To Japan with Love
I visited Tokyo about two months after the dreadful earthquake and tsunami of March 11.
I hadn't been back to Japan in more than a decade but I remember a society as orderly as it is polite.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect.
Actually I lie. Of course, I expected things to be quieter than usual and of course, they were.
There weren't many people at Narita airport so I got through immigration and customs very quickly. Traffic from the airport to the city was light so I got in fairly rapidly.
I had also expected the city to be darker at night because of the power shortage and yes, it was.
What I hadn't expected though was how much the same everything else was. I don't know what I had expected – perhaps the media reports had prepared me for a nation on its knees – but I found people going about their lives as usual as ever.
I hadn't been back to Japan in more than a decade but I remember a society as orderly as it is polite. I remember impeccable service in hotels and I found it to be no different – especially at Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo, where I stayed for a couple of nights.
I had arranged quite a few business meetings to renew relationships and to update myself on what was happening with the Japanese tourism industry since March 11.
Of course, things have not been easy. Foreign travellers have largely stayed away from the country and it may take a while for confidence to be restored.
But the Japanese are, if nothing, stoic and resilient. Every meeting I had, the same sentiment was expressed – Japan will recover. In the meantime, we will go about our lives as usual.
I walked along Ginza and the streets were full with people. I was told by friends that after a period of self-restraint, people were going out again.
I have always loved dining in Tokyo – it's a city full of eclectic dining experiences. I was taken to a Mexican restaurant which had a rooftop garden – it was buzzing with people enjoying their tortillas and tequilas.
I went to a hole-in-the-wall Okinawan restaurant that no tourist would be able to find unless taken there by locals. The sake was hot and the food fantastically different and delicious. I remember in particular the ice cream in toasted baguette – the coolness of the ice cream and the crispiness of the baguette, what a blend of sensations.
I had requested a jazz bar and my friends did not disappoint. We went to another hole-in-the-wall place where a trio was playing – a Japanese on double bass, a Korean on piano and an American on drums. What a blend of musical talent.
This is what I love about Japan. It's so intrinsically Japanese yet just underneath it is this blend of all things global.
For the weekend, I went to Nojiriko, three hours outside Tokyo, and stayed at a place on the edge of a lake in the middle of a forest. There was snow on the mountains and cherry blossoms on the trees.
I visited a shrine, ate the best soba ever, walked through a forest created by a Welsh man CW Nicol, had freshly-picked mushroom tempura which still tasted of the earth from whence it came and at night, I sat under the full moon at Nojiriko and sent a wish up to the heavens for Japan.