JK, my brother is in Japan on a short visit and sent me few images of Tokyo. Japan is a perfect blend of Technological Advancements and Old traditions. From the late sixties the camera totting Japanese became the iconic tourists all over the world. Uday, (Patankar my boss) and were astonished during a visit to Phillip Island (90 minutes from Melbourne) in 1996 to watch the Penguin Parade, when we heard announcements in English and Japanese. Yes the place was filled with Japanese tourists.
The world kept talking about Japan for about 40 years before China started occupying the space on world news – GDP and growth. Tourist destinations must have changed their mandatory Japanese announcements to mandarin now.
What they have achieved in a short span after being decimated in WW II always amazes me. Twenty years after they were atom bombed out, they held Olympics in Tokyo. How did they do it? Well, this story written about a year of Tokyo Olympics will provide a small insight about their culture and commitment. One more story from my favourite author, Thi. Janakiraman
Yoshiki – யோஷிகி
As soon as I get down at Kyoto station, I hired a cab and asked the driver to take me to Kokusai hotel. We arrived at the hotel in five minutes. I went to the reception.
I told my name and started, “I have come from India” but the receptionist interrupted me and completed the sentence.
“Yes I know! We have received the letter you sent from Tokyo. Your room is ready and it’s in the third floor. This man will take you to your room. Has one Mr Yoshiki written to you that he would meet you at 4 PM today?”
“He has informed that he can’t make it today. He telephoned us. He said he would come tomorrow. He has apologised to you. He has some urgent work and can’t meet you today.”
“That’s OK. Let him come tomorrow.”
“He said he would meet you tomorrow morning at 10.”
When I left from Chennai, my friend Gurumurthy gave me his Japanese friends’ addresses in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Before I left for Kyoto from Tokyo, I wrote a letter to Yoshiki. I have written the date of my arrival and mentioned that I would be staying in Kokusai hotel. Yoshiki has replied back immediately saying that he would meet me at 4 PM. No idea what is he inconvenienced about! Yoshiki trades in electrical appliances and is a Graduate in Arts. He had come to India three years back and spent a week in Chennai. He stayed for three days at Gurmurthy’s house. “You catch hold of him in Kyoto and he will take you to all the places!” Gurumurthy had told me.
Yoshiki is coming only tomorrow. How do I pass time till then?
It was not very difficult though. There were two or three female employees at third floor to take care of guests’ needs.
I went inside the room, washed my face and lied down. I was not that tired. I just closed my eyes.
“Who is that?”
“Can I come in?” – a female voice.
“Yes! Come in!”
A lady came in. Hotel employee.
“Do you want to eat anything?”
She took out a menu hanging over the bed headstand and handed it over to me. I read through the menu.
“There is nothing I like!”
“I am a vegetarian. This is all beef, pork and chicken.”
“Why? You can eat fish?”
“Is fish a vegetable?”
“Oh! You won’t even eat fish?”
“OK. You can eat omelette.”
“But that’s made from eggs.”
“No eggs as well?’
“Are you a complete vegetarian?”
“I feel very bad!”
“There is nothing here which you can eat.”
“You have biscuits?”
“Yes. Biscuits and croissant are there.”
“OK get me coffee and biscuits.”
“What to do?”
“I feel very bad.”
“Don’t’ feel bad. Get me biscuits and two cups of coffee.”
“OK I will come back in a jiffy.”
“But I want milk in my coffee. I don’t want black coffee.”
“Oh you take milk?”
“I thought you said complete vegetarian!”
“That’s alright. You are feeling very bad. That’s why I thought let me at least take milk in my coffee.”
“No. You don’t take something which you don’t like for my benefit!”
“Please add milk in coffee.” I cried.
“Are you sure?”
This has become a familiar conversation to me. I have spent lot of time only by talking about food. The Japanese keep saying that fish and eggs are vegetarian and I say only milk is vegetarian. This has almost become a daily philosophical argument. She brought coffee and biscuits and due to my compulsion she drank one black coffee and our vegetarian/non vegetarian argument continued for some more time.
