JOY IN JAPAN (TONY TOKYO)

Planning, designing & arranging a visit to the Land of the Rising Sun had become our Ikigai ever since we ideated the trip.

The Sakura season (cherry blossom season) that usually lasts a fortnight, is indeed a nine-day wonder & the overwhelming mono no aware goaded us to relish the ephemeral beauty of the season. So, we took the plunge & booked our tickets, in the hope that we’d return home with a sense of wabi-sabi to appreciate quotidian monotony.

Japan —this quaint land had held me in its thrall since the time I had learnt to look up maps or studied Geography in school or leafed through pages that bore Japanese imagery.

Then came the influence of Bollywood films —the most memorable being Love in Tokyo! Asha Parekh hobbling down the meandering Roji (garden path) in her kimono & Okobo (wooden sandals worn by Geishas) with the serenading Joy in tow, & the Sayonara song, were all too chimerical & heady.🥰

So, obviously the place had found its way into my bucket list, since then. And we timed our trip to coincide with the Cherry blossom season.

After a 5-hour layover in Singapore, we landed in Tokyo on the night of 25 March, 2024. A gruelling 2-hour immigration-wait later, (Hanami season or cherry blossom viewing is a huge drawcard), we hopped into the shiny ebony pickup that drove us through the streets of Tokyo.

Scintillating towers vied with the twinkling stars up above the world so high.

We reached our Airbnb suite around 3am. The stars in our eyes had to be dimmed if we were to wake up afresh. So, we tried to manage some shuteye.

Dawn dawned, but, drenched in drizzle!

I wonder why a woman’s mood is compared to English weather & not Japanese weather. We soon began to realize why umbrellas were so ubiquitous & why grabbing a random one from the roadside or shops, did not amount to stealing. And thus, we learnt not to panic or demean someone who took ours, mistaking it to be theirs.

In fact, the adage, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’, became clear. 😛.

Nevertheless, we hopped into the train & headed for Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple.

In the heart of Tokyo, amidst lofty towers reflecting contemporary taste, lay this ancient Japanese temple & Tokyo’s oldest.

The Kaminarimon (thunder gate), was swamped by swarming devotees (tourists). Their open bumbershoots & ours, made an unhindered shot —impossible.

Before entering the shrine, you’d have to still your senses, because to reach the Senso-ji Shrine you’d have to cross the sensorial Nakamise Dori alley (rows of shops selling souvenirs). Piety has to wait.

Nakamise Dori is a kaleidoscope of colours. From cheery kimonos in millefleur designs, majestic yukatas, colourful folding fans, soft Tenugui (Japanese hand towels), floral parasols, fridge magnets, Maneki-neko (cats with raised paws), masks, Kokeshi dolls, Sakura faux flowers, floral barrettes, corsage, baubles & bijouterie, japanned trays & boxes, et al, the shops offer everything oriental. The place is indeed touristy, teeming & rip-roaring!!

Closer to the shrine, are a few eateries vending noodles, Udon (Japanese dish), coffee & other delicacies. Despite the drizzle that day & the ensuing chill, people shopped, ate to their heart’s content & made time for the divine too.

A bevy of women dressed in vibrant kimonos swished by, pausing to pose every now & then. Were they the Geishas?? I’m betcha when you think of Japan, you think of Geishas in graceful Kimonos & pretty parasols. Right? Yes, you could spot geishas but if you find effervescent ladies all agog & gushing, they are most probably eager tourists.😌

Even as I stood rubbernecking, my husband went forward & requested, ‘Would you mind if my wife poses with you all?’

Even before I could take stock of the situation, they exclaimed in unison, ‘Sure, please get her here.’ Their geniality edged me to pose with them. It seems they were Japanese from the USA, visiting their motherland.

Note: Close by are many shops displaying ‘Kimono Rental’. However, as it was a rainy day, I indulged in cosplay at Kanazawa, on the last day.

Thanks to the drizzle, I rushed into the shops & obviously, I won’t exit empty-handed & I didn’t. After treating our eyes & glutting our bags, we geared up for a holy commune.

The temple parvis had other interesting features. At the entrance were strings with bits of papers tied. Piqued by curiosity, I sought an explanation… I rushed to examine my fortune. Don’t we all wish to hear it from different perspectives?

