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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Last hours in Japan. Ticking off Tokyo – the last box in my ‘to see -list‘.

I can not bring myself to skip the capital, but somehow, despite my good intentions I don’t really manage to do it justice. I end up seeing its guts more than its face. I hop on trains, I change trains, I switch to metro and bus and spend proportionally little time on the surface.

The typhoon showering over Japan, the upcoming end of my trip and the chance to spend time with my friend in Kawasaki hi-jack my sight-seeing plans.

This may  sound like the anti-climax of a tourist’s endeavours, however, the last three days of my long journey just seal the series of beautiful encounters that have made the last leg of my trip a true pleasure.

When I hug my friend goodbye before I get on the bus on my way to the airport, I realise that we once met and later on said farewell to each other in a different continent. Now, I know so much more about her and her reality, and that is more valuable than pictures of me in front of a sight in a bustling mega-city.

I tick off Tokyo, because I know that it is the journey that matters, not the destination. Leaving things unexplored just gives me more reasons to visit again.

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At a dinner party in Malaysia one of the guests, David, asked me if I was enjoying  Malay hospitality.

Of course I was, I answered. Very much so. I would have been an ungrateful liar if I had answered in any other way. David continued by saying that he had traveled all around the world without being met by the same level of hospitality that Malays bestow upon their guests.

I could neither agree or disagree with his experience. What I can say now,  close to the end of my trip is that I have received  excellent hospitality all along my traveling in Asia.

On several occasions people have opened their homes to me. They have put out clean sheets and towels, offered me delicious food, and most importantly their kind attention. I hope that one day I will be able to reciprocate.

I have been educated to consider  hospitality as something natural, but I know that it cannot always be taken  for granted.

What I have understood is that people are hospitable in different ways, depending on their culture and idiosyncrasy. I do not know what the stereotype for Japanese people is in this regard, but my personal verdict is that they are warm and considerate hosts who will make sure to offer their guests a package inclusive of sightseeing, backed up by a discrete feeling of national pride.

The most recent example are my hosts in Osaka, a sportive couple in their late sixties, who seamlessly planned my two days in the city. I was treated on great food and backstage cooking lessons, while my offers to help out in the kitchen were declined time after time.

Coming back to the discussion I had with David in Malaysia – it opened my eyes to the fact that hospitality is an institution that should be treasured and considered an intangible cultural heritage of mankind.

Just like Ulysses was offered a warm bath, clean clothes, food and special attentions in one of his pit-stops on his tormented way back to Ithaca, I got to sink into a hot o-furo, wash my clothes in a washing machine (!), eat home-made food and greatest of all, observe the minds and ways of people in a place so far away from where I come from.

Around 3000 years after Ulysses had to crash at the palace of king Alkinoos it is happening again: that mystical thing, passed on from generation to generation; the magic disposition that  makes a stranger become a friend…

So many times you positively surprise me humanity.

I must give you that.

When I was a teenager  I used to watch the series Northern exposure. It always pops up in my mind when I am in a rather smallish place, lost in the middle of nowhere.

Spending time in the rural outskirts of Kanoya town in Kyushu was a bit like that. A Southern exposure. Not a place that I would ever have thought of visiting otherwise. However, my stay there encapsulates my travel philosophy, which can be  described by the following two mottoes: traveling without moving and Εν τόπω στάση (en topo stasis). The first one is coined by David Lynch. The latter is a grammatical term used for adverbial constellations in ancient Greek that express being in a place.

Truth be told, I don’t so much enjoy traveling as staying in places. Within my traveling, I have made sure to counter-balance movement, by embedding inertia – stasis, like the three weeks spent around Kanoya.

Like a potter I met at the Yanedan artist village said:  ‘Small places become interesting because they are so boring. When people do not have anything to do, they become creative.” Pretending to be drinking my o-sake in what must be  the smallest bar in Kyushu, I couldn’t but agree with him.

It is true that for three weeks  have enjoyed everyday life spiced up with memorable highlights, such as being surrounded by beautiful scenery on my daily walks, soaking in onsen and slipping into macha-green footwear to sing karaoke for hours…

I have cooked several breakfasts, lunches and dinners, tried the first tea of the year at the Wa ko en tea factory and been taken on a guided tour around the premises.