“When the clock struck three, I told her that Yoshiki would not be coming. She asked me, “There are guides available. Can I get you one to take you around?”
“Will he speak English?”
“Enough for you to understand!”
She went out and after a while the guide came in. We saw a play, a geisha dance and some other places and came back at 11 in the night.
“My duty got over at nine. But I stayed back to say Goodnight to you. I will come in the morning. You sleep like a baby,” the girl told me.
“I sleep only at 2 AM.”
“I feel bad.”
“There is no one you can talk to. Can I get you couple of books?”
She gave me a couple of books. One was a compilation of articles on Japanese culture and other was a short story collection of Japanese authors translated into English. I kept reading a little from both the books and slept. When I woke up it was eight. “Good morning!” she was standing there.
“Do you know Japanese Language?”
“I just spoke!”
“How does our language sound to your ears?”
“Thanks a lot. Do you really speak Japanese?”
“Oh yeah! Very well. ‘Good morning’, ‘Good evening’, Good night’, ‘I don’t eat eggs’, ‘only vegetarian food’ – I can speak this by-heart.”
“Enough, your food problem is solved” she laughed and asked me, “did you sleep well?”
“I slept like a baby.”
She laughed again. This cheerfulness is very unique to Japanese. Even if you give a million dollars they won’t get irritated. There is no hesitation in talking to these people. She should have known by heart, how to talk to hotel guests. When the phone rang, she lifted the receiver and gave it me. The receptionist told me, “Yoshiki has arrived. Should I ask him to come up?”
I did not realize that she was talking to me for more than an hour and half. I told her “Mr Yoshiki is coming.”
“Very good. So you don’t need a guide today.”
Yoshiki came and introduced himself. “Sorry I could not come yesterday. Some urgent work.”
“Is the room comfortable?”
“What did you do yesterday?”
“I went with a guide and saw a few places.”
“Very good. Today I am free for the whole day. For how many days are you staying here?”
“Two more days.”
“So I should have stayed with you during your entire stay. It’s not possible. I will take you to important places today. I am afraid I can’t stay after that. I hope you won’t mind.”
“It’s OK. You don’t feel bad. I can take care of myself.”
I should say Yoshiki is tall for a Japanese about i.e. 5’ 6”. In winter, the Japanese wear woollen jackets, trousers and necktie, to keep warm. He was also dressed like that. He was looking smart in that outfit. He sat down and started talking.
“When did you come to Japan?”
“About two months back.”
“Do you like Japan?”
“If someone says ‘no’ then he must be cultureless.”
“Oh thanks a lot” he smiled.
“You are healthy people. It’s two months since I stepped on Japanese soil. I have not seen a silver hair till now. Not anyone who is rough. Never had to wait for more than a minute in a bus-stand. In none of the buses, the conductor ever told me, ‘get off! I don’t have change!’ or forgot to handover change. No one spoke in a raised voice in the streets or in a cinema. Even when ten college students are walking merrily, they are not shouting at each other. They don’t ogle at female students. Nothing gets lost. In Hibiya Park, thousands of people come in the afternoon to have lunch and take some rest. I also sat down on a bench in the park but forgot my wallet, which had 80 dollars in it and my diary there. I remembered this at 3.30 in the afternoon. So I ran there. After three hours my wallet and diary was still there. No one shouts in a train or smoke. They either read or close their eyes.
“Enough! Enough!” Yoshiki started laughing. My recitation must have tickled his nerves.
“What? Did I say something wrong? I saw these and enjoyed which I am narrating! Your people are clean and controlled. They are very meticulous in doing things. They work with deep conviction and work tirelessly.”
“Thank you so much. Not waiting for buses and conductors speaking in sweet voices are all-fine. Female conductors will speak in sweet voice. But in a crowded bus, no gentleman will offer his seat to a lady here!”
“That shows Japanese women are strong.”
“No it means our gentleman don’t set an example.”
