Ticked off another item on my bucket list last week—a visit to Japan. I knew cricket was not going to take me there. So, it was not a trip that was going to happen just like that. I had to make it happen. Taking ten days off, I cracked that code. Now, it is ‘been there, done that’. Feels good.
I was always fascinated by this country—so far away from the west, not speaking the language of the west, but made such an impact in the west. I had to see Japan up and close, see their ways, their culture, even if it was to be in a limited time of ten days.
The first thing that struck me about Japan was its richness. Their city pavements are floored like in a luxurious Mumbai flat. Expensive stones of different textures and colours are used to create patterns and designs, and this goes on for miles all over its cities. Every item used in its public infrastructure is of high quality. But, no, it is not the ‘in your face’ kind of opulence. The understated richness and class of it all is what comes through.
Their favourite colour combination is grey and cream. Most of their houses and buildings flaunt this colour scheme, very subtle. It gives you a sense of calm, being surrounded by these colours. I plan to repaint my bedroom in these colours now. I have not been sleeping too well, lately.
Hygiene, the Japanese are very big on this, almost obsessed by it. Their bowing practice and general respectfulness towards others is well known. That is exactly how they will tell you to remove your footwear from the outside, and offer clean slippers the moment you step indoors.
Their toilets should be a tourist attraction, if you ask me. They are squeaky clean, and, yes, very hi-tech. Being pioneers in technology, it is no surprise to see Japan using technology in every aspect of their daily lives. It is actually worth travelling to Japan just to use their toilets and take showers.
Forgive me for getting into details of this, but I have to, for this will be one of my abiding memories of Japan. When you sit on the potty, it feels like you are in an aircraft seat, surrounded by all these buttons. Think of everything you do while going through this daily ritual of our lives. It is all taken care of by a light touch of a button.
Right from warming up of the seat to lifting it and all the rest after it, everything is automatic. Same with the showers. The best shower experience of my life has come in Japan. Did you know that many hotels in Japan have a community spa for its guests called onsen? It is like a paddle pool that is filled with hot water.
Now, where does this hot water come from? From the underground natural hot springs. I have no idea how they source that into the hotel—must be some Japanese technology again.
Now, to my favourite subject—food. A warning here: If you do not like Japanese food per se, you may not enjoy the whole Japanese experience as I did. For those who love spices in their food, Japanese food may seem like fish, meat or vegetables dipped in hot water. I have come to a stage where I cannot enjoy food, however tasty it is, if it is high calorie and not healthy. So, Japanese food was just perfect for me. I do not think my family liked the food very much. But, I gorged on it, even on their desserts.
Finally, the biggest takeaway from Japan has to be its people and their culture. I used to actually go down to the hotel lobby to see a particular practice of the hotel staff. Every staff, senior or junior, would bow towards the hotel before opening the door behind them to enter the staff area.
Staff coming out would do the same when stepping out from the hotel, a very solemn bow, like you would do in a place of worship. Work is truly worship here in Japan, and, I guess, that is what makes this country so special.
Manjrekar, a former cricketer, is a commentator.