, there was pin drop silence. For a minute it felt like inside a church. With people considering it inappropriate to talk while in trains, especially on phone, it took me time to realize the etiquettes in Japan were very similar in almost all public spaces. On the escalators, people stood on one side to allow others to rush past. Though what took us by surprise was the sheer humility of the people. Like the ticket collector that came out of his office and walked with us to the bus stop so that we didn’t get lost. An old couple bowed down multiple times to say, arigato gozaimasu (thank you) when we offered our seats on the train. Our calligraphy class hosts who offered us homemade regional delicacies after learning about our love for food. It was an incredible experience.

For the Japanese Cherry blossom is the essence of Life, an ephemeral phenomenon, a reminder that life is short but absolutely beautiful!

“The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life.”

~ The Last Samurai

And the Japanese celebrate it with aplomb! We could see entire families pulling in with bags of food and drinks in various parks. With rugs placed below the cherry trees, there was finally some noise and laughter!

Tears of joy, is an expression that I would now associate with cherry blossom. A walk along the Kamo river with shutterbugs finding the perfect pre-wedding shot, a stroll in Kyoto’s obnoxiously beautiful botanical garden or peddling around the city with no particular destination but just soaking in the cherry pink, red and white that nestles along the red and green thatched roofs.

Cherry Blossom
Shot at Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo
Artist
An artist makes an impression. Shot at Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo
Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto.
Fox, Kitsune, is considered to be messenger of the spirit, Inari, having super natural significance.
Ueno Park, Tokyo
All dressed up! Shot at Ueno Park, Tokyo.
Tulips at Botanical Garden, Kyoto.
At the beginning of Spring, tulips add to the astonishing beauty of Japanese Gardens
Tulips at Botanical Garden, Kyoto.
Shot at Kyoto Botanical Garden
Hanami celebration. Kids play as parents relax under the trees. Shot at Shinjuku Gyoen

During the blossom period, everything from tea to snacks is flavored with cherry flowers, including Senbei. Being from India, snacks made of rice are a staple for us but Senbei is in a different league in terms of texture, taste, and variety. But what turned out to be a surprise package was the Japanese patisseries. Japan can truly pass as the new France. Be it chic boutiques or food cars, pastries in Japan are surprisingly mouth-watering and delicious. The love for green tea is evident from the souffle and KitKat that dominate the restaurant menus and supermarket racks respectively.

Food presentation is an art form in Japan. Restaurants advertise various meals in transparent boxes, including sushi rolled nicely with different fish that coerces you to pick up more than you could bargain for.

While there are limited things I did prefer from the Japanese food delicacies, there is no dearth in Japanese gaming options. I have had my fair tryst with gaming, but when you walk across four storied buildings dedicated to games in Akihabara, Tokyo, you know the Japanese are in a different league. Zealous gaming centers aside, there are buildings dedicated to animated character toys, electronics, and cameras that intend to test your credit card limits.

Speaking about cards, many shops including some McDonalds don’t accept cards. For a technology-driven country, this was a real surprise. 

Technology is a big part of Japanese life, from robotic companions to robotic deliveries in restaurants, the most astonishing was the smart toilets. With lights, seat temperature, water, flush, music – everything controlled by the microcontroller, it was more like a throne that Jon Snow would aspire for! (or so I thought until Jon was sent off!)

While the Japanese are still rooted in their traditions and values, they are more modern and digital than the west! It is this contrast that is both perplexing and interesting and makes me want to visit this beautiful country again.

The girl behind the desk

She sat there all intense,
About to throw the desk and get over with it.
And then she sighed and smiled,
She knew I was watching her then.
I wanted to click her,
But I just captured the moment with my eyes.

She gets nice dimples,
Her hair curled, falling nicely, though not been attended for a while.
And she looks beautiful when she smiles,
Her enthusiasm is beyond compare, like a little girl bubbling with energy.

I see a girl still figuring her life, her dreams.
Juggling work with study, her hopes held high and life in her stead.
Barcelona has been kind to her,
But home she still longs for.

Her honest interpretation startled me,
Not used to being judged so quickly,
But her eyes were open for a conversation,
And as they met mine I knew she was listening,
And that I found a friend.

That is what this trip was all about,
Making new connections,
Sometimes for a few minutes or hours.
Connections that you would treasure,
And the time that you would recollect with a grin.

Isn’t that life?
For life is like popcorn,
At every turn, someone might just pop up,
Someone that you might like!

Life

Life is, as it pans out.
Controls you, not the other way around.
Fairy tales are for books,
Draped in music, deceiving by looks.

The more you think, dwindles the known.
The more you live, unfurls the unknown.

Your mind continues to play games,
But say no more, hurl no blames.
That which you manifest is before you,
The rest is a dream, more than you can chew.

Desires

In those happy moments,
In those sad moments,
There are some weak moments.
Moments we so fear,
they bring out our desires, oh dear!

Our desires are no strangers,
Though ours, are evil ventures.
Those that can bring upon pain,
Lose more than we can gain.

But desires are a matter of heart,
Lost in time, grown apart.
Virtuous unlikely, but not a cuss.
They are still, a part of us. A part of us.

Winter

It was winter again. The beautiful red and orange hues of fall had given away for naked brown barks and the whites of the snow. Soon the valley would be painted white, much like her mood.

Her thoughts were wearing her down as she walked through the valley with her red umbrella. It stood out against the dull winter evening, braving her on instead of embracing those dark thoughts.

As the wind rushed past her, swaying her umbrella, she thought about the positives in her life. The image of her ten year old son came to her mind.  He must have returned from school by now and waiting for her at the window, she thought. She recollected how he liked eating snow flakes and sliding down the snow. Winter was his favourite season. For her though, the dry cold and memories of the past left her gasping. Her thoughts turned sour again. She tried to shake them off as she took the last curved stretch before her home.

It was getting dark now with the sun well past the horizon; the silence in the valley dwindled only by a few lanterns. As she reached within sight of her home, she gazed upon one of the mountain peaks that was still visible. Her home had a small porch with couple of chairs overlooking part of the valley as well as the mountain peaks afar. She looked at the window, it was half open and dimly lit. As she reached near, closing her umbrella, she called out for her son but with no response. A creaking sound welcomed her home as she turned the door open, she looked around and called for him again but the silence was deafening.  She shed her belongings and took a few steps inside and towards the stairs to see if he had dozed off on the loft. He had done that before. They had a big loft with a small bed and a table that served as his personal space. A few stairs up, she stared at the empty loft, her heart was now pounding. The dry cold of the winter brought many animals to the valley and she was shaking with fear. As she turned around, she heard a few footsteps from the wooden porch outside. Her blood curdled now, she waited a second before rushing outside. The empty chairs stood witness to the dark silence. Her vision turned blurry looking at the endless stretch of darkness and the mountain peaks barely visible now.

Suddenly, she felt a hug from behind, gripping her legs. She felt the hands of her son, she touched them, turned around and hugged him tight. She cried with joy, with darkness obliterated by his presence. He smiled at her naughtily and wiped her tears. She hugged him again and realised her life had turned a new leaf, a new winter and all that mattered to her now was her son. They sat down on the porch steps looking at the snow capped mountains as snow began to pour again. He stretched his hand out to meet some snow balls. She joined him with a smile.