Yoshiki was making counter points to many of my observations. But inside, he was very happy. Back home, we are proud that Milagu Thanni [Milague (pepper) and Thanni (Water) has become mulligatawny soup] has gone to English dictionary. Will the Japanese be not happy that the world is amazed with their achievements? Yoshiki was saying, ‘you are praising us too much;’ and was becoming little shy. It looked like the entire Japan was getting shy.
The whole day we roamed around in Kyoto. We went to Nara and saw the Buddha temples, Shindo temples and other places. Looked like we have not left anything. At every place Yoshiki asked me, ‘do you like it?’
“Very beautiful” I said.
“Thanks a lot.”
Yoshiki could talk with a sense of humour. In a restaurant, he would tell the waitress something in Japanese and she would burst into laughter. The owner would laugh and Yoshiki would join them. Then he would translate it to me in English. It was gentle humour and you would not have to hold your stomach and laugh. It’s type where you forget what was said, as soon as you laughed.
As Yoshiki brought his car, we could go to all the places very fast. Factories, Temples, theatres, dance halls, shops and sumo wrestling we saw everything. In between Yoshiki would stop at some place to make a phone call. I thought he must have left behind some important business. That’s why he had to make many calls. Sometimes the call would take a little longer and he would apologise.
“No, don’t worry. I am here on vacation. I have nothing urgent to do!” I would tell him.
It was nine PM when we got back to the hotel.
“I have dragged you to so many places. You must be very tired.” Yoshiki commented.
“No I am not tired. Please sit down.”
“Convey my regards to Gurumurthy when you get back to India. Also tell him I could spend only one day with you and I apologise to him as well. When I went to Madras, he took me to Cinema studios, Kanchipuram, Mahabalipuram and many other places.” He looked at the books on the cot and asked me, “So you are reading Japanese books as well?”
“Yes Hiromi gave me.”
“You saw her in the morning. The hotel employee.”
“OK. Did you read them?”
“I read half of them. Just like your painting and speech, your stories are also pleasant. Simple like a bamboo tree. Beauty without gaudiness.”
He opened the book and read a few lines. “I used to read. Nowadays all the time is spent in running the business. How is this book?”
“I told you. It’s very good. I liked this article. It says Japanese don’t get angry and even if they get angry they won’t shout.”
Yoshiki smiled. “Japanese are very patient people”. He continued.
“I have read a little about your yoga. Yoga is keeping the mind in a calm state. Is it not? Mind should stay stable in happiness or in sadness. You should not rise up in anger; nor die in weariness.”
“Does it mean can one laugh at death?” I asked.
“What’s use of crying?”
“But if you don’t you will go mad!”
“Madness from laughter is more beautiful than madness in crying.” Laughed Yoshiki.
Hiromi came and asked, “Do you want something to drink?”
I asked for milk and Yoshiki asked for a beer and asked me, ‘do you want anything else?’
Before I could answer the phone rang. Hiromi answered and gave the receiver to Yoshiki.
“Nothing else.” I said.
Hiromi went outside to fetch the drinks.
Yoshiki was on the telephone for some time. When he finished, he kept the receiver down and kept quiet for a few seconds. Then he looked at the watch.
“Why are you looking at the watch?” I asked.
“It’s already ten. I need to start.”
“You can have the beer and start.”
Normally he enjoys his beer drinking it slowly. He finished it in couple of gulps.
He showed the half empty bottle to Hiromi and asked her, “Will you drink?”
Hiromi thanked him and sat down to drink the beer. He spoke to her in Japanese for about five minutes.
“So? Thesne” she was saying in Japanese in between. I thought those words must have meant, ‘Oh is it?’
He waited till she finished the drink and turned towards me smiled and asked, “Can I take leave?”
“Thank you so much. I spent some valuable time with you and I can’t forget this help.” I said.
“Convey my regards to Gurumurthy” he got up.
“When are you planning to come to India again?” I asked.
Before he left, he took a pearl studded tiepin and clipped it on my tie.
“What’ this? I asked.
“Keep it to remember me,” he said. He bowed in Japanese style. Hiromi left with him in the lift to say bye to him. After few minutes she came back and said, “he still feels very bad that he is not able to spend more time with you. He asked me to take a day off tomorrow and take you around.”
