jueves, 18 de agosto de 2011

Tokyo is antithesis to Delhi!

I arrive in Tokyo early Thursday morning fatigued - far too excited to sleep on the plane. My
first glimpses of Japan filter through a semi-conscious haze as I drift in and out of sleep: a
blur of neon green tree tops and tile roofs, a spectrum of colors fly past the windows of the
Airport express. Although it doesn't register until later, my initial insights into Japanese culture
also come to me on that same train ride from Nayana Airport to metropolitan Tokyo. I am a
sight for sore eyes: seated on the train's bench, hunched over, my head rolling back and forth
chin upon my chest, my bike box half beside me half in the isle; I'm still sporting the same
scuffed leather trainers and torn black tshirt that I've worn for two months now, which, despite
the temperature controlled corridors of the airport and metro, is soaked in sweat from lugging
my gear and bike box - an arduos task, requiring a balancing act, evidenced by the red marks
on my ear and shoulder. Imagine my sorry state juxtaposed with a spotless state-of-the art
train of which Japanese engineers are famous and it is crammed with suits, men and women
on their way to work; they shuffle past me as the train snakes through Tokyo at lightening
speed, making its consecutive stops with reptilic agility sans the slightest jolt. Despite my
incongruous appearance I am so throroughly ignored I wonder if I hadn't left my physical body
in Delhi and arrived in Japan an apparition. Only the conspicuousness of a cumbersome bike
box disproves this theory - it impedes the otherwise orderly files of Japanese commuters
making their way on and off the train. And then, it occurs to me, even in my incongnazance,
that everyone is totally and completely silent. I hear only the sound of the electric locomotive,
barely audible through its air-tight windows. How to describe this attribute of humans
acculturated in the anomaly that is the Japanese archpelago? "Quiet" is a vague discriptor,
but words such as serine, quiescent, tranquil, or even placid might be unfair critiques and it is
still to early for me to make any such general statements.

If I might be allowed one more observation, likely already implied by my earlier
musings: "Ordeliness" and the perhaps unfair implications that might be made by
its synonyms: acquiecense, conformity, homogeneity, etc. These might be my own
premisconceptions of Japan and its people, however, after arriving from the land of chaos
that is India, these attributes of the Japanese seem all the more striking. For example, in the
Tokyo metro people wait patiently for passengers to exit before boarding the train! A culture
shock in comparison with the fierce battle that is required boarding and deboarding a train
in Delhi. I've only been in Japan less than 2 hours and it is already evident that Tokyo is
antithesis to Delhi and I welcome the change of pace.

My head drops abruptly and I awake just in time to see the word Asakusa, my station stop,
make its way across the digital display located above the now opening double doors- I barely
make it off in time. As I leave subterranean world of the metro I soon find my self on the
corner of a busy intersection. Once again I am awestruck by this vacuum of sound that is
Tokyo! Larger than the city of NY and traffic is in full tilt, yet not a single honk can be heard. I
breath deeply. Ahhh, the air is so clean compared with Delhi; am I indeed in a city of more
than 12 million people? There is not even any litter on the streets. Why are some people
wearing respirators? I feel a tinge of regret for leaving my bike box stuffed in a corner on the
platform where I assembled my cycle, but repentance is not my strong suit and my attention
wonders elsewhere. Head-turning-tale, like a whirrling dirvish in slow motion, I scan the
horrizon. The metrostop for Asakusa sits along the Sumida River. A small bridge of art
nouveau design is painted lacquer red. A cluster of buildings on the opposite bank
immediately catch my eye and I stop for a moment to reflect upon them. Balancing upon a
squat building as if ready to fly into the air is a gigantic golden sperm! Bewildered, I stop to
reflect upon this grotesque architectural wonder and I fail to notice I'm standing in a cross
walk and the light has changed colors. I am nearly run over by a young man in a Japanese
folk costume pulling a rickshaw. To my amazement he is on foot and like a beast of burden
he is pulling a carriage loaded with two passengers. His black short-shorts and white three-
quarter button down shirt reveal muscular legs and arms, the skin of which has been
darkened by the sun and is glistening with sweat. Never before have I seen such a thing - but
I'm certainly intrigued. This young man shall most definitely be included in my first sketches of
Japan, with the gigantic sperm for a backdrop!

It's been a long day and I'm still on Delhi time. After three attempts I find a vacant dormitory
in a hostel for ¥ 3000 (about $39)! There is no possible way I can afford travel in Japan for
2 months if I am paying so much just for a place to rest my head. I am resolved to sleep on
the streets rather than spend that kind of money for something as inconsequential as a bed
with clean sheets. Tonight I'll have to fork over the money while I get my bearings. I ask the
young man at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation. He sends me to Rihei, a ramen
shop on Kaminarimon-dori. I enter the restaurant and a homely lady with a mid-length salt
and pepper coiffure ushers me to a vending machine with an assortment of buttons adorned
in Japanese characters. I am obviously dumbfounded and with broken English she helps
me to choose my soup; afterwhich I enter money into the machine and it spits out a ticket to
be snatched by the lady proprietor who then ushers me to my seat. The soup arrives a few
minutes later - the noodles served separate. Never before had I tasted such good noodles
and the broth, so full of flavor! the pork is cooked to such perfection it barely stays together on
my chopsticks. I am reminded of the Japanese "noodle-western" Tampopo: in the openning
scene the old man teaches his disciple how to properly eat a bowl of ramen and the young
man is instructed to meditate upon his soup before taking the first bite, giving thanks to the
meat and vegetables that gave their lives for human sustenance. I rejoice at the fact that I am
in the country in which this great noodle movie was made. And how much did I pay for this
dilectable treat? ¥18000 ($23.40). I am again reconfirmed in my intentions of finding alternative
accommodations, especially if I am to properly explore the gastronomic wonders of Japan.

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