Have you ever travelled somewhere, got there and realised you forgot something important?
Have you then realised that the thing you thought was so important (excluding your passport) wasn’t that vital after all?
Travel is great like that for putting things into perspective – for instance my life-saving hair straightener (which I couldn’t use because for some reason the power adapter didn’t fit) wasn’t really so essential. My hair didn’t even frizz that much in the cold.
Travel takes you from hot to cold (or the other way around) from quiet to busy (and vice-versa), familiar to foreign and it’s only when you get there that you realise things (and mostly people) are so much the same!
So we went to Japan but forgot to bring Laughing Buddha (well any one of the set of three wooden ones we have). I think it was the ten thousand other things we had to decided to pack! This was a shame, as our Laughing Buddhas like to go on adventures.
But thanks to the magic of Photoshop one of the Buddhas (the one that can see no evil) has been transported to the ‘land of the rising sun’ to help me share some memories and lessons from what was a wonderful trip.
Atop the Tokyo Skytree (which stands 642 metres high and was certified in 2011 by the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest tower in the world) you get a 360 degree panorama of an amazingly clean and efficient city.
We loved the fact that Tokyo seemed to mix old and new so comfortably. We got no sense of the old left to become rundown and forgotten – the traditional streets were clean like the modern ones, with not a bin anywhere in sight. It seemed a contradiction, but we deduced it to be the Japanese way – when you embrace order and cleanliness there is no need to cater for chaos and mess.
Of course there was a certain smell about the fish market, but it too was a picture of busy enterprise where some kind of order was at play amidst the fish guts and some of the strange bounty of the sea that we weren’t so sure about.
That night we tried a traditional Sashimi – complete with sea cucumber, arc shell (Akagai) and squid (Ika) as well as the more usual tuna and whitefish. What is a holiday without a little culinary adventure!?
Japan does food so well, not only the exotic tastes, but the presentation. The Japanese are HUGE on presentation from exquisite looking salads in a display cabinet to gorgeous sweet treats that are showcased beautifully – and everything is hand-wrapped and packaged carefully for consumption.
The contrast with the hordes tramping all over the Imperial Palace in Beijing, hawkers at every gate, couldn’t have been starker with the peace and order that prevailed in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo (although you can’t actually access most of the site as the imperial family live there)! On the day we visited, some kind of relay run was in progress. We saw very few race officials – it was like the runners would follow the course without any kind of direction and without diverting – order would simply ensue. A solitary guard stood at the entrance of the bridge to the ‘forbidden’ palace grounds (and didn’t seem to mind the dance moves done for the cameras in front of the moated monument).
And you have to experience the toilets to believe them. We did encounter traditional pit toilets at a railway station, but almost everywhere we went, from shopping centres to the smallest restaurant, guests are treated like kings and queens when it comes time to sit on the throne – heated seats, music playing (to encourage the waterworks, disguise the ‘unpleasantness’) and with built-in bidets for maximum hygiene – these technological conveniences more ‘western’ than ‘western’ (like a lot of Tokyo it seems, but refreshingly without a proliferation of western convenience food).
We headed to the mountains, and the snow and the skiing in a traditional village called Nozowa Onsen (the toilets here were pretty much as sophisticated as in Tokyo, warming you right where you need it).
The powdery snow was gorgeous, the snowy scenery beautiful, the village quaint and everyone so polite and friendly (there was a slight over-run of Aussies but you get that).
The town is famous for its onsens (hot spring baths), with a number of free public paths where you must bathe nude. Such embarrassing exposure would not wash (excuse the pun) with Miss Yin or the other children in our group. So we found a family onsen where swimwear was required and soaked away the sore and tired muscles from days on the ski-fields.
We tried Little Yang on cute little skis, between our legs, down a long, gentle slope. It was all a big adventure for him and at one stage he actually fell asleep on a quad chair – Mr Yang had to ski off the lift with a sleeping almost-four-year-old in his arms.
Travel is like that – it tires you out, challenges you sometimes (although I have to say that things could not have run more smoothly in Japan). The train system must be the most efficient in the world (and believe me, we got LOTS of trains).
I’ve spoken of the prevailing order, but I reckon it goes deeper – there’s a real respect for everyone – for what they have to do, where they have to go.
No-one seems to make themselves more important than anyone else (although there was some ‘important’ guy who parked his Maserati in the middle of the road near the fish market before proceeding with his entourage).
There is a profound sense that you get somewhere quickly not by rushing but by simply knowing where you want to go.
(And when we didn’t know where to go, people were always happy to help).
There is flow that comes through order – the rules allow individuals to pursue the direction each person wants to take without others getting in the way.
I think it comes close to balance.
Suffice it to say I loved Japan – its scenery, its traditions, its people and the lessons that are sinking in slowly now. I loved spending time with the beautiful friends we were lucky to travel with and I loved the break that I needed so much.
Linking up with the lovely Jess for IBOT this week – Sayonara.
Love to know what things you’ve forgotten to take with you on holidays (and did it really matter), what lessons you’ve learned (particularly any about balance).