You shake a box & turn it upside down & out pops a paper scroll with your fortune scrawled. If you’re fortunate, you can keep the paper with you. If not, you got to tie it onto the several strings so that the Gods can cast their benevolent glance & heal them. I tried my luck &, walked past with no strings attached.🫠

Stoups with several wooden ladles will be the next to greet you. Devotees must ablute themselves before stepping into the shrine. However, the water is not potable.

A large repousse urn adorns a corner. Devotees light a bunch of incense & leave it there. Alien cultures are always so fascinating, & like polite foreigners, we engaged in the interesting rituals.

The Senso-ji shrine stood monumental & commanding, its gabled roofs —the quintessence of oriental architecture.

A giant red paper lantern adorned in calligraphy lay pendent from the awning.

Enshrined within was Goddess Kannon (Goddess Kuan Yin) —a form of Avalokiteshwara. The altar —gilded with distinctive motifs looked resplendent with graceful lanterns throwing their lambent lights on the tutelary deity.

A decade back we’d have seen more hands joined together in supplication. However, thanks to technology, praying hands are now, sundered by prying lens.

So, craning my neck to have a clearer view of the deity ahead, seemed the only option. However, while my gaze tried searching for the bejeweled deity ahead of me, something pulled my attention upwards.

Floating above on the ceiling were paintings of perhaps angels. The nymphal angels done in pleasing colours reflected sheer serenity. With nothing obstructing my view, I was able to instantly fix my gaze heavenward; I was able to connect. That’s what angels are for, right?

The thronging crowds inched closer & I was in no mood to jostle for space. So, I diverted my gaze to what lay on the precincts. There was much more to savour.

Why look for the manmade divine when there were so many divine godsends? So, I took a stroll to inspect the environs.

A cluster of shrines (Pagoda & other religious relics, a small green patch with the Buddha statute) lay cloistered in the confines —timeless & ageless, untouched by the vicissitudes of time.

Gawky structures that erupted in recent times, surrounded the sacred space, while this shrine held its own.

The downpour added to the allure but we had Tokyo Skytree in the day’s agenda. Close by was Starbucks & after a cup of hot coffee, we left for this recent addition.

While in Japan, you got to walk. Given the proximity, no train would take us there. Taxis being very expensive, we reserved it for emergencies. However, walking in Japan can certainly be called a cakewalk.

In 20 minutes, we reached the imposing cynosure, situated across the Sumida River. The Tokyo Skytree stood stately with its crown on clouds!

Skytree on a clear day

Rest of the megalopolis was dwarfed by the striking structure, & time seemed to stand still.. Every time we paused to capture the spellbinding stronghold, a wave of milky mist wreathed its belly.

The approaching owl-light, the relentless rains & the numbing chill got us scurrying for shelter. A hypaethral escalator took us to the elevator. We had pre-booked online, even before leaving India. The elevator sheared at the speed of light & in moments, we reached the lower Tembo Deck —a view point at 350 m.

That was a pure aha moment!🫢 Preening from the glass windows, were hordes of tourists with their mouths agape! We too assumed position. Lo & behold! It seemed as if the entire world was at our feet! The very same skyscrapers that had dwarfed us on land, now seemed to be tiny specks.

Even as we aimed to shoot the sight, wispy clouds gathered force & clouded our view.

While the tower’s exterior was completely fenestrated, the inside wall bore precise details of the Skytree.

A huge screen displayed a 40-minute storied tapestry of Tokyo & the inception of the Skytree. Right next to it, I found the W1sh Ribbon —a spot festooned by countless colourful ribbons with petitions scribbled on each.

Wonder of wonders, the ‘I’ replaced by the ‘1’, signifying oneness, bore scripts of various world languages, & among them, were Tamil & Devnagri script!😊

The W1sh Ribbon Monument is held sacred & it’s believed that the tower’s heavenward stature would serve as an expeditious conveyance of human pleas.

There was more to see. We were just 350 meters above ground. We had another 100 meters to cover & another elevator, within seconds propelled us to the topmost deck (Tembo Galleria).

