Sunday, 28 August 2011

Ito-ya, Ginza

No one does stationery quite like the Japanese. And here, at Ito-ya’s flagship store in Ginza, there are nine floors of it!

I was tempted to quote Firdausi (If there is a heaven on earth / It is here, it is here, it is here). But in truth, my feelings about Ito-ya are more akin to those of the haiku poet Bashō on beholding Matsushima:
Matsushima ah!
A-ah, Matsushima, ah!
Matsushima, ah!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Notes from Okinawa

Some anecdotes from a diving and snorkelling holiday in Akajima in the Okinawa prefecture, with friends from work.

We saw flying fish from our dive-boat, and this excited me as much as anything we saw underwater. There are no two ways about it: animals that can both swim and fly are cool.
Our diving guide spoke only Japanese. Before each dive, she would brief us about the dive plan, attractions and dangers. I could follow most things she said, but I wouldn’t be able to understand something like “establish neutral buoyancy,” or “the sting of the blue-ringed octopus is potentially fatal.” My friends, who are Japanese, were happy to translate, but it hurt my pride to ask them for help.

After each day’s diving, we gathered in the dining hall of the dive shop to fill our dive logs. It had an extensive library on local fish, coral, shells and reptiles. Everything was in Japanese, but fortunately the encyclopaedias had taxonomic names in the Latin alphabet. So the exercise went like this: each plant or animal we had seen would be identified (occasionally after some debate) by reference to an observer’s guide, then someone would look it up for me in the relevant encyclopaedia, then I would google the taxonomic name to find the common English name and copy it in my dive log. This was almost as much fun as the actual diving.

When cycling to Nishihama beach, the most famous beach on the island, we came to a fork in the road. Shun said “Go right.” I asked him how he knew, and he said “Just feel the beach.” It was undeniably a Quote, but I am not sure whether he could in fact “feel the beach,” or had looked at a map beforehand. His credibility took a hit the previous day after he claimed that he fought an octopus underwater.

We dived about ten days after a typhoon, which is when the water is apparently clearest. On top of that, we enjoyed cloudless skies and an upwelling, which make for excellent diving conditions. Underwater visibility was an incredible 40 metres. Experienced divers were shaking their heads in disbelief, saying they had rarely seen anything like it. Shun, who knows how sad I am to be leaving Japan, said it was Japan’s farewell gift to me.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I love the Japan Railways Shinkansen (bullet train) network as much as I love the Indian Railways, but the two could not be more different. Indian trains may be late or may make up time. The average annual delay for the Tōkaidō Shinkansen – including all delays due to human error, earthquakes, typhoons and snow – is thirty seconds.

Shinkansen leaving Kyōto station

Shinkansen simply means ‘new main line’ but it is a poetic word. It just sounds... fast.

There are three types of trains on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line. The slowest (only in relative terms, for it has a top speed of 285 km/h) is called Kodama, the Japanese word for echo. The next faster is called Hikari, meaning light. And fastest of all is the Nozomi, which means wish or hope.