Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Japan I Bid You Farewell

There are times in life when in the midst of chaos you find yourself in an oasis of peace. Such is the beauty of Ueno Park. On my final day in Japan, I packed my bags (leaving room in the carry on for last minute shopping) and headed out for a more traditional cultural experience. Strangely, after only a very short time, I already felt at home in this part of town. I had mapped the area in my head, made friends with the local noodle vendor and felt a serenity in the smallest details. Wandering around town with new eyes, I fancied myself part Hemingway, part Bryson. That is to say, creating all sorts of fantasies about the people surrounding me and their lives, as well as making all the usual amusing travellers observations.

On this morning, I finally attained my noodle breakfast, and simply imagined the age old family tradition that had created it. Actually my imagination made up for my lack of language skills on many occasions. After that steaming hot bowl of miscellaneous deliciousness, I headed towards the note worthy Ueno Park; home to temples, museums and a zoo. As I passed the suited business man, asleep on the overpass, empty bottle by his side, I wondered at the social conventions of begging in this city. I has seen many a homeless person during my evening sojourns, but never once had I been asked for money or confronted in any way, unlike in LA where one feels triumphant to walk away with all limbs intact. Here in this busy junction, many homeless men lived beneath the overpass. Constructing lean toos with cardboard boxes, umbrellas and what appeared to be an advanced engineering degree. There was no attempt by pedestrians to avoid their area, nor was there an attempt from those homeless themselves to engage anyone. It seemed a sad state, yet oddly civilized.

My first port of call upon reaching Ueno Park, was the small and beautifully adorned shrine to Hiroshima. Swathed in garlands of brightly coloured origami, it spoke both of great sadness, but also a great joy arisen from ashes. The shrine brought me to the entrance of a temple constructed in 1627 as a tribute to Tokugawa Ieyasu. Keep in mind that I live in a country that was only "discovered" in 1788, so to me this is serious history. The entrance with its giant stone lanterns was impressive enough, but upon reaching the face of the temple, it had an almost tangible air of solemnity and the honorific. This was the first time in Japan that I had been asked to remove my shoes for any occasion, and in this case it was only by signage, as the temple did not appear to be staffed aside from the cashier and a groundsman. Given that it was only a sign asking people to remove their shoes and respect the request for no internal photographs, I was surprised to see that everyone obeyed the rules. (It seems to be the norm in Australia that people assume that rules are made for everyone else but themselves. ) So I compliantly removed my shoes and ascended the stairs. The very first thing that struck me was the scent. The scent of the warm dried grasses in the new tatami matting. I had expected this flooring to be somewhat rough, but it didn't once snag my stockinged feet. In fact, it was both so comfortable and welcoming that I contemplated covering my slate flooring in tatami when I arrived home, although I don't know if the local floor world carry that as an option.

Hiroshima Shrine

Temple built in 1627

Moss in the grounds of the temple. In a perfect world, this would be under my feet wherever I go.

From the serenity of the temple, to the bustle of the children's fair ground. Although I only stopped to take a couple of quick pictures and imagine my girls joy in such a place, I've added this little gem to my list of perfect fashion shoot locations. That is, should I ever be fortunate enough to get back here in that capacity. I had visions of wearing chiffon ball gowns and riding the giant Hello Kitty off into the sunset. But instead, I chose to do the cultural thing and headed to the National Museum. Here were archeological pieces with dates on them I hadn't even considered the existence of. But truth be told, it wasn't so much the exhibits that held me enthralled, but the other visitors. From the corner of my eye I sneakily took in every detail of the Autumnal kimono of the woman walking beside me. Her perfectly tied Obi and silky white Tabi socks. This was quite the novelty for me, as to date I had only seen people dressed in Western attire. It was not only an interesting contrast fashion wise, but to watch them blend seamlessly with the crowd, the traditional with the modern and not an eyebrow raised. Yet another scenario I will never witness on our shores.

After a long day of walking and visual gluttony, I stopped for a late lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. I had a hankering for dumplings and hadn't found a local purveyor of Gyoza (Japanese dumplings) so this would have to do. It was 3.30 in the afternoon and the waitress was about to go home. She was extremely unhappy that I only wanted to eat dumplings, indicating that it was hardly worth her time to serve me such a paltry fare. How was I to tell her it is my favorite food? So after some screaming at the chef, she left him with my order and went home. Oddly, the chef kept popping out of the kitchen to refill my water every 10 seconds and give me a huge grin that left me wondering what her parting words were. After about his 8th visit, he gesticulated towards his face and said "beautiful." Flattered I was, but being the only customer past closing time in a dark basement restaurant, I was a little nervous too. When he brought my lunch I thanked him in Japanese ( one of the three phrases I knew) and decided to take a punt, given the nature of the restaurant, and thanked him also in Mandarin. His shoulders lifted and he smiled from ear to ear, launching into a huge speech and asking me loads of questions. My Mandarin was a little rusty, but was enough that for the first time in Japan, I had an actual conversation with someone! How odd to be sitting in a Chinese restaurant, in Japan, not speaking Japanese, or he any English, yet making a friend. Feeling quite pleased with myself, and full of complimentary pudding, I bid my new friend farewell and headed off to the airport.

