Japan: I like the way you roll
I recently traveled to Japan. For weeks after, I had a strange lump in my throat, a slight heaviness in my heart. I missed Japan and all its wonders. A feeling that could only resemble my tearful weeks following my return home from summer camp each year.
During our Japan trip there were so happy firsts, so many highs…people and moments peppered along the way which heightening this trip, marking it one of my best adventures yet.
With the “culture shock” element spun into this journey, it ironically magnified the experience. At moments, I was like a newborn discovering color and shapes for the first time.
How do I possibly share and translate all these travel gems in a single post?
I can divulge my skiing adventures in Nesiko, one of the snowiest places on earth. Whether we were walking to dinner to feast on a hot pot, it was snowing.
When we woke up and looked out our wall of windows to discover it snowed all night, it was snowing. The birch branches were being held down with fresh powder like a cub draping on his mom’s limbs.
When getting off the chairlift, on the top of the mountain, we glided through piles of snow with no agenda except where to settle in for ramen for lunch. Oh, and it was snowing…
It is the type of snow that makes you grin, the snow you only dream of to fall on Christmas morning. The kind of snow that you throw back your head–open your mouth up wide and let it gently drop and evaporate on your tongue.
I can tell you all about those memories….but I won’t.
I can transport you back in history to our Kyoto adventures. A day touring to the Gold Palace, Silver Palace, the Bamboo Gardens, the Rock Gardens and ending up at a culinary Mecca, Niskiki Market with our guide Kawakami, who will be tucked away in my “travel memory chest” with all the individuals who have enlighten and educated me along my explorations.
I can tell you about the eclectic molds, seared wagyu and sliced fish we sampled at these traditional kaiseki, multi-coursed meals, where we sat on the floor in a minimalist room…two guests, being us, and the women hosting us.
I can share, the evening when we were invited to join three Nitendo business people for a drink. Which transformed into an evening, with us being welcomed into the home of three generations of Geiko, who are Geisha from Gion, spending time learning about their culture and to be frank, shooting the shit over homemade rice crackers and Japanese whiskey.
But I won’t…
I can invite you into my three separate jaunts into Tokyo, the beginning, middle and final evening of our two week trip. Where we explored many of the twenty three areas that make of Tokyo: Roppongi Hills, Daikanyama, traditional Yanaka, Shibuya, and Ginza. Temple hopping, window shopping,
epicurious explorations, and a 5am wake up call to witness Nishiki market and its famous tuna auction.
To an epic finale, consuming libations and live jazz pulsating on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel as we captured the city’s backdrop vibrating behind the band.
But I won’t.
I would rather touch upon the special customs and habits…lifestyle and philosophy that the Japanese exhibit; which I think is a piece of what makes me miss this country with an unfamiliar yearn.
- An overall Pride in Work: In America, the word work is often followed by a sigh; hump day and #TGIF are common hashtags posted on social media. It was inspiring to see the Japanese people so dedicated and pleasant in the Act of working. Whether it was the concierge, the sushi chef, the tour guide, the train cleaning staff or the dude tending to the chairlift, everyone seemed to have this drive to be their best at every task, big or small.
- Considerate with Germs: I know some might think that the wearing a surgical mask is strange. But I love the concept that if you are sick why should others get sick.
- Bowing: Whether it is a hello, a goodbye or a thank you. A bow is welcomed. There is something very satisfying about elevating a routine greeting into a honorable gesture.
- The Golden Bowl: : In usual circumstances, sitting on a cold rim of plastic isn’t particularly pleasant. But in Japan, you don’t have to. The toilets are equipped with a panel of hygienic features (and more) while you relax on a heated seat. (Whenever one of us would be taking an extra long time in the bathroom…I understood why).
- An Unspoken Peace: In a city of 32 million, the subways were quiet, the streets were absent of honking, a local we dined with said “crime is minimal”. Often when traveling, your protective senses need to be perked… this understated safeness and solitude was ever so refreshing.
- Style Across the Board: Beyond all the fashionistas showcasing their newest wears on the street and in the cafés. Even the taxi drivers wore suits and white glove service, and the chefs on the slopes were clothed in perfectly pressed uniforms and hats held high.
- Customary Drinking: We learned in Kyoto that tea time is a ceremony. People train for years to conduct these very sacred ceremonies. In addition, I love the art of sake drinking. Pouring small glasses of rice wine for your neighbor is more than just cocktail drinking. It is interactive, and quite civilized. (In fact, my next wine club has morphed into a educational sake tasting at Shigure, a Japanese restaurant in Tribeca, where we will be sampling sake-shochu and pairing it with traditional small plates).
- The Art of Food: From the way the knife glides through the flesh of the fish to form the piece of sushi, to the strategic game plan on the kitchen line at the ramen restaurants, to the detail and precision of kaishki, and the variety of yakatori…. It is nothing short of edible art. Not to mention the flaky layers of croissants at the endless French patisseries and the complexity of flavors of the Italian bolengese. The food is constructed with an artful hand and heart of passion. Dining in Japan has altered my overall view of food ,well beyond the raw fish.
- A Country is Only as Good as Its People: when you do not speak a word a Japanese, except the word Arigato, one would think there would be some real challenges. There were countless moments in which I felt at home while being so far away. The Japanese people embraced us, guided us, comforted us, and truly made us feel welcomed.
I have a rather extensive bucket list in the travel department. But I will make it back to Japan, somehow.