So, India and Japan are polar opposites. In India, it was frequently too hot to go outside. In Japan, it seems that every time we set foot outdoors we get drenched in sheets of cold, grey rain. Everything is peaceful, systematic and reserved. The super-clean zen of Tokyo was a welcome relief after the hectic, boiling filthiness of Delhi, but I have to say, I did miss the colour, adventure and personalities of India after a couple of days.
It’s amazing how in a city the size and population of Tokyo (around 35 million people live in the Tokyo metropolitan area) there’s never that sense of overwhelming noise, madness and bustle that you expect from a huge city. Rivers of people calmly and quietly glide around, weaving in and out of each other without even brushing shoulders, everyone is respectful and no-one ever seems perturbed. If you somehow managed to miss the news that this country had recently suffered an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster, you would never know.
The Japanese that we came across very much lived up to the stereotype of being both inscrutable and extremely polite – to the point where it was almost embarrassing on occasions. Dan got into a bow-off with a waitress at a restaurant, who practically ended up head-butting the floor in order that her bows to him were lower than his to her. I had to coax him away before the poor lady did some injury to herself. On a couple of occasions people serving us at bars dropped to their knees on the floor to take our orders or hand us our drinks (we were sitting down and if they were standing they would be higher than us, which would definitely mess the whole bowing thing up). People have gone out of their way to help us on numerous occasions.
One thing that really struck me about the Japanese was there seems to be a childlikeness about them. I really hope that doesn’t sound patronising – we’ve both gained an enormous amount of respect for this country, and it’s probably the most advanced country on the planet. It’s not just their relatively diminutive stature, there was just a sort of childlike, unquestioning generosity to everyone we met. On one bus journey a businessman insisted on donating almost his entire lunch to us, despite the fact that we had already eaten. There’s a tentative shyness but readiness to laugh – I’ve never heard so many grown men giggle so often. There’s also the fact that there are big bright colours, toys and cartoons everywhere (not just for the kids) and they do dinky versions of everything, from food to souvenirs to shoes. And they all look way younger than they are. That said, there are a considerable amount of suspiciously young girls advertising various things – which is a slightly more suspect side of the coin…
And now for just a few other, fairly random observations:
– No-one seems to have curly hair.
– Everything is green tea flavoured: ice cream, crisps, cakes, frappes (I tried one of these. It minged.)
– The women wear very short skirts and shorts. Legs are clearly not an issue in Japan, unlike conservative India. I have to say, it was quite a relief to wear clothes that didn’t come down to my ankles and not feel like a prostitute.
– Everyone stands, and in fact walks, in perfectly formed lines.
Dan managed to bring a bit of Delhi belly with him to Tokyo, so was out of action for a couple of days. We were both knackered as our journey to Tokyo had been a bit arduous – 9 hour delays, sleeping on the floor in Delhi airport, transfers to hotels in Beijing etc – so we decided to go further south and come back to Tokyo when we had a bit more energy. The next bullet train to Kyoto seemed like too good an opportunity to miss – despite being vastly expensive. But then everything in Japan seems to be vastly expensive (particularly coming from India…) so we bit the bullet and took it.