An hour and a half bus ride to the airport; during which time I was subject to the loud and rude mobile phone conversation of another Australian on the bus, who believed that the no mobile phone rule did not apply to him (surprise surprise). I wanted to hit him with my shoe for breaking my Tokyo reverie, but instead chose to attack him with my words. Once he was suitably chastised, and I was all checked in, spent my final hour in Japan shopping the gift hall (more photos will follow), and giggling with sailor suit clad, Japanese school girls.

Yes, my time here was short, but the impression has been immeasurable. Should any Japanese company have employment opportunities for this infatuated Australian, please email me immediately!


Casey said...

It's my dream to go to Japan one day, and your posts are making me want to scheme and scrimp and save to go! :) Thanks for sharing all your experiences and vignettes with us!

floraposte said...

You make Japan sound even better than I've always imagined!

(R)evolver74 said...

Oh wow that giant Doraemon statue thing is great!!

Fuji Mama said...

I'm so glad that you fell in love with Japan! I lived in Tokyo until 3 months ago when we had to move, and it was heartbreaking to leave. I am dying to put tatami mats in a room in our house--they feel WONDERFUL on bare feet!

in company with sparkles said...

Aw! I so enjoy reading about your time in Japan. I'm incredibly jealous.

Heather said...

Well thank you for that lovely little vacation! It was nice to read about your adventures in Japan on my breaks at work, made me feel like i got out a bit!

A dreamer said...

you speak mandarin?! awesome. i love the way you have described everything.
Also, it's funny because when my fam and I were in tokyo, my dad started speaking mandarin to a cleaner in our hotel and they had a great conversation...became friends and all kinda like you did.
Oh and i hear there are some great gyoza places in box hill if you're still hankering for some.

Super Kawaii Mama said...

Casey: I'm already saving for the next one too.
Floraposte: For me it was better than disneyland. :)
(r)evolver: Yes, you could ride him even!
Fuji Mama: I wonder how easy they are to come by overseas?
in company: It was fun to write it too.
Heather: All you need now is a little Miso soup while you read.
A Dreamer: My Mandarin is basic, limited to pleasantries and essential information, but I'll always give it a go. As for the Box Hill Gyoza, I make it an almost weekly mission to head there for some. They are Miss 4's favorite too.

TheSundayBest said...

Noodles for breakfast is just so right - looks lovely.

Japan...wait for me...I'm coming for you.

Imelda Matt said...

I've just been catching up on your posts. I think traveling to Japan via the US rewires your sense and although one of the busiest cities in the world Tokyo seems like one of the quietest cities. Hmmm, Tokyo in your blood and it's near to impossible to shake the desire to go back!

gucci handbag said...

Happy Halloween To You!

docwitch said...

I've been avidly following your travel adventures, (and of course, your Daily Outfit posts - love it).

I just gave you a little award over on my blog : )

Amy G. said...

I think, between the kawaii and the attention to details, I would die of happiness in Japan. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!

Super Kawaii Mama said...

The Sunday Best: There really is something so soulful about a streaming bowl of noodles for breakfast.
Imelda: You're right. The contrast between the two made it even better. Particularly the airport staff, where is the US the large security lady was screaming at me to "remove all liquids" as I placed the hat box into the XRay machine. She's waving around, gun at her side, and yelling, "You! I said you! Remove all lotions, potions and LIQUIDS" Of course I gave her a withering glance as I walked through saying, "It is a HAT box." Japan on the other hand was all smiles and bowing from her counterparts.
Gucci Handbag: Thank you and to you.
DocWitch: Thank You! And thanks for commenting so I could find your most amusing blog.
Amy G: You would indeed, and it is the perfect child friendly wonderland too.

susie_bubble said...

Wonderful images...especially the breakfast...big noodle for breakfast fan here...

jimmy said...

I think, between the kawaii and the attention to details, I would die of happiness in Japan. Thank you for sharing your journey with us!