Of Sushi and Surreality

My visits to Japan

For me, travelling is the most amazing, peculiar thing in the world. We travel to escape life, to start afresh- but we end up closer to life than we’d ever thought. Travelling, to me, means leaving the comfort of your city and trusting your intuition. It means broadening your horizons and discovering. And that is why, my trips to Japan last year defined me- as a student, as an individual, and as a citizen of the world.

Armed with a limited vocabulary of the language and a curious mind, I first visited Japan in 2014. The first thing that struck me, when I saw the city of Tokyo, was its sheer order. The city moved like perfectly oiled gears, and it never seemed to malfunction. It was like a new-age machine; but it had a heart that made it feel like home. During my days in Tokyo, I woke up feeling like the city was my oyster. We visited the Meiji Shrine, Mount Fuji, and the Tokyo Tower. However, the highlight of my trip was our visit to the Fish Market. Leaving our hotel in the wee hours of the morning, we took the subway to the local fish market. It was eye opening it was these unconventional visits that really gave me an insight into how the city worked. One highlight of my stay at Tokyo was our visit to the ‘Busiest Intersection Ever’, at Shibuya. It is a marvel to behold; a street that has crossings in all 4 cardinal directions. And it was in the midst of all those people that I really began to think of the city in depth, and I realised how different, yet similar, it was from New Delhi. If there was one similarity I could draw, it was the fact that both the cities are absolutely busting with people. There is action and buzz all around- you can almost feel it in the air. The skyline of Tokyo is comprised entirely of surreality. You can see the glimmer of dreams, the excitement of innovation, and a tinge of conventionalism unfold before your eyes. And it was this skyline that left me enraptured long after I left Tokyo.

Next on our itinerary was Kyoto. The journey to Kyoto was a highlight in itself; we took the Shinkansen (which is the Bullet Train). The average speed of the Shinkansen is between 300-320 km/h- which explained our extremely short travel duration. We arrived jet-packed and hungry for adventure. The city of Kyoto complemented Tokyo perfectly (yin to yan!), and it contrasted the skyline with a quant air of cultural diversity. In Kyoto, we delved into traditional Japanese cuisine, sampling everything from Sashimi, to Okonami-Yaki, and Ramen. It was in Kyoto that I visited a place that forever changed the way I look at the world. And that place was the city of Hiroshima. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum serves as a reminder of how powerful the human spirit is. The A-Bomb Dome stands, almost glaring at the people who pass by, reiterating stories of a horrifying past. This visit shook me up immensely, however the state of the city of Hiroshima gave me hope. It was so well maintained and organised, that it is hard to imagine the horrors that once destroyed it. After signing a peace declaration (I have attached copies for record), we headed back to Kyoto, our minds full with thoughts and reflections.

Our last destination was Osaka. Primarily an economic hub, it was very similar to Tokyo in its functioning. It was in Osaka that we took a subway and really lost ourselves in translation, exploring the city in its true form. It was amazing to walk around, with neon signs and boards surrounding us, just enjoying the place for what it was. It was a suitable end to a journey that changed my outlook towards life.

My second visit to Japan was in the autumn of 2014 itself. I went with 90 other students from the country, on a government-sponsored mass-media trip. Even though I visited the same country, it was a completely different trip. It was during my second trip to Japan that I truly felt like I got to know the country. This trip comprised mainly of visits to factories, radio-stations, newspaper-headquarters and the like. However, the highlight, for me, was the Homestay Programme. The programme consisted of staying with a Japanese Family for 3 days, and there was no specific itinerary planned for those 3 days. My family comprised of the Mother (Oka-san), two daughters, one aged 27 and one 18, a professional show-dog! With my Japanese Family, I visited the Open-Air Edo Museum, and saw reconstructions and real-life artifacts from the Edo-Period, including the open-air bathtubs and even stationery shops! We played traditional Japanese games, ate the most delicious food, and learnt about the nuances of life. A few things that stood out, particularly, were- the fact that there were no shoes allowed in the house, the breakfast meal of Miso Soup and rice, and the sheer popularity of Indian Food! The Homestay Programme was something that I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of. It taught me about the working of domestic life, about the societal structures, and the deep-rooted culture of Japan. During my second visit to Japan, I visited Tokyo and Yokohama. The cities were both coloured with the red-gold leaves of autumn, like carpets spread out for fantasies to tread on.

My trips to Japan, I like to believe, made me a more inquisitive, yet rooted person. I noticed, that Japan was the perfect blend of Modernity and Culture. My family’s home had a cutting-edge technology television with the most beautiful origami placed on top of it. The stores had traditional signs, with the newest of apparel. The people spoke of their country like it was the greatest thing in the world, but looked at us with a smile. Visiting Japan was like living in a Murakami novel. It was surreal; it blurred the boundaries between reality and fantasy. And in the words of Murakami himself,

“Have you ever had that feeling-that you’d like to go to a whole different place and become a whole different self?”

jappp

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