Today, when Bappai returned from office his face was dull and off. Seeing this Papa asked, “What happened Bappi? Why so off?”
“Baba I have been promoted and have to move to Tokyo within a week.”
For a second, we all were stunned at his seriousness but later on broke into crackling laughter.
“So what’s so serious about it? It’s a big breakthrough.”
“True baba but we have to leave immediately.”
“What do you mean by ’We’. It’s no we; it’s just you.”
“No baba it’s a long term project. So I plan to move with the family.”
This was shocking. I have never been so far, for so long. On one hand, the thought of leaving, gave me goose bumps and on the other hand, image of Japan made my heart smile. It is like a dream come true which I am about to live. Now the question is what to leave and what to live? Family, my heart never wished to leave and go. And the golden opportunity to live my dream, I do not want to leave. What to choose and what to decline?
Pondering and closely analyzing everything, we concluded to move as a family and stepped into the journey to the land of rising sun. However, fear and anxiety to be all alone in a totally new world was equally pulling my spirit down.
Samar is super excited in his new journey to the world amazing. We are happy to see him chirp like a free bird ready to take his maiden flight. Enthusiastic Samar’s happiness was endless as we landed in Tokyo. On top of it, a journey in Japanese bullet train stole our heart. We were spellbound at its speed and awesome service. Words are less to describe its technology and services. Every word that the world admires and speaks in praise of Japan is just true.
Finally, settling in our condominium apartment in Shinjuku, Tokyo I saw the beautiful little girl next door.
Samar is getting bored at home with no work, and no one to play. Day by day he is becoming more destructive and stubborn. For a change, I took him out. While returning back home I saw the little angel with her mother. Opportunistically, I greeted “Konban wa” (sorry if I have mistaken). They both smiled and bowed down and said “Irasshaimase”. In response, we too bowed down.
“I am Sarita and he is Samar, my boy.”
“Me Emi and she is Michiko, my sweet angel.”
As we entered her house, she pointed to put on the ‘uwabaki slippers’. I also saw her arranging our shoes there. Settling down in the sofa at the low table, I asked her what is the importance of that shoe area?
“In all Japanese homes you will find this ‘Genkan’ just next to the entrance followed by a raised footstep or a different colored tiled floor, where we put on our uwabaki slippers. It is basically meant to keep dirt and mud away from main house. In Japanese homes, ‘Tatami flooring’ is throughout the house and cleaning dirt form them is difficult. Genkan is a place where all dirt and mud is collected. So once you have opened your shoes in genkan, you should not put your step in genkan but here in this raised footstep so that you do not carry dirt through your bare foot. In some houses, you will find ‘getabako’ to accommodate the shoes of the family members. The guest’s shoes are neatly aligned in a genkan with the toes pointing out towards the door. Schools and restaurants too have them.”
“So, that’s why you were arranging our shoes there.”
“And what is Tata…. flooring.”
“Traditionally tatami is a mat made of rice straws but now they use wood chip boards or polystyrene foam. Tatami is a rectangular mat of standard size 2:1.
In a typical ‘washitsu’ you will have ‘tatami’ flooring and ‘fusuma’.”
“So our apartments are somewhat like ‘washitsu’.”
‘Yes. That’s why there’re fusuma separating the bedroom and genkan.’
“And these are the tatami.”
“Yeah. I want Michiko to know our culture and tradition.”
“Depending upon the size of the room we use four-and-half, five-and-half, eight tatamis etc. I have arranged a four-and-half tatami in ‘T shape’ to completely cover the floor. As you see I have placed two tatamis parallel to the wall and one on top of them both covering almost two-third of the room. The fourth tatami is place in the remaining uncovered place. The half mat covers the last empty block covering the full floor. We consider this arrangement auspicious. However in a few places you will see it arranged in ‘+ shape’ which is inauspicious”.
“Another important aspect of our culture is the Japanese bow. It is mainly meant to show respect to other person. Interaction in Japan is much more than verbal communication and body language is very well read in Japan. Bowing shows that I am placing them higher than myself and I am thankful for interaction. A five degree bow is used in informal gathering with friends and family. A fifteen degree bow i.e.‘eshaku’, is used among acquaintances for casual greeting. A thirty degree bow i.e. ‘keirei’ , is generally used in business. A forty-five degree bow i.e. ‘saikeirei’, is used to show respect to someone of very high status like emperors or to show strong sense of apology. Last one is ‘dogeza’, when your mistake led to someone’s death. In this form the person gets on his hands and knees facing the ground as if pleading for his forgiveness.”
I thanked her for being so kind and caring neighbor and moved towards the door.
“You know, James and Julie were our neighbors and Michiko was very much attached to them. A month back they have to leave. Since then her smile was gone. To make her understand separation was impossible for me. In the mean time you all moved in. When she saw Samar, she was very happy. And you came today, I’m obliged. Thank you once again.”
“Same is true here Emi. Samar is missing his grandparents and friends badly and wanted to go back. Convincing him was getting bitter and bitter. So I thought to divert his mind taking him out. I am happy that he too found a friend.”
“See how happily they both are playing.”
In the evening at the dinner table, Bappai asked Samar, “So how was your day my boy.”
“Papa it was awesome. You know Michiko and I are in the same class.
“Who is this Michiko?”
“She is the little girl next door and now Samar’s friend too.”
“Our school has big ‘getabako’” and my number is fifty-one. There we keep our shoes and don ‘uwabaki’ before entering the class. Michiko taught me these all.”
“So that’s why you were arranging our genkan in the same fashion.”
“Papa this school is very different. The sensei teaches us well. School lunch time is different here. At that time, we all wear the white coat and cap and everyone is detailed with some work. A few of us served the food. Later on we all cleaned our utensils together and arranged them well. Our sensei said to eat everything served because they contain all nutrition. So I ate all. Eating with two sticks was difficult. Michiko taught me how to hold the chopsticks and eat. At first all my food was falling but slowly I was able to eat with them.”
While arranging the dinner table, Samar himself approached me and assisted saying sensei told to help everyone. He spread the cloth over the table and then the plates and bowls. It was nice to see his little fingers helping me. I never thought he will start doing this, this early.
“How was your day dear?”
“I greeted them ‘Ohayou Gosaimasu’ and all welcomed me warmly admiring my gesture of learning Japanese. Lunch time was a great fun. We dined out for an official lunch. Their restaurants are pretty good. Sitting around the low tables, laid before us were colorful, beautiful, and mouthwatering foods. One of the colleague said the Japanese cuisine is the most popular cuisine because of its variety and balance which they achieve by having five colors (black white, red, yellow, and green), five cooking techniques (raw food, grilling, steaming, boiling, and frying) and five flavors (sweet, spicy, salty, sour, and bitter). The table was full of them all.”
“You know they don’t mix and eat. They take fish in one plate then sauce in another….”
“You ate the raw fish.”
“I managed with cooked ones but did try a piece of Sashmi, it tastes delicious. I never felt the rawness of fish amidst the spicy sauce and bitter plants. Vegetarian Sushi was awesome. Undeniably Japanese cuisine is wonderful.”
Surely life never fails. Though we are miles away from home, in a new world, amidst new people, yet life finds its way. A ray of hope will keep us going till the time human life is alive helping each other.
- Konban wa- Good evening in Japanese.
- Irasshaimase- welcome in Japanese.
- Uwabaki slippers-A type of Japanese slippers worn indoors at home, school or certain
companies and public buildings where street shoes are prohibited.
- Genkan – the typical Japanese entryway
- Getabako – the shoe cupboards
- Washitsu – Meaning “Japanese-style room(s)”, and frequently called a “tatami room” in English, is a
Japanese term for a room in a house or apartment that has traditional tatami flooring.
- Fusuma – In Japanese architecture, fusuma (Japanese: ?) are vertical rectangular panels which can
slide from side to side to redefine spaces within a room, or act as doors.
- Tatami- Is a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms.
- Eshaku- 15 degrees bow. This bow is used to excuse oneself, to greeting co-workers or
costumers. This is the most informal bow.
- Keirei – 30 degrees bow. This bow is used for greeting companies’ boss and for people higher in
status or in age, and to ask for a favor. This is a more formal bow.
- Saikeirei- 45 degrees bow. This bow is used just when you meet important people and when you
want to excuse yourself or thank someone with great emphasis.
- Dogeza- In this case, you seat on you knee and put gracefully your hand and face on the floor in
front of your knee especially your mistake has caused someone’s death. Now it is restricted to
martial arts only.
- Sensei- Teacher
- Ohayou Gosaimasu- Good Morning.
- Sashmi- A Japanese delicacy consisting of very fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces and
often eaten with soy sauce.
- Sushi- It is a vinegared rice with sugar and salt accompanied by a variety of ingredients like
vegetables, seafood, and tropical fruits.
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