A week in Japan (East in East)

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#1 Apr 10th, 2014, 01:29
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#1
I spent a week in Japan. This is a travelogue of sorts, written in retrospect. Only written about day 1 so far.

Day 1.

As the plane makes its descent into Narita Airport on a grey, spring morning, I peer out the plane window and take in the vast swathes of lush green that instantly remind me of the UK. Japan is sort of like the UK of Asia, geographically that is; an island off the mainland. The unpredictable and recurrent sprayish rain and the gale-force, chilling winds are features common to both, as I experienced at least. But this is where any comparison should end, for Japan is unique, and the Japanese are without parallel. (Not that the UK is any less special in its own right.)

We, (a group of friends), had made all our hotel bookings in advance through booking.com after much debate and deliberation. The Japanese Rail Passes for foreign visitors were duly purchased. Visitors and residents were fleetingly consulted. This was the sum of our planning and research, although we did go armed with a single LonelyPlanet book between us. Each person had varying interests- from soaking up the city, to viewing the natural splendour, to getting an insight into the country’s history and temples, but the food we were all keen to sample.

The airport can be one anywhere. In Bangkok or HK or Singapore. It takes us a while to obtain our Weekly Rail Passes in exchange for the vouchers we’d purchased from Delhi, but it is not before long that we’re on the Narita Express headed to Tokyo. There are English signs alongside the Japanese. Sadly, this is not one of those bullet trains I was hoping it would be.

The train passes through dense bamboo groves and grass pastures interspersed by quaint looking villages for the first half- hour. I can’t see many people. This could be Europe, I think. Soon enough, the view changes as we edge into the boundary of the Tokyo sprawl. I see an enormous car-park. Each car is neatly stationed within the designated lines, not a tyre is over, or askew. Whenever I make visits outside the Indian subcontinent, sightings of this type have a transiently unsettling effect on my Indian sensibilities. Ha! A reminder that I must now comply by rules, rather than find ways to bend them, most of the time unwittingly, as I am used to doing back home. Japan is going to put me on a new kind of learning curve, I think. I look forward to it.

We get off the train. A woman waylays us at the platform. She asks, “are you all from India?” “Yes”, we say. She says, “I hope you have a great time. I went to India last year and had a wonderful time.” We smile and move on. After changing another train, lugging our suitcases all the while, we take a cab to our hotel. We're charged something like 800 Yen to cover 2-3 kms. That is about Rs. 500. Tokyo cab doors are controlled by the driver, only he can let you in and out, unlike Delhi autos, from which you are free to leap out whenever you wish.

Our hotel is central and looks real cosy. It’s owned by an old lady, who speaks decent English. My room is done up in traditional Japanese style; it’s called a Ryokan. The floor is tattami-matted and there is no bed. Instead there is a thick mattress spread on the floor. There is a low lying table beside, on which there are several free sashes of green-tea. Tanaka, the hotel guy, politely tells me to take my shoes off before stepping onto the floor. As he exits, I say, “arigato”. (That’s the only Japanese word I know. I also know that in Japan you're not expected to tip.) He responds by saying “dhanyawaad”. I wonder if I’ve heard him right. I am tired. I say, “sorry, what?” He says he spent some time in India 15 years ago. 3 hours in Japan and I’ve already met two Indophiles. It’s a small world indeed. Tanaka is very polite. He bows so I bow back clumsily.

I enter the bathroom and I am utterly flummoxed by what I see. IMers, the Japanese WC is of the most hi-tech type that I’ve ever seen! (And they are everywhere.) I feel nervous about defiling this state of the art product. There are like 5 or 6 buttons, worded in Japanese, attached at the side of the seat. A bidet, a spray, a temperature controller for the seat, even a blow drier for your bum! Can you believe that? They should do this is Paharganj. Hell, the Taj hotels in India should copy this for all that they charge.

I take a short nap before heading out to Shibuya in downtown Tokyo.

The first thing I notice in Tokyo, other than the usual world-city pulse where everyone rushes about in all directions, is the ubiquitously black-suited men (no grey, nor blue), and the nearly-as-pervasive white-masked men-and-women pacing purposefully, all over the place. In surgical masks. Everywhere. (More on that later tough.) It’s the closest I’ve felt to being inside the Matrix. It’s a good thing it happens to be one of my favourite films. . I wonder what these people would do if they were made to breathe the Delhi air!

