Friday, January 11, 2013




Landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport, I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I breezed through customs and how I found my luggage already waiting for me. This was my first but certainly not the last taste of Japanese efficiency.

My first two days were spent in Yokohama and obviously the first stop had to be the famed Sankeien Gardens which was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to, spectacular and stunning with an enormous koi pond, a few old structures scattered here and there, and an awe-inspiring bamboo grove. I followed a trail that lead up to a large hill with a lot of steps and ended up at a gorgeous three story pagoda, but it is well worth it, as is the observatory overlooking the sea at the highest point in the garden. I can just imagine how incredible it must be later in the spring or during the summer. I also wondered how crowded it might get during those times.

The Chinese started settling in Yokohama in the mid 1800’s when Japan opened its doors to international trade. Since then Yokohama’s Chinatown has blossomed into Japan’s largest Chinese community. The area houses a major street with dozens of cross streets and alleys, and is home to many restaurants, serving Cantonese cuisine and there are many street side snacks too. The Japanese consider it impolite to walk and eat at the same time, fortunately that rule does not extend to Yokohama’s Chinatown. So I grabbed a portion of ‘sheng jian bao’, which seemed to be a hot seller and I had to literally stand in a queue for about 15 minutes to get it. This juicy, dumpling whose underside is browned on a griddle is absolutely delightful and one has to be careful while biting into the crust as it causes an eruption of liquid which may fall on your clothes and not on the tray. Strolling along I checked out the other colourful and exotic shops overflowing with Chinese goods, books, souvenirs and even Chinese medicines.

I recollect many instances when cup noodles saved me from instant hunger when I was in the hostel and ran out of money or after working till late when there weren’t any options left to eat out! A museum dedicated to Cup Noodles? I simply had to go! I entered a hall called Instant Noodles History Cube that exhibited all the cup noodles sold in the world market from the very beginning up to present. For those who do not know the first cup noodles was invented by Momofuku Ando in 1958.  Up on the second to top floor was a street like display with little window shops with all kinds of noodle vendors. The creator must have surely travelled the world trying different kinds of noodles for such amazing ideas! The exhibits were interesting as well as educative. Finally I went to the Cup Noodles factory to make my own instant cup noodles. I took a cup from the vending machine and sanitized my hands. I designed my cup and personalized it with colourful markers. After choosing the flavour and seasonings, I sealed the noodles. It was really good fun! The room next door, which is a little more expensive one, can actually make ramen noodles from scratch!

The sheer size is overwhelming. As I looked at the subway map, I thought I would spend hours getting lost around the city. I walked around Shinjuku station, the biggest metro station in the world, only to realise Tokyo is big. When I finally exited the subway I stood awe -struck. The view of Shinjuku at night is one of the most captivating and stunning urban experiences in the world. Tokyo is absolutely high on the fashion quotient, as I witnessed passer-by’s dressed in the latest fashion crossing the busiest crossroad in the world. There were sky-high glass buildings all around and Neon lights as far as my eye could see. All in all, Shinjuku makes even New York and London look rural. Tokyo is futuristic!

Truly cultural emissaries from the land of the rising sun continue to capture the global imagination which I understood once as I was at the Kabukiza theatre in Ginza. With the English language headphone translation it was easy and fun to watch the show. The heavily made up faces of its actors and the musical instruments, including the shamisen, accompanied the performance. I loved the atmosphere created by sounds and images. The stage revolved and was set with trapdoors from which actors appeared on and left the stage. The story was quite like a Hindi film and I just didn’t how the three long hours passed away! Highly recommend this for those visiting Tokyo!

Tokyo’s fast food Izakaya’s are buzzy, yummy and pocket friendly! Basically they are bars that serve food and follow a formula of an open counter where the chefs’ work, a selection of sake, cocktails, wine, beer etc. and menus that include sharing dishes of Sushi, yakitori, Edamame, spring rolls, tempuras and other small eats! I visited one with a Japanese friend of mine and she took me to the best kind of neighbourhood place, and trust me if this neighbourhood wasn’t a long flight away, I’d probably be there every evening!
My very dear friend Ayako...we went together to cooking school in paris

People here are exceedingly friendly and the hospitality is better than any other place I have ever seen (considering I travel one International destination every month) yet people are not tipped and do not expect either! So after drinking a lot of green tea, eating Sushi galore and shopping at all the possible malls and Uni Qlo for jackets (I left my last day just for that), my trip came to an end which I would say had been rather amazing and one I would definitely repeat again! At times it was challenging due to the cultural differences. But that is exactly why I travel, I love the differences of the cultures and the similarities that bring us closer together as human beings. My first trip to Japan had been rather fruitful!

published in TLF

No comments: