I have to be honest. In advance of my departure to Asia, Japan was not the country I was most looking forward to visiting. It’s never drawn me all that much despite the fact that one of my best friends in Paris is from the archipelago. I had a preconceived notion that it was crowded with cloud-tickling skyscrapers, busy workaholics, noisy arcades and pigtailed-short skirted giggling girls: a manga comic on speed. However, as I magically discovered, looks can be deceiving and/or intriguing…
The above mentioned description does exist—in part—and my colleague and I were staying in the hub of it all, or rather just one of the many mega-hubs of the city: Shibuya. It’s actually home to the largest intersection in the world, to give you an idea of just how intense it is. We made our way to the area relatively easily enough by train from the airport, but thank God (or Buddha) for GPS or we would have never found our hotel. Even with the GPS it took us twenty minutes to locate as we kept taking the wrong pedestrian overpass and went up and down the spiraling maze tugging along my oversized suitcase. After settling in and catching up on some emails, we headed out to grab some dinner snacks at a nearby deluxe food court (well, once we actually found it, another geographic challenge). After a marvelous hour wandering the aisles, we exited with our mysterious, pricey goodies, parked ourselves on a bench in the bustling square and quickly became mesmerized by the endless flow of people and the bright video screens.
One of the first things I noticed about the Japanese, particularly in the girls, was their pristine beauty. They were perfect. So many were the epitome of girliness I was almost ashamed to be in their midst with my wrinkled travel dresses, poorly blow-dried hair and darkish circles under my eyes from jet-lag. From head to toe, they paid attention to every detail: glossy, slightly tinted hair, delicate barrettes, pure skin, rosy cheeks, embroidered shirts, lacy skirts, knee high socks, heels… I was in awe.
My Parisian Japanese friend tried to connect me with a Tokyo friend while I was there, this fell through, but I did have the chance to catch up with another friend of mine, about the sweetest person in the world: Michiko. We’d met several years ago in Montmartre. As I was giving her directions her bag was stolen, at least a friendship was formed out of the unfortunate event. We’ve followed each others’ travels over the years on facebook and since my book came out last year, she enthusiastically craved a copy of my book, which I delivered in person. It was raining cats and dogs the day we met for a coffee and a quick lunch, however, she still exuded the utmost level of beauty; elegantly dressed, draped with a refined silk scarf and just the right amount of makeup. She helped us buy train tickets at the complicated in Japanese ticketing machine and even escorted us to the train station to make sure we got off to Kyoto safely: pure Japanese elegance and kindness.
That’s what I also loved about the Japanese; their perfect politeness. From our experiences, the seemingly busy helter-skelter was actually very organized, calm and civilized. Behind the guise of the shimmering towers, was the tranquility of tiny streets populated with small houses, shops and cafes served by impeccable staff.
These sorts of surprises followed us to Kyoto, where we stumbled across splendid temples, cherry-trees hugging the canal, and fleeting glimpses of geishas. Well, fleeting is one way to describe it. When Sophie caught sight of some on the grounds of a temple, we sprinted after them in hot pursuit, earning ourselves a well-deserved photography.
As it was the Sakura cherry blossom festival, we started happening upon more kimono-clad beauties. Apparently, it’s fairly common for Japanese women to get dressed up for the occasion, sipping saki under the blossoms with friends, my kind of celebration! It was hard to decided what was more captivating: the cherry blossoms or all the lovely ladies. Both made up a magical atmosphere.
With a few hours to spare in Osaka, we again went hunting blossoms, finding a treasure trove of them in the park surrounding the castle. Here too we found some prettily-dressed women, this time posing for wedding photos (like in Shanghai), the gorgeous girl at the top of the post might win the top prize for my Japanese beauty pageant, second only to Michiko 🙂 Either way, these special moments and special people had me seduced. Perhaps I was …. turning a little Japanese (like the quirky 1980s song by The Vapors)? I really don’t think so, well, I can’t as I don’t fit in physically, but I can at least take on some of their grace and Zen-itude.