My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Journey to the east: Japan

Dazzling bustling Tokyo, where people walk can walk slower than the slowest snails because of the human traffic, where pregnant women are as endangered as the dodo, where old couples throw crumbs of bread on giant lotus leaves to take a snap of the thus attracted sparrow, and where in the sleazy neon districts Kabukicho, the red light area, even ladies will never tire of choices for the boys available range from leafy-haired anime look alikes to lovable mustached fat uncles with puppies. In this end of the world corner, an African man comes up to me asking if I would be keen for a night with “Shilpa”, an Indian actress look alike. An on the other end of this same world, they are the nicest people I have met. There is a gentleness and respectful concern about everything, from the numerous greetings of the restaurant staff, the reading glasses kept in abundance next to immigration forms, posters asking people with backpacks to be careful about those behind them, to the prevailing local practice of almost never using a mobile phone in public places, to the extent that it perhaps erases the utility of the mobile phone as a talking tool; something to be only looked at intensely and swiped with fingers vigorously.
During our stay we always stay at Japanese style places with shared bathrooms, tatami floors, rice pillows and gentle air conditioning. At Tokyo’s Taito Ryokan, the hotel owner Saito, a thirty something man, with an avuncular feel about him; someone who reminds one of childhood when one follows a knows-more-than-me older person for tiny adventures. Saito is a brave man for he has maintained his sanity while listening to noises of love making in all languages that drive away ghosts from the paper-thin hotel walls.
One evening is spent at an unassuming Onsen, or public bath hidden in some dark alley of Asakusa, the old town. A great national obsession in Japan, the sight of naked men in all waist sizes moving over with ant like agility from one water tank to another, is rather peculiar. Most of them have a small towel around the G Spot while the more stingy or gutsy ones, depending on how you look at it, just grab the entire prop in one hand during such tank swaps, all in the name of public decency. The white towel is usually then placed on top of the head when our bodies go under water, making us all feel like a new species of white-back turtles. Famous for their trim bellies and long lives, the Japanese have made up for the small potions in their own diet by feeding their animals with vengeance and the cats and crows of Japan are the fattest I have seen in the course of my revolutions around the sun.
Sights of children and pregnant women are very rare indeed in this mythical land of declining population and as such the occasional marriages at the temples are greeted with much attention by photographers, most unknown to the bride and groom. Shinto religion seems rather practical and worldly wise that instead of stressing a lot on how life evolved and how many days god rested, focuses on factory scale production of charms to ensure good exams, fine health, strong relationship and weakened enemies, the sales pitch delivered gracefully by the resident monk.
Our next stop is climbing Mount fuji on the last day of the official climbing season. The best way to see Mt Fuji is to look at its postcard and so it was during our visit as well as the angels of rain and clouds decide to hug the mountain all the three days we were in its vicinity. None the less, we headed for its peak braving the coming typhoon through an all night rain drenched trek that brought us in touch with several struggling climbers, some pledging that they would never come back in this life and in their next life as well, while some lay down on the rocks to catch a few minutes of wet dreams. The huts at the few base stations on the way to the summit seemed especially cruel as we could only look through inside the glass doors people reveling in a heavenly dry place, free from rain and cold winds, and a wooden bench to rest bums on, a glass of supremely overpriced steaming drink in their hands, Paradiso. As an aside, the owners of these stores are unusually keen to get your money as soon as possible, perhaps concerned that if collected after serving; the money may turn out to be too wet to be of any use. These shop owners have also come with the supreme innovation; they will stamp on your passport with a seal saying you have been on Mt Fuji, all for a mere 200 Yen.
And it makes sense to go to toilets at lower altitudes because as you ascend up the mountain, the rates for toilet go up to an atrocious 300 Yen at the summit. They also have a smart way of dealing with yellow stained toilets with notices announcing, “Don’t be put off, this is a bio-toilet, it is supposed to be like this.”The summit has the feel of a rural bus stop with lots of activity amidst run-down looking shops as hundreds of climbers increase their activity levels while taking puffs of compressed oxygen and menthol vapours, having finally reached the top.
By the way, never believe distance markings in any mountains, for there meters easily seem like kilometers while kilometers convert themselves into miles. And another piece of advice, always look at the faces of those climbing up, while you are climbing down, for it gives you a kick like nothing. On the way down, a bunch of university graduates go out of their way to help us asking us to follow them to make sure that we don’t get lost in the mountain. They offer us their oxygen flasks, their food, and their jackets to make sure we are comfortable. But after they take two wrong turns, rather impossibly, and despite our suggestions to go the correct way, we pretend craving for instant noodles as an excuse to part with these well-wishing if a little confused gentleman. I remained worried for a few days after that if the group did eventually manage to come down.
Back at the foot in the village of Kawaguchiko, the hills around Mt Fuji are lush green, perhaps with envy, at why a barren dormant mountain gets so much celebrity.
Our next stop is Nikko, where the density of temples with their honey voiced priests cum charms salesman would put Starbucks to shame. Nikko is also a giant complex full of wishes, wishes tied to trees, wishes dropped in a drop-box, wishes written in ribbons floating around in the breeze, wishes, wishes, wishes, all yearning to break free. I take particular interest in one temple, the Rinnoji temple, which is divided into sections for heaven, humans and hell, with the human section having a sign-board at its entrance saying “Off-Limits”; I am sure a bird or an ant could cross over. Later at night, while we head back to hotel after dinner, we notice that a Wanted poster has been made rather comical with people drawing horns, moustaches and other funny icons on the faces of the crime suspects.
A final word on lunch boxes, an integral part of life in Japan. There’s something rather magical about these endearing boxes and they give you a feeling that all the meanings of life have been shrink wrapped and presented to you in the form of that box; of course in a daunting range of varieties.
P.S. Pictures of Japan visit at this link

No comments: