Snapshots of Japan

Mode Gakuen Cocoon TowerA clean and helpful clockwork world where a pair of missing glasses is located and returned before panic sets in.

A lavatory with a heated seat, an in-built bidet, a video screen and a sound system that provides the noisy gush of a waterfall as you pee.

A colony of commuters, twenty deep, wait patiently by the kerb, camouflaged in grey and black and beige – and one dazzling, lemon yellow cardigan like a sunburst.

A hotel room the size of a bento box, neatly arranged for maximum efficiency in minimum space, with slippers.

A gentle soul at the airport information booth, who, with no English, takes my hand to guide me through the process of  buying a bus ticket, then leads me to the right bus stop.

Kochi (30)A sushi counter in a Kochi mall, chock-a-block with orderly arrangements of colour and shape. And the petrifyinging effect of so much choice.

A car park built like a Ferris wheel: as you drive  onto the platform, it swings up and around to make room for the next one.

Konnichiwa, oishee, Suntory, arigatō gozaimasu and domo arigatō, itadakimasu, katsuo no tataki, sake, and

My mother, primped and powdered, swathed in a silk brocade kimono of spring green and cream flowers, wreathed about the waist with a broad, cherry blossom pink sash or obi and garnished with a matching pink Kochi (56)chrysanthemum hairpiece.

A glimpse from a bridge of a broad, gravelly river bed sliding down between the mountains, strung with fishing lines that guide the crystal-clear waters of the Niyodo River to the Pacific Ocean.

An elusive mountain view swallowed up by hungry mist.

A cluster of choristers draped in red satin or cream chiffon, another one formally attired in black, bridging the gap between East & West with a common love of music.

A solemn couple in an alpine village convert the traditional tea ceremony into a ritual coffee-making, where beans from Yemen and Ecuador, Indonesia and Tanzania seem curiously displaced.

A smooth, round island baby giggling in surprised delight as I blow raspberries on her tummy, while her great-grandfather, an ancient Japanese gentleman, smiles softly upon his approaching centenary, bowing beneath the weight of his wrinkles.

A backyard barbecue stuffed with straw, a torpedo bonito, a grill and leaping flames to create a dish made in heaven.Kochi (85)

A kitchen full of Japanese chefs with a penchant for pasta, who flirt and sing behind a hefty leg of prosciutto crudo, while my father sighs with relief at the absence of raw fish.

Sliding up a bannister of clotted-cream-clouds, in the wake of an autumn typhoon.

The extraordinary Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower, nurturing students within a latticed framework over two hundred meters high.

And the Asahi Brewery, designed to resemble a golden, froth-topped beer glass and a squat, black hall crowned by a 60 ton golden flame that appears to have toppled sideways.

Yoyogi Park (7)An unexpected and peaceful retreat by a spiritual spring in the depths of a forest camoflagued by urban sprawl, drowned out by the caterwauling of commuter trains.

A sushi bar, on which circles a pretty blue and green plate piled with sunset-coloured salmon sashimi garnished with baubles of salmon roe and ribbons of mayonnaise.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, that nineteenth century edifice of British culture, airlifted into central Tokyo to be reborn as a twenty first century railway station.

A panoramic view across a vast metropolis from the top of a stolid government building. This once small fishing village of Edo transformed into a city that drifts to the horizon, ringed by white towers flashing white lights of welcome.

A tour guide with a passion for the Tokyo transport system. Trains, taxis, car parks and buses.  To snore or not to snore…

A boat, beer and a double-decker bridge around the bay, with new friends from northern climes.

Japanese cuisine (20)

A final lunch on a black enamel tray in a silent café. A dozen dainty dishes exhibiting an exceptional miso soup; steamed rice with a red nose of salted plum; a tiny bowl of tangy soy sauce; a skerrick of white pickled cabbage; broccoli and okra sprinkled in umami-dense katsuobushi flakes; a slab crispy fried fish impossible to manage with chopsticks; knobbly potato salad; thick slices of carpaccio-coloured katsuo sashimi with seared edges; a small heap of beige daikon mash; a wart-sized green blob of wasabe; bottomless green tea in a handle-less blue cup. “Gochisosama deshita.”


*With thanks to my mother, my One & Only and, this time, even ME, for the photos!

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