Japan

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Wheels or no wheels?

I was slated to pick up my set of wheels today. But when I made my booking, Times Rental company had still been Mazda rental and as the latter suggested, only rented out Mazda cars – it was for this bloody reason that I chose this company. The change of name however, is not incidental; the cars they carry are no longer solely Mazda(s) but an unholy mix of Nissan, Toyota and Mazda: in essence, the lack of exclusivity makes it like any other rental company. To my horror, an employee cheerily pointed at a Nissan cube when I’d been expecting a Mazda Axela, a car that I absolutely refused to...

Precipitate of the wrong kind

The landscape of the Furano-Biei region would have been brilliant, if not for the intermittent rain and the heavy cloud cover that seemed to surround the encircling mountaintops. But the hotel room looks out over a few majestic snow-capped peaks (I think this is my travel fetish) and it sort of helps make up for the miserable weather. There’s nothing much to do in Furano now except to walk around a bit, do a bit of work and go for dinner. So after visiting the Furano Marche and buying relatively useless stuff (this revelation comes typically on hindsight), I made my way to Teppan Okonomiyaki Masaya. The fact that it;s...

Springtime in Sapporo

The DOA (day of arrival) is always the worst. It’s when orientating is a pain rather than a joy because you’re all shot through with exhaustion. So each holiday, I wait for the plane ride to end and for the inevitable dreary first day to pass before waking up to a new one tomorrow. Needless to say, I also look my worst each time the DOA rolls around. This time, it’s pretty much my fault for having taken a pair of scissors to my bangs in front of the mirror on impulse two days ago. It’s unflatteringly obvious after I stood next to rows upon rows of neatly-coiffed, image-conscious Japanese...

Aftermath

The world is, just as I am, starting to realise the magnitude of the quake (it being the most powerful in the country ever). The news channel hasn’t stopped showing the repetitive but addictive images of devastation, and my eyes are glued to it the same way we can’t stop watching an approaching train-wreck. Galvanised into action early in the morning soon after reading that a potential nuclear crisis looms where the Fukushima plant might be having a radiation leak, I called the airline and changed my flight, re-routed it via Osaka Kansai and pushing it back a day earlier. What is supposed to be my penultimate day in Japan...

Oh deer, I feel the earth move

If the Japanese visit Nara to begin a sort of mystical connection between their ancestors and the ancientness of their homeland, I must admit that me, the gaijin, visited for the main purpose of visiting the free-roaming deer in Nara Park. Lacking the intense interest in Buddhism – quite the exotic and foreign entity in Western eyes – temples and gardens are to me, aesthetically constructed entities for specific purposes. And that is pretty much the extent of my knowledge, other that the fact that Zen-Buddhism and its minimalist styles have been incredibly fashionable and aped throughout the past few decades. I derived some amusement seeing visitors gently butted by...

Pushing the Zen-button

Buggered. The last night in Takayama was casually spent reading rather unsavoury reviews of the accommodation that had been booked in advance for the impending arrival in. It was quite enough to induce a kafka-esque panic and despair; it was also a great incentive to work on immediately cancelling (thank the lord for internet connection even in the mountains) my now dubious spot there and find a new one no matter the cost. Now sequestered in some infinitely more expensive Kyoto hotel, I know I’ll howl quite loudly when the credit card statement arrives at the end of the month. But for now, I’ll willingly fall into the trap of...

Snow Country

Up blearily for breakfast at 7.30am – and found it not much less lavish than dinner. The highlight of the morning: A few slices of Hida beef placed with some mushrooms on Hoba miso paste served on top of a large magnolia leaf all of which are placed over a ceramic box with a fire – a strange, salty but rather fun mix to swirl around with chopsticks as they cook. Once again, I was generously offered an entire rice-cooker’s worth of rice. In my tiredness, I nearly lopped those into my teacup to the amusement of the host. With time to spare, I went to the Jinya mae and...

The traditions of Takayama

My personal quest (I’m still asking myself when this crept up on me) for Japanese-manufactured sunscreen came to an abrupt halt the day I needed to leave Tokyo for the Japanese Alps. It was also a great opportunity to escape what was fast becoming an unwilling staple: the Tempura Soba. Vaguely grateful that my endeavour could continue in Kyoto, I packed and went my merry way – in the pouring morning rain to board the Shinkansen to Takayama (a 4.5 hour journey), a town stuck high up in the mountain, impassable in winter because of its heavy snowfall at times even in the 21st century. The Japanese have so far,...

Less lost in translation

The compendium of snapshots Tokyo that I’ve captured on camera is by no means exhaustive. Flying solo compounds this feel. Alarmingly, the packed streets of neon lights and the relentless consumer lifestyle look very similar in the few wards of Tokyo that I’ve visited: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Akihabara, Ueno, Ginza compete for business, where streets begin to look ugly and characterless. These places are very much living paradoxes: free-spending lifestyles and effusive hospitality – even the toilets have heated seats and buttons to aid bottom-washing – provide a strong veneer of civilisation underneath a web of complex social hierarchy governing these behaviours that I don’t quite ever understand. It was...

Hakone-Mt. Fuji Circuit

I bravely tackled the intimidating pressures and congestions of city life by removing myself from Tokyo physically, escaping to the Hakone-Mt-Fuji circuit the day after I landed, buying a Hakone Free Pass (dealt with solely by Odakyu) which allows free transportation within this region. A day trip had to suffice despite the large amount of moving around and travelling. Ueno (Tokyo) – Shinjuku (Tokyo) took 40 minutes. The Odakyu Romance car (just a fast train with a fancy name) took nearly 1.5 hrs, depositing its hapless passengers at Hakone-Yumoto station, from which one’s own creativity kicks in. I chose to take yet another slow ride – yet another 40 minutes...