I have practiced the ancient technique of dust on/dust off and met my first shoodo sensei,  Japanese calligraphy master, at his workshop for a concert of brush-strokes.

I have had the time to like this place, to get annoyed, to get even more annoyed, to get over it and to establish relationships that I hope will reverberate into my future.

I am happy I have chosen to travel like this. Moving with the desire to stay.

With a regular suitcase, no backpack. In a conscious effort not to lean forward, but back.

Some days are like that. Sweet ans Sour. Bitter and Butter. Hokkaido butter.

Butter in Swedish happens to mean grumpy and I admit to being a bit of that the last couple of days. The reasons are not important right now.

Outside it is raining and that suits me perfectly.

In my grumpiness I have been reflecting over time:  how the present turns into remote past so fast. It is so easy to miss out on important events in people’s lives because of the lack of time, distance or other constraints. Personally, I know Mrs Distance very well.

My little cousin just recently graduated from High-School. How beautiful she looked on the pictures posted on FB. I asked myself when I had last seen her and could not come up with the exact answer.

On the other hand, when was the last time I hang out with my best friend in Thessaloniki or had a casual afternoon coffee with my mother or my sister? Because as much as I may like events, I am a big fan of everyday life.

People around me get older, I do too of course, and even if moments lived feel like they are suspended in a vacuum of time just waiting to come to life again, the present is here only now and so are the people we love. I want to get as much as I can out of them.

Squeeze them like ripe oranges.

Find my roots, that’s what I need. The people and the stories from the past are a very important part of that process. However, people disappear and stories get forgotten. I want my roots to be the people and the stories, but what constitutes my fundaments must be something more – a grounding mental force, an innate faculty.

The law of gravity had been doing a great job keeping things from flying off the earth and into the outer space, a long time before Newton took that fateful nap under an apple-tree. Nevertheless, he needed to see that apple falling.

I understand more and more that I am in search of my center of mass…All while cleaning, weeding, cooking, sight-seeing and exchanging with people in a different continent.

Such are my thoughts. Quite existential, aren’t they? In any case, existential enough to make me take a generous triple serving of the blueberry-banana-pineapple pie I baked for a party, topped with whipped cream of course.

After all, food is earth. I guess that is why I needed those crumbles. To keep me from drifting away with my thoughts.

PS: This is a sincere and serious post. Despite of the non-intentional fruit-talk.

So far, the land of the Rising Sun has offered me a lot of culinary delights that do not rime with sushi, onigiri, yakitori, ramen or udon. I have tasted food along the gluten and meat free trail, and it has all been good.

It is true that when you travel to a place and especially when you get to eat home-made food, you realise that what you are served in restaurants does not always correspond to what could be called casual, everyday food.

In a Greek home for example, you would not very likely eat pita-gyros, tzatziki, moussaka, or mezze for  lunch. You would more probably be served a vegetable dish, accompanied with fresh seasonal sallad, feta cheese and bread.

Japanese food served in restaurants, is most often a pleasure for the eyes as much as for the palate. Home-made food may be less stylish, but it remains nevertheless as much of an interesting discovery.

Japanese seem to like a hint of sweetness in their food and love pickles – my favourite is the umeboshi – and various fish-based snacks. Not to forget omni-present shoyu and its reincarnations: soy-sauce, tofu, soy-germs, nato, miso….

So, if you have tired of sushi and sashimis, this is what you may want to try….

Oden, a pot-pourri of boiled vegetables and tofu in a sauce spiced with soy and sugar.

Ojia, comfort food made of rice, vegetables and egg, topped with grated daikon.

Chawanmushi curd, steamed in a cup.

Layers of small pleasures, in an  o-bento box.

Furofukidaikon; Japanese  radish boiled and garnished  with  a special dressing.

Of course, you will want to start and finish your meal with o-cha and maybe…

try a sweet. Why not a coffee flavoured mix of adzuki beans topped with vanilla ice-cream and a dash of whipped cream?

My personal favorite until now, if I may be honest, has been a steamed vegetable sallad  served with a miso-based dressing  and the Japanese omelette, tamago-yaki.

Itadakimasu!

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts