A visit to the Orient II: Japan (1978)...Rekha Karmakar


The second part of Mom's Oriental Diaries from 1978. The first one was from Bangkok.  Now it's the second leg at Japan. The Sicot conference at Kyoto, bullet trains, green tea and the Nara Deer Park...

"We landed at Tokyo airport in time. From there we took a bus to the railway station. As we were delayed by a day, we could not spend any time in Tokyo. From the bus, Tokyo seemed a busy commercial city, vibrating with life.

After reaching the railway station, we took the ‘Bullet Train’. I considered myself very fortunate to be able to travel by ’Bullet Train’, popularly known in Japan as ‘Shinknsen’. Japan pioneered this high speed train. This train was quite new even at that time. As far as I remember, the interior of the train resembled the compartment of a very neat, clean and luxurious A.C. chair car. But while inside we could not feel its speed just as you cannot realize the fast speed of an aeroplane, while inside. Nonetheless it was a great experience.

After getting down at the platform, we felt hungry. We bought a rice preparation, which looked like ‘pulao/ fried rice’, from the railway vendor. But it did not taste like pulao/fried rice as the rice was very soggy.

From there, we took another train to Kyoto. The conference organisers had booked a hotel for us near the station. As far as I remember, it was called ‘The Station Hotel’. The room was very nice and what I liked most was that they provided us with ‘Japanese Kimono Style’ house-coats along with other toiletries.

Kyoto, the ancient city of Japan, is famous for its temple and shrines. In contrast to Tokyo, this city had a laid-back and relaxed atmosphere. The houses were built at the backdrop of natural scenery. The Japanese in Kyoto, cultivated rice paddy in their kitchen gardens just as we grow vegetables in ours.





The venue of the conference was quite near the hotel. The conference hall was very huge, having seating arrangements for nearly thousand delegates. Not only that, it also had a huge screen at the background, which had ’SICOT’78, Kyoto’ written in glowing letters. All arrangements were made befitting the grand occasion i.e. the 50th anniversary of the World Orthopedic Congress.

The technical know–how of the Japanese was also superb. Each and every delegate, including his spouse, was provided with a lingua-phone so that he/she could interpret the speech of all the dignitaries in their language of choice. I, too, was very excited to get one such equipment.



My young readers may, at this stage, look down on my excitement at receiving a lingua-phone and think in their minds, ‘so what? ‘, ‘as if…’. They are probably right. But three and a half decades ago, these were very innovative things for us. It is unimaginable as to how much the work world has progressed in the communication sector in the last few decades.

After the inaugural session, the docs went inside to discuss important issues, while K and I went outside for a stroll and have a ’peep’ into the lives of the Japanese people.

I saw a young Japanese girl, almost of my age, going inside a restaurant with her child. As we, too, were hungry, we followed her inside the restaurant to have lunch. They ordered some boiled noodles and started having it with chopsticks with great dexterity. We, too, tried having noodles with chopsticks but gave it up soon and fell back on forks and knives. After seeing the Japanese mother and son duo, I realized that not cooking lunch at home and eating out with the child was quite common among the Japanese housewives unlike among the Indian housewives of the same time.

On the 2nd day of conference, K’s dad read out his paper, which was followed by customary discussions.
During lunch- break, we were invited to watch the Japanese ‘Green Tea Ceremony’. Very few people had heard about ‘green tea’ at that time. We went inside a hall where they showed us how to prepare green tea. The whole preparation was conducted with the seriousness of a worship/puja. It was not just making a cup of green tea but also the rituals that mattered.

After sometime, they gave us some green tea in cups. It looked like liquid green paste of grass. I, too, tasted some but it seemed quite unpalatable to me at that time. I do not know if the taste of green tea has undergone any change or not because now-a –days I merrily sip a cup of green tea ( made with green tea-bag) every evening.

At night, they took us to a theatre to see the live performance of ‘Kabuki’. ‘Kabuki’ is a classical Japanese dance-drama. It is noted for the elaborate make up worn by some of its performers. You can, somewhat compare their make-up to that of the Indian Kathakali dances. As the whole performance was in Japanese language, we could not understand it very much. To be very frank, at that time, I had not even heard of ‘Kabuki’.

Later in the years, I came to know that it is the most popular form of traditional dance- drama in Japan. It has also been included in the ‘UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List’ in 2005.

The final day of the conference ended with the traditional banquet party, which we also attended for a while. The men were busy getting themselves photographed with the Japanese girls in Kimono.

A surprise was still in store for us. Later at night, the professionals started lighting up different types of fire- crackers. The whole sky was illuminated with those crackers. It went on and on. Different types of fire- crackers made myriad designs in the sky. The lights and the sounds left us spell bound. It was like Diwali in Japan. The Japanese sent off its guests with a bang!

After the conference was over, we decided to stay for a day or two and see the surrounding places, though Yen was as high as ever.

Next morning, we took a tourist coach and decided to go to Nara, another ancient city on the border of Kyoto. While going to Nara, we passed through the beautiful city of Kyoto and enjoyed each and every moment.

During the course of the journey, we noticed a canal, with multi-coloured water, in Kyoto. I was rather surprised as I had heard of the Blue Nile River and the Black sea but never had I heard of any water body having multi coloured water. On asking the guide, I came to know that there was a factory nearby which dyed Japanese silk materials. The excess coloured water was channelized through the canal. That explained the color of the water.

We reached Nara, the ancient Buddhist city, after sometime. It is famous worldwide for its temples and shrines. There is a Buddhist temple complex in Nara.

Out of all the temples in Nara, Todaiji Temple, with its huge wooden structure, is the largest Buddhist temple and a landmark of Nara.



Another important feature of Nara is its deer park. I still remember the velvet soft green grass of Nara Park and the tamed deers roaming about in the town.



The historic monuments of ancient Nara have been enlisted in ’the UNESCO World Heritage Site’ List.

We liked Japan very much. Japan, though an Asian country, can compete with any Western country. Its most important asset is its human resource. Its citizens can overcome any calamity whether it is the explosion of the hydrogen bomb, nuclear radiation leak, tsunami or earthquake. Being an Asian, I basked in the reflected glory of Japan. This is the impression that I had of Japan when I went there. (This is purely my opinion)"                                                                                                                       To be continued

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