Japan’s Tiny Travel Tales: “Only one”

Tripoto
5th Oct 2017

It’s a tug of war in my head. What do we revisit today? The warmth of the people I met in Japan, or the serendipities that found their way towards me or how I just got lucky when in Japan. But all of these are after all stories- tiny travel tales as I like to call them. So go ahead, read them, feel the warmth, thank the luck and ask the serendipities to visit again.

“Only one”

As I stand at the immigration counter at Mumbai airport, excited that my Japan trip is about to begin, the immigration officer starts the routine questions- how many days, return flight, purpose of visit. But one question caught me off-guard and left a smile on my face too. “You are celebrating your birthday in Japan alone?,” “ Yes, “ I say with a bright smile. The officer gives me a warm smile back. Both the question and smile, followed me in Japan too.

***

It has been a lovely morning as I get see autumn leaves for the first time in my life in Nikko. Having lived the beauty, it is time to take a bus back to the hostel area. As I walk towards the bus stop, I see a bus approaching. Buses from this bus stop come with a lag and I did not wish to miss this one. I start running in the direction of the bus stop. The bus passes the stop and then me and zooms past. I am left with a goofy grin realizing it is not the bus that halts at this particular stand. An elderly Japanese couple waiting at the bus stop returns the smile. They tell me the next bus meant to halt at this stand will take another ten minutes. The conversation starts with which country and quickly moves to “Only one?” Given a large population in Japan does not speak English, most Japanese translate the question “Are you travelling alone?” to “Only one” and I each time answer with a big smile, “Yes, only one”.Our conversation revolves around Japan building the bullet train and how beautiful the “husband” in the couple found Bombay to be. After sometime the bus arrives, we take our seats. After a few stops, the elderly couple calls out to me again, while I am lost in nature’s beauty. “Which stop?’ the elderly man asks, “The last one”, I say. They gesture theirs is the next stop and bid me goodbye. With that smile, the autumn leave for me just got a little brighter.

***

I board the bullet train with my big backpack, find my seat and apologize to my co passenger for the inconvenience. She, on the other hand, helps me place the big bag, the small bag and also my latest priced possession from Japan- my umbrella. Once settled, the expected question is asked, “Only one?” I smile and repeat, “Yes, only one". She is travelling with her other four friends and seems to be having a merry time. I wonder, if I would too travel the same way in my forties, fifties with my best friends, I hope I do. As a consolation prize for travelling alone, I am offered a chocolate. I quickly accept the chocolate offered with so much affection and gobble it up. It’s only after a few minutes; I remembered what my mom said, “Do not accept food from strangers while travelling in a train.” But mom, this is Japan and its people too good to refuse.

***

It’s a lovely afternoon in Nara. The only problem is as usual I am lost. Having found no respite with google maps, I decide to ask a lady passerby, who looks like a local, for the right direction. I point out to her the bus stop I wish to reach on the map I have in my hand. She smiles and asks me to walk along with her. And ofcourse, the question “only one” I smile again. “Indian” I smile again. For some weird reason, you are more proud of your patriotic belongings when abroad, than when in homeland. She tells me she works at a nearby hospital. She meets someone she knows on the way. Though the conversation between the two ladies is in Japanese, I figure out there is a mention that she is taking me to the bus stop. I exchange smiles with the second lady we meet. After two minutes of exchanging pleasantries, we again start walking towards the bus stop. Once there, I thank her and she starts walking ahead, probably towards the hospital.

I stand in the queue waiting for the next bus. When in Japan, there is a queue for everything, please follow it. It’s a windy afternoon and I have just a thin jacket on. I try to rub my arms with my palms in a failed attempt to get some heat. An old lady is standing behind me. “Cold?,” she asks. I smile and nod my head. She looks to her left and then to the right and decides a direction from which the wind is blowing. She stands as a ‘shield’ between me and the blowing wind. She smiles again, as if to ask if it is better. Not sure if it was the shield, but the gesture surely makes you feel warm. And of course, she did ask me the mandatory question, “Only one?”

Photo of Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan by Amritha

While I started to write Japan’s tiny travel tales, I was hoping to fit all in one blog. But Japan has better plans. “Only one” is the first part, of Japan’s tiny travel tales, there would probably a couple of more parts. Japan’s tiny travel tales is the seventh blog of my new travel series on Japan- documenting the food, people, nature, beauty and culture in the land of the rising sun.

Disclaimer: I often hear how people are inspired by various travel blogs and wish to pack their bags and go travel. If any of my blogs does the same to you, I request you to read up on what I think about travel and how to afford it responsibly, here is the link https://tinyurl.com/yd5aa62y

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