The earliest impression of Japan as a country and a culture on me was from those short, inspirational stories we read. I remember two of them somewhat. One was about a really old Japanese man trying to learn a new language, when it was obvious that he is not going to be alive in few years. And the other one was about a Japanese offering an Indian visitor a basket of fresh fruits, refusing to take any money for it, just because he overheard him saying that good fruits are not available in Japan. He did not want a visitor to carry a bad impression for his country. And it is because of such a culture, we were told, that Japan has progressed so much more than India has, despite it being almost a destroyed country at the time of Indian independence. Later in my life, of course, there would be people like Dr. Rahul Verman, who would coolly argue, that if Japan’s progress is related to its culture, all that should have happened in Bihar (essentially alluding to Bihar being the stronghold of Buddhism). But, despite that, some aura around this country remained. Needless to say I am in an all-observation mood ever since I landed in this country a few hours ago.
Narita airport is rather far from Tokyo. It took us almost 2 hours by a chartered bus to reach to our hotel. Having heard so much about space constraints in Japan, I was dead certain that unlike the US, here I’d not be starved for the sense of having human beings around. Initially I was almost disappointed on the long run on a highway. But as cities started coming closer, I started seeing those high-rises and all the people and felt more at home. I was also disappointed to see no two-wheelers on the road. But my guess is that it was because of the heavy rain. Later, after entering the city, I did see a couple of them. Hopefully they are more common here. And of course, I noted with a sense of relief that they drive on the left side of the road (Which country other than the USA drives on the right?).
Come the hotel and hotel staff will actually take care of your luggage. Feels like being at home. At least in the hotels I have stayed in the US, and they appear pretty decent, people many a times do not come forward to help, even when they see you struggling with your luggage. Probably you have to go really, really high end hotels for such help??
And ah! How did I forget the airport. So, I was with a large group of American passport holders. When I showed my passport to one of the persons directing the queue at immigration counter, he said “Oh!” and my first thought was – “Gosh! Some trouble with having Indian passport – more questions? Different counter?”. But he followed it up with saying “Namaste”. He was simply trying to greet me in my language🙂
Yen Baffles me. 500 USD become almost 60k Yen. Why can’t they have a different unit for 100 yens or something? Seeing a dish in the restaurant priced at 1000 Yen, I have to immediately start calculations to set my heart at ease.🙂
Reataurant was fun today. Our Japanese colleagues were trying to find us the best dishes. And the guy on our table was in a bad situation, because people with all kinds of dietary restrictions were sitting on that table (strictly vegetarian, vegetarian – but egg okay, only fish in non-vegetarian, non-vegetarian but no pork, no beef etc. etc.). And I was thinking “Asian, Asian…” the whole time seeing the way he was taking care of everyone’s food. I even felt guilty because I was sitting next to him and could clearly see that he was hardly able to eat anything himself. And when people engaged him in conversation on the table, he almost always stopped eating trying to concentrate on people’s talks.
I did manage to eat some Salad, Rice and baked potatoes besides an appetizer. In dessert I ordered a rice cake and it was good.
When I meet people form these different countries, I very acutely realized that how difficult it is to define “Indian ways” as compared to the ways of many other countries/cultures. Often, people tend to have a clear cut answer to what to expect in Japan and how to behave etc. Its so difficult in India. I have often stumbled. Is it okay to talk loudly in a restaurant… Well – we have done it several times – without being unIndian in any way, but can I say its okay?? No, its not in certain circumstances. How about kissing in public? Go to Bandra Reclamation area in Bombay and you would not be able to say strict “No” to this question ever. But can you say “yes”? Blowing nose? Talking to a stranger? I am appreciating it when we say India has diversity. We can not claim to have the diversity of the kind US has – the ethnic diversity. But diversity of ethos is just too difficult to miss, when you find it difficult to answer questions around what is okay or not okay in India.
Its late night here and the schedule tomorrow is hectic. Rest later.