There are few great Levellers in this world (Mark Chadwick maybe?) but a benchmark that cuts through race, religion or gender are nominally death and taxes. After a week in Japan, I’d probably add to that how you eat a bowl of udon noodles in broth. I’m a delicate petal of an eater, tiptoeing around the fact I may hurt the food’s feelings as I eat it, but even when the most-lovely of lovelies arrives at a bowl of udon noodles things become quickly unstuck. Add a dash of chile and some kind of mystical root, and then its on! Slurps, noodle-sucking, sniffles, deep breaths, loud exhales, sweat beading on the brow, the occasional burp, the dish has it all! Empress or cobbler are undone by noodle soup!
Less class-uniting is the okonomiyaki, a sensational crepe/noodle extravaganza formed on a hot plate. They even give you a little trowel to plough into it. Last night I used said trowel, neatly quartering the round mess and halving again once I’d transported it onto my plate. I then tuck into it using chopsticks, munching bitesize. I’m not bad with chopsticks, so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Getting distracted with some baseball, I carried out my little process, and got to the last morsel to notice some instructions on eating okonomiyaki in what passes as a guide for gaijin. Turns out you’re supposed to use the trowel for shovel the food into you, and what made it worse was the chef had handed me this bloody thing at the start of the meal, at which I simply tossed it aside and became engrossed in a game in which I don’t understand. Useless, bloody useless!
I’ve had a wonderful few days though, enjoying Tokyo, the shrines of Kyoto and seeing a man get arrested for flying his drone (not me, hasten to add). I’ve trundled down the coast to the quite incredible Hiroshima, and am still staggered at the number and ages of schoolchildren that diligently ploughed through hours-worth of extremely graphic and tear-jerking testimonials. What I didn’t see though was any acknowledgement of how it got to that stage i.e. why were a-bombs dropped at all? Far less political though, and about one million percent enjoyable, was the retreat of Miyajima. An island about half an hour south of Hiroshima, the village was a lovely break from the hustle of the big cities. Well it was at about 11pm and 5am when I was out taking photos and being attacked by mosquitoes anyway.
What has bowled me over though this week is not only the dedication and inventiveness of the engineering of the country (I listed on a bullet-train ride – that’s another marvel! – all the well-known Japanese technology or engineering companies – its ridiculous!) but the sheer calmness of the people. Whether squeezing onto a train in Tokyo, caught in traffic with some idiot has parked across the road, the Japanese are unflappable. No tooting of horns, no ‘oiii, wanker!’ when shoved on the underground: they are immensely respectful, quiet, gracious, friendly and calm. And why not when your toilet seats are electronically warmed and with a touch of a button you have a gentle spray of warm water cleaning your bum. It’s the future, I tell you, especially if you’ve just had a spicy udon soup.
Japanese Tech and Engineering Companies - Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Mazda, Hino, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Nissan, Daihatsu, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Matsui, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Kodak for gods sake, Hitachi, Fuji, Fujitsu ... all from this country of 140m people? Don’t forget Nintendo, Sega, Bridgestone and Yokohama Tyres!
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