While the Sun in the land of the Rising Sun had begun to set, the world below our feet was awash with countless twinkling stars!

The panoramic overview was simply spectacular!

Another viewing deck this time, not at the windows but on the floor, got us scurrying. The world was indeed at our feet!

We still had the nearby aquarium to cover.

Right at the base of Tokyo Skytree was the Sumida Aquarium, housing a variety of fish, jellyfish & penguins.

Tiny fish in red & blue hues glided by, momentarily enlivening the drab grassy boulders.

The jellyfish —like ballerinas, swayed softly with grace & elan, nosediving into the water, leaving their frilly trails all over the aquatic tapestry.

A rookery of penguins trumpeted on the rocks, while a few swam in the waters.

Some aquatic creatures formed a bed of gossamer petals on the waterbed.

You can’t leave Tokyo without a visit to Shibuya Crossing. Shibuya Crossing located right in front of Shibuya Station, is acclaimed as ‘the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world’, with a record of 3000 footfalls every 2 minutes, at every green light! It is indeed a crowd-puller!

Shibuya Crossing

We visited during the evening rush hour & poised ourselves to capture the queer spectacle.

And this is something I cannot miss mentioning.

Multitudes stood patiently at their respective sides for the signal to turn green.

Many (perhaps tourists) had their videos turned on to shoot the sequence.

3 gigantic video screens mounted on surrounding structures, kept flashing their colourful content.

I felt like a contestant in a race, who was waiting for the coach to holler, ‘On your mark, get set, Go!’ Just that the whistle & the ‘go’ were replaced by the signal.

And finally, when the signal turned green, a swarm began marching from all 5 directions.

Just imagine! At any given time, mobs march ahead from 5 different directions. We stood for about 30 minutes watching & filming the entire scene. And in those 30 minutes, I didn’t witness a single incident of anyone bumping into each other, or jostling for space, or any woman being molested.

Each was busy going his/her way & that too blithely, despite very little elbow space.

Usually, tourists try to capture the scene from the Shibuya Sky Deck —a vantage point. However, for that, you need to book in advance, which we hadn’t done.

With the Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift pace, mankind could easily be Lost in Translation, like Alice in Borderland! Those are the films that found Shibuya Crossing as the perfect setting..

The adjoining areas are Tokyo’s tony purlieus that bear behemoth brand names.

For us Indians, the first inkling of Japan; especially Tokyo, was undeniably from the Hindi film —Love in Tokyo & I, being a fan of Joy Mukherjee, researched a bit on the places where the famed film was shot.

I learnt that the scenes were snapped in different localities of Japan but the film’s popular score —Sayonara, perhaps the first Japanese jargon to have entered the Indian lexicon, was filmed in Tokyo’s Hibiya Park!

Hibiya Park finds no mention as a ‘must-visit’ & seemed to be a nondescript, neighborhood park. Yet, I was determined to visit for obvious reasons & I’m so glad that I did. 🥰

Just across Hotel Peninsula & athwart a placid lake, lay this serene haven —pleasant & tranquil. When we set forth, the sky was overcast & it was drizzling sporadically; but in some time, the moody weather began to change gears.

Being a weekday, the park was bereft of visitors & that made it all the more inviting.

The garden was unostentatious, yet appealing. The rains had left their mark on the glistening rocks & stones. Every drooping foliage was dripping drops.

We found a relaxing nook & had our grub first. An occasional ripple on the pond served as a gentle reminder that the sky was still dropping down dew.

The tranquility was now and then punctuated by the whistle of a lone heron.

We inched farther into the park. The sunlight spewing forth silver clouds, caressed my skin & served as a soothing salve on an otherwise cold day.

A few German styled manors — a striking contrast to the gabbled roofs that we had got so used to, greeted us.

Do note that although Hibiya Park dating back to 1902 was styled by Dr. Seiroku Honda (regarded as Father of Japanese Parks), it is a European styled (predominantly a German themed one).

I had identified a few landmarks from the Sayonara song & was keen to find those.

Bingo! Right at the entrance, I stumbled upon the Pelican Fountains that I was eagerly awaiting to set my eyes on!

Indians would know why. This was the very same place where winsome Joy was seen waylaying Asha Parekh, while she pranced about.

Photo courtesy Ultra Channel (Love in Tokyo)

That was indeed an exhilarating moment!! 😍

It was my moment of joy & I wanted to delight in it.

The turf was rimmed by a few iron benches & we plonked into one.

We were fortunate for the clear skies & sun-drenched weather that made our visit comfortable.

I was determined to delve deep into an era I wasn’t even born in, only to perceive the times when Bollywood glitterati must’ve strutted around this park some time back in the ’60s..

And in those few minutes, I had barrelled back in time…It was indeed an electrifying feel.

There were few more landmarks that I had identified from the scenes of the song but I wasn’t able to spot those. So, finding the park’s Information Center, I strode in.

There, a very warm & personable officer —Mr. O Mori, scanned through my video very patiently & apprised me on where to find the other landmarks. Thrilled to bits, I went my way.

And soon enough, emplaced on a pond in the park was the bird fountain —a metallic statute of a bird flapping its wings & spouting water from its beak.

Just across, was the gazebo, which too had found its way in the song.

Some scenes were shot at Ueno Park but we were strapped for time & hence couldn’t visit. However, coming up in my Joy in Japan series, are other drool-worthy locales, which will soon be featured here.

There’s so much to write about Japan & in fact, I’m going to wax eloquent. This was about Tokyo, & being the capital, it’s also the microcosm. Shall I say, being the capital, it’s still the microcosm? And a fine one at that..

PS: Sakura or the blooming season is between late March & early April. However, Japan has something to offer —every season.

(To be continued…)

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Pradeep Watve

    Shubhrataji…
    I really had the pleasure of reading your travel blog, and I wanted to express my heartfelt appreciation for the effort and passion you put into documenting your journey. Your vivid descriptions and insightful observations transported me to the destination you visited, making me feel as though I was right there .

    The way you captured the essence of each place, from the bustling streets to the holi shrine & serene landscapes, was truly captivating. Your attention to detail and the personal anecdotes you shared added a unique touch that made your travel experiences come alive on the page.

    Thank you for sharing and for inspiring others to explore the world. Your travel blog is not only informative but also a delightful read. I look forward to reading more about your future destination spots of Japan..

    Warm regards,

    Pradeep Watve

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      I’m so delighted to know that you found my post informative. Gallivanting is indeed so pleasurable & there’s so much to see that I feel a lifetime is not enough. Detailing my experience is also something that I really enjoy.. Do watch this space for more.

  2. Gopinath Iyer

    I enjoyed your article very much. Wonderful description and pics too. I improved and enriched my vocabulary too. Interesting and apt usage of words.👌 Had a feeling of having had ringside view of Tokyo with an able guide who not only enjoys travel but can explain it beautifully.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much for expressing your delight so beautifully. Readers like you keep me motivated.;-) Of course, writing is my first passion but it’s very encouraging when there’re readers like you, who enjoy the content & look forward to more.

    2. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much for that. As I said, first I write because I love to write & it’s my passion. However, it is a pleasure writing for readers like you who enjoy the content.

  3. R.SHANKAR

    Thrilled and Enjoyed Reading . Pictures were apt . Transported to Tokyo and was imagining all the places . Beautiful and crisp to the point capturing all the places . Looking forward to your next place in Japan . Keep writing .

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much, hubby. Looking forward to more trips with you.

  4. T V Ramchandran

    Shubhrataji, a very detailed and well written blog. To me it was a journey into nostalgia. I had visited Japan in 2018 during Sakura season. Every moment in Japan was an experience. Be it the Sakura garden in Shinjukuku or the Skytree or the low roofed houses (I had to mind my head always) or the discipline, helpful nature and the etiquettes of the Japanese…oh how so unforgettable. I adore that country and its honest citizens .Thank you so much for sharing your blog.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Ha Ha!!😛 I can imagine your plight, ‘I had to mind my head always’!! And yes, I shall be mentioning their way of life & etiquette in my post Lessons From Around the World, very soon. That’s a post with a collection of some wonderful experiences & lessons worth incorporating from different cultures. We’d have a lot to discuss on their culture..

  5. Meera Sridhar

    Beautifully written Shubrata – loved it 😍.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much, Meera, for finding the time to go through, despite your busy schedule. That is quite humbling.

  6. Lakshmi Kumar

    Very nicely captured, Shubhrata. Felt as though we were there. Really appreciate your writing skills. The pics were an icing on the cake👌👍

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much, Lakshmi Kumar for having gone through. I’m glad you enjoyed reading.☺️ Do stay tuned in for more on Japan & meanwhile, do go through older posts as well.

  7. Janvika Khichadia

    Wow great Shubhrata 👌 beautiful pics with lots of knowledge and information .What more can I say….tune toh Japan ki sairr karadi….😍❤️👏🎊

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much Janvika, for finding the time to go through 😊. Indeed, it’s a picturesque place & I shall be detailing the other places that we had visited, one by one. Do stay tuned in..

  8. Ramesh

    Its always been a pleasure reading your travel vlogs. I truly appreciate your efforts and passion you put in in penning your journey. Your vivid descriptions and observations transcends any reader to those places unknowingly. Its absolutely captivating and such a pure wanderlust fuel! Captivating visuals, authentic experiences, and infectious enthusiasm make each episode a thrilling adventure. Keep exploring and inspiring! ✈️🌍🎥😊

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      What a pleasure reading that comment! I’m so glad that you liked it. Sometimes, I do wonder if so much content will be read by people who prefer vlogs to blogs these days. However, putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard & translating my thoughts comes effortlessly to me. And, readers like you are my source of inspiration. In fact, reading comments by readers, itself is fulfilling.
      Oh yes! Traveling itself is such a refreshing experience. Discovering this Earth & its varied facets, is truly rapturous. Do stay tuned in for more..

  9. Prema ramakrishnan

    Japan’s beauty Very beautifully captured by you in your photos and details described in very eloquent way tempting us also to visit, your writing style very refreshing, God bless you.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Such a lovely message 🙂 ; I feel very honored. Will keep posting. Do share my link with others as well.

  10. Srikala

    Lovely pictures with very good explanation. Loved your way of sharing your journey ❤️

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much for liking the post. Can’t wait to write about other places too..

  11. Usha

    A very informative blog

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you for going through. Do watch this space for more.

  12. Shanti

    Hats off to your humungous efforts in describing your visit. I read with vivid interest and felt as though i was in Japan. You deserve full salutation from me. Keep going with your post.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thanks a bunch for going through & liking the post. Shall keep you informed as & when I detail other places too. Till then, do go through older posts too.

  13. Sonali Bhagwate

    Lovely blog Shubhrata..Very informative..very well written as always.. Beautifully captured pics and detailed explanation abt the places visited keep you wondering what’s coming next..
    Looking fwd for more..

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      I’m so glad that you liked the post. Yes, I’m eagerly waiting to present the other places too. A beautiful country that is steeped in beauty I guess deserves a detailed description. So, do watch the space for more coming up..

  14. Ramesh ( Mulund East)

    Very detailed and beautifully written blog
    on Japan.The photographs are lovely and
    the description of various places visited are superb.Japan’s beauty very beautifully captured. Felt as though going through the Screen-Play of a Film Script.
    Truly appreciate your efforts in writing this blog as well as your writing skill.It is really informative.
    The reference of Bollywood Film Love in Tokyo and the song Sayonara is appropriate as the film and the song were picturised in these locales in Japan
    The song is still fresh in the mind and also reminds of all old Bollywood Films.
    The Shibuya Crossing with a record of 3000 footfalls without any pull or push every 2 minutes is beyond imagination
    Once again a good write up and a Five Star Rating.

    1. Shubhrata Shankar Iyer

      Thank you so much for that detailed message. It only shows how much you relished every line.
      I don’t know if the ‘songs’ of Love in Tokyo were composed first or the film was made before the songs were composed. However, it very much appears that Shankar Jaikishen duo too was present during the shooting. Their choice of the tune & background music seems to match the mood & milieu of the locale.

      And yes, Shibuya Crossing is indeed a microcosm of Japanese decorum & etiquette, which I believe the world must take notice of & follow.

      Oh yes, this one is only about Tokyo. More coming up. Shall keep you posted.

  15. Vandana

    Beautiful with details covered with pictures

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.