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Catherine Bowie goes West to get East and visits one of the world’s most fascinating countries.
An invigorating. ifnot brief stopover. at Alaska — views of spectacular snowcapped McKinlay —
the possibility of spotting the odd
polar bear — somehow make the otherwise tedious seventeen hour ﬂight from Heathrow more bearable.
The drive from Narita Airport to Tokyo (an hour and a half away or £75 away by taxi) is uneventful — highlighted perhaps on a clear day. by a glimpse of the great Fuji.
Tokyo is vibrant. Neons ﬂash constantly — the buzz of the city hits you on arrival. Jetlag forgotten. I found the city exhilarating. Constant insights of traditional Japan contrasting against a backdrop of westernisation. It does not boast historic sites nor ancient monuments but manages to portray perfectly the marriage between east and west. Teashops next to pinball parlours —
streets heavy with traffic. expertly
navigated by bicycle-riding noodle shop delivery boys. one hand
steering, the other clutching lunch
trays— hi-tech shops in Akihabara selling the most advanced electronic gadgets yet the assistant calculates
~13. .‘ z.-
your discount using an abacus. Tokyo runs like clockwork — quartz precision ofcourse — and it has to. A
population of l 1 million coupled
with heavy traffic and lack ofspace doesn‘t leave any choice. Even petrol stations consist of a roadside canopy, no forecourt. The trigger at the end ofthe hose. suspended from the overhang. has a digital display— neat!
Eating out in Japan is a national pastime. The visitor need not feel inhibited by undecipherable menus because the Japanese have considered their tourists. Shokuhin sanpuru or plastic replicas of dishes can be seen in most restaurant windows. But eating native can have its drawbacks. I found myself in a
. busy student restaurant. quietly
conﬁdent that I‘d ordered an edible dish - the food was good. My problem was getting long buckwheat noodles from bowl to mouth without decorating the whole of the restaurant. My difficulties however seemed inconsequential when my friend retold his experience. Whilst in a seafood restaurant he. the honoured guest ofa group of
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distinguished businessmen. found himself faced (literally!) with a
i speciality of the house. live baby
octopus. Not knowing how to tackle the subject. he observed their technique. One bashes the octopus with a small hammer and swallows it
whole. No problem. he thought.
However he hadn‘t stunned the
creature sufficiently and found
himselfin a scene from Alien. The octopus adhered itself to his nose
Beside the numerous sushi bars and the traditional fast food establishments of which the Japanese are masters. Makudonarudo (MacDonalds) are faring extremely well.
Harajuku is the area of'l'okyo to head for on a Sunday for a different
view of how the young Japanese live.
Punk clothes (rather chic) grilled cuttlefish stalls and flea markets are all part oftheir scenario. Rather clandestinely the kids flock to this area in their Sunday best to change behind bushes and re-appear like John Travolta or Presley. Home made or expensive sound systems appear from the depths of their hold-alls and are set up in seconds. The afternoon is spent entertaining their friends bodypopping. breakdancing. rock and rolling. miming or imitating Bob Dylan in a loud and colourful display of inhibition.
A total contrast to Tokyo is the calm and peaceful city of Kyoto. I took the Bullet train or the Shinkansen. and was there in three hours. Kyoto is a city ofgardens and palaces. temples and shrines and exudes a feeling oftotal tranquillity. refreshing after'I’okyo.
Unlike the labyrinth of the capital.
Kyoto is an orderly progression of numbered streets and was designed as a model city. making walking round much easier. There are over 1.600 Buddhist temples not to mention the Shinto shrines. The city is dotted with 60 gardens where rocks. plants and water are harmoniously arranged.
There are department stores and sophisticated restaurants too. but slightly away from the city centre. one can find little dusty shops in low
wooden buildings selling bits of handicrafts. In many of the shops the owners sit on raised tatami-covered platforms like those one sees in the old prints.
In Kyoto one must visit a temple and a shrine. the most spectacular one being the Kiyomizi Temple. a beautiful structure perched on a high verandah and dedicated to Kannon.
the eleven-faced and thousand-armed goddess. The Sanjusangendo Temple is another important site to visit. particularly for those of you interested in Buddhism. It is a masterpiece of the Kamakura Period and has now been designated as a National Treasure. The city of Kyoto. then. from the tea ceremony to the temple architecture. from festivals to Zen
gardens. involves every aspect of
Japanese culture quietly; where Tokyo. in its eclectic eastern way. conceals the pulse of tradition.
0 There is an exhibition ofJapanese avant-garde art at the Fruitmarket Gallery. Edinburgh (see Art Listings)
TRAVEL TO JAPAN
O Apex tare (book 1 month ahead) £900 return. London—'l‘okyo
0 Full British Airways iare £875 each way. London—'l‘okyo
0 JAL package tour 5 nights in Sheba Park or Sunshine Prince llotels. one person £949 return. London—'l'okvo 0 Transaipino from £650 return. London—Tokyo (open to any age)
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