“What did you say?”
“Tomorrow is my day off. So I don’t have to apply for leave.”
“Excellent!” I said.
Next day I went with Hiromi to see silk exhibition and silk weaving.
When I started from Kyoto, she asked, “Can I come to the station with you?”
I remembered it only after reaching the station. I opened my bag and took out the books and returned to her.
“These are for you,” she said.
“Is it? Thanks a lot. I will keep them in your memory.”
“Not only that. My fried used to say everything in this world happens as a coincidence. There is no rhyme or reason for anything. I don’t how far is that true. I don’t believe it. If I start believing that I may not be able to believe in God. But this incidence has proved that what he told is true.”
“Your coming, my giving these books to you and Yoshiki’s arrival and all that!” she replied.
“I don’t understand.”
“Yoshiki is an old timer. Otherwise he would have behaved like a normal man. He would not have behaved like a Japanese.”
“It seems he has told you that he would meet you at four ‘o’ clock the day you arrived.”
“Yes. But he said he could not make it.”
“How could he come? That day his shop in Kobe was gutted down in fire.”
“Yes he has a branch store in Kobe town. That day, due to an electrical short circuit his shop caught fire and completely burnt down. He lost goods worth more than twenty thousand dollars. Also his brother suffered severe burn injuries and he had to be admitted in hospital.”
“What? He didn’t tell me anything. He was joking and showed me all parts of the city.”
“You have come from a far-off place. That’s why he did not want to convey this news and hurt you. That’s why I said he behaved like an old-timer Japanese. Nowadays this practice of swallowing all the sorrow is not there. At least people will cry a little bit. And in happiness they laugh a lot.”
“That’s alright. But how do you know about his shop caught fire?”
“He told me. When he was about to leave he got a telephone call no? The news was his brother’s health has become serious. His wife told him he won’t be alive for more than two to three hours and called him back urgently. He went into a coma. He did not respond to any treatment. They spent a lot of money and specialist doctors tried their best.”
“Ah!” my brain stopped working. I could not get words out of my mouth.
“Once he learnt that he had gone into coma, Yoshiki could not take it any more. Till then he somehow managed to stay calm. ‘He won’t talk to me’ he said. When he said this he could not control his emotion and cried. He warned me not to tell any of this to you. But how could I not tell you? I felt bad that he did not share his sorrow with a friend who came here from a long way. Can’t they be normal human beings? I thought!” she looked at the mountains behind us.
I could not bear it. Image of a person with burn injuries and in coma blocked my eyes.
There were about twenty minutes for the train to arrive. I did not talk. Neither did Hiromi.
When I was boarding the train she said, “at the last minute I also hurt you by narrating this.” Hiromi was trying a pity smile but her voice was very low.
‘You also want to behave like a typical Japanese’ I could not stop myself from saying this.
The train stopped only for two minutes. Then it started. The next station is 100 miles away. The speed is also more than 140 miles per hour. The Hikari Express is a magnificent achievement the world has not seen till now. The train was going without a wobble and without a shake through the pine trees like a dream.
This is one among the many achievements of the Japanese people. Just like their smile, the train is also going without a shake or wobble like an arrow.
Janakiraman(also known asThi Jaa, 28 February 1921 – 18 November 1983) is a Tamil writer from Tamil Nadu, India. He is considered one of the major figures of 20th century Tamil fiction.
He was born in a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family of Madras Presidency in 1921. He worked as a civil servant. His writing included accounts of his travels in Japan and the Crimea.
The writing style of Thi Jaa is simple and narrative. His best-known novels are Mogamul, Sembaruthi, and Amma Vandhaal. All these novels have feminine feelings embedded in their subject. Though the story is spun around delicate feelings, the author’s narration is flawless and spontaneous. His short stories such as Langdadevi (a lame horse) and Mulmudi (Crown of Thorns) also follow the same style of writing. – Wikipedia
Excellent story and very good translation.
Thanks Uma it’s one of the touching short stories and I remember this when JK was in Tokyo