Shibuya is something like a Times Square meets Leicester Square, in Japan. Massive neon lights flashing Japanese letters, wide monitor-screens blaring Japanese pop songs, department stores selling branded clothes made in China and India, young people walking about accessorized and blonde-haired, girls in tall and fashionable heels. Gleaming buildings and cars. Cafes and restaurants. I like it; it matches my image of Tokyo. What I didn’t expect though, was the apparent dearth of non-Japanese looking people. Most people look Japanese, speak Japanese. Many might well be East Asians from other parts but I can’t tell. (No offence to anyone.) (Later, I learn that Japan does receive a steady stream of tourists from China and Korea.)

We come upon a Sushi bar. My friend is craving Sushi and I decide to accompany her. This is the part I fear. I don’t like raw fish. I have to give this a shot seeing as I am in Japan and all…who goes to Japan and does not have Sushi, right? Sushi seems to be something like the Samosa of Japan, it’s the snack Tokyo-ites have on the go between meals, as and when they get the munchies. The guy at the bar speaks nought English, so we point what we want from the Menu, which thoughtfully has pictures, as in most places in Japan. The guy goes, “hai” in an animated way to say 'yes'. (Something I will continually see for the remainder of the week. I am already observing closely so as to enable myself to speak the same way. .) I choose the torched Salmon with mayo on top. It’s the least raw-option. I dunk it in wasabi and another sauce to singe the raw smell. It’s delicious. My friend devours the raw tuna and mackerel Sushi. It looks vile. I try one and decide that that will be my last one. She loves it though, as does everyone else. In the meanwhile I gulp down a gallon of green tea, which is also appearing to be something of a national obsession. After this stop, we dawdle on imbibing our surroundings.

We later take the subway to Roppongi. The subway is crowded but very quiet and organised, it makes London seem like Mumbai in comparison. Roppongi is the district that expats, and westerners (white foreigners are called gaijin, I think) and some young Tokyo-ites frequent. There is a wide range of hip bars and clubs to choose from, and all manner of pleasures to sample. I feel like I am in a seedy street in Bangkok. One of my friends says he is curious to have a look at what goes on inside one of those Japanese school-girl fetish bars, supposedly only for a minute. I can only see Japanese men around. The bouncer denies him entry saying that the venue is closed to foreigners. He looks aggrieved but the girls in our group give a hearty, if relieved laugh. One of them is his wife.

We finally wind up in a grotty looking bar in one of the side streets that is full of local youngsters in their twenties. Everyone is huddled in groups on the tatami-matted floor, around giant pots of boiling udon and miso soup that lies at the centre. They effortlessly pick meat with chopsticks into their bowls, and stir in condiments and sauces. The din is vibrant and youthful. The guy at the bar cannot understand English at all. We agree that this is a fitting place to have our first "sake" (Japanese rice wine) of the day, which we proceed to consume in copious quantities.

By the end of the evening I am merry and very very exhausted. (One of our drunken games included ordering a dish by randomly pointing at the Japanese menu. So we ended up trying raw horse slivers. ) As we make to leave at about 1 am, my friend asks the waitress how to say "we had a great night" in Japanese. She can’t understand him, but assumes that he's complaining and commences apologizing, her hands folded, bowing over. I do the same for the second time today, looking even sillier this time as I am drunk and apologizing in Japanese.

I have delicious udon soup from a vending machine on the way back to the hotel.

We’ve got 6 days ahead, and I already feel like I’ve been here a week. It’s been a long and fun day.
Attached Images
20140330_182148.jpg Shinjuku.jpg 
Last edited by BholeBaba; Apr 10th, 2014 at 12:09.. Reason: minor sentence change
#2 Apr 10th, 2014, 01:49
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#2
Great start BB!

It's great to read about the different kind of welcome that you, as Indians, had from what white foreigners would get. The hotel sounds nice but the bathroom is mind-boggling!

Quote:
It’s been a long and fun day.
It's been a long and fun read too . Thanks for the laughs - looking forward to more
#3 Apr 10th, 2014, 03:11
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#3
Good TLOG BB.

Good to see locals writing a TLOG of foreign country.

In my case even local travels are doomed and like winning a war.
#4 Apr 10th, 2014, 06:18
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#4
You know you can get vegetable sushi too which is nice?

Did the all singing - dancing toilet play music too?

I like the comparison with London, sounds great!
#5 Apr 10th, 2014, 09:15
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#5
Quote:
Originally Posted by BholeBaba View Post I choose the torched Salmon with mayo on top. Its the least raw-option. I dunk it in wasabi and another sauce to singe the raw smell. Its delicious. My friend devours the raw tuna and mackerel Sushi. It looks vile. I try one and decide that that will be my last one. She loves it though, as does everyone else.
Fresh raw fish in sushi doesn't smell. It is simply delicious.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fing Fang View Post You know you can get vegetable sushi too which is nice?
It could as well be smoked fish which is common in party platters.


.
"Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards." Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001)
#6 Apr 10th, 2014, 09:15
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getting anything vegetarian in Japan is next to impossible. Veg sushis were not on any menu I saw. I'm sure if we asked for it, they'd have substituted the fish with some pickle or something. they have all sorts of pickles and quite a few delectable sauces, too.
#7 Apr 10th, 2014, 09:23
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#7
BB, Try Okonomiyaki. Which for me is Japanese Uttapam. You can ask them to make it as per your choice. Tsukishima in Tokyo is a good area for it.
#8 Apr 10th, 2014, 09:36
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#8
I loved okonamiyaki as well as yakitori, which are like japanese kebabs on skewers as well as a variety of tapas snacks! and I could have udon noodles and miso soup all day!! I loved the food there on the whole. their bento boxes and tempora are just divine..I'll do a food post later.
#9 Apr 10th, 2014, 09:58
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#9
Okonomiyaki is probably the best known Japanese veggie dish. If you can't get them, you can always find cheese/potato filled tempura or tofu noodle bowls or Japanese style curry udon noodles.

The woman who asked whether you people were from India, Is she Japanese(by appearance atleast)?
#10 Apr 10th, 2014, 10:02
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#10
Quote:
Originally Posted by RWeHavingFunYet View Post Fresh raw fish in sushi doesn't smell. It is simply delicious.

.
perhaps it's the texture of it then, that feels weird on my Indian tongue..I dunno.
#11 Apr 10th, 2014, 10:23
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#11
Quote:
Originally Posted by BholeBaba View Post getting anything vegetarian in Japan is next to impossible.
In transit once 'pon a time/
went hungry at Narita.

(ok, there was diet coke and wasabi)

pee yess - its a fine read so far bb
#12 Apr 10th, 2014, 11:05
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by BholeBaba View Post getting anything vegetarian in Japan is next to impossible.
Not true. In fact you can get many kinds of ramen which are purely vegetarian. In fact there is a considerable minority of japanese who are vegetarian. You should have asked


Quote:
One of my friends says he is curious to have a look at what goes on inside one of those Japanese school-girl fetish bars, supposedly only for a minute. I can only see Japanese men around. The bouncer denies him entry saying that the venue is closed to foreigners.
This is true. Many of the off-the-wall fetishes and other lifestyle places are closed to gaijin. Most are controlled by Yakuza. Again, You should have asked


Lovely writeup. Keep writing - Break it into half-a-day at a time. Daytime and Nighttime.

#13 Apr 10th, 2014, 14:05
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#13
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Originally Posted by Govindpuri View Post BB, Try Okonomiyaki. Which for me is Japanese Uttapam. You can ask them to make it as per your choice. Tsukishima in Tokyo is a good area for it.
The mouth watering okonamiyaki...

............and the not so mouth-watering raw tuna sushi.
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#14 Apr 10th, 2014, 14:15
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#14
The Jap WC's has flummoxed many a soul
Them Jap's are full of fetishes. No used-schoolgirl-panty and other porno vending machines ?


Great write up BB - am bhery, bhery much enjoying
Yeh dil maange more, more, more!



:brishti
#15 Apr 10th, 2014, 14:54
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#15
Quote:
Originally Posted by BholeBaba View Post The mouth watering okonamiyaki...
You sure that's okonamiyaki? Looks so different....
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