October 17, 2014 2 Comments
The 4 am alarm really cut through deep sleep. I had gone to bed only for a couple of hours. What with continuous eating bouts of sushi for the last six days and late bed times, it had been quite a trip. Now to add the last phase to it, a morning visit to Tsukiji Fish Market for the fish auction.
I don’t do travel blogs and neither is this one. Frequent travel, corporate in nature, diminishes any benefits of learning; time and attention being spent on meetings and dinners. It leaves little room for appreciation of people, culture and history.
My career with Western MNCs restricted Far East visits. So coming to Japan on business was unusual, but as it turned out, its been a rich week and one has picked up some fascinating insights.
The Japanese probably more than anyone else, look after guests. Add to this their diligent and disciplined nature, and you have a week planned from morning to night, with three meals thrown in to boot. Despite a proud history, a need to please and be recognised as worthy, leads the Japanese to give more than your monies worth. In mid visit we landed on Kyushu Island, the Southern most tip of Japan. Our hosts remarked we were the first Pakistani guests at the hotel on the beach. In a day of rushing from one food plant to another and looking at farms, we also saw a lot of beauty similar to our Nathiagali area. Mountains, conifers, winding roads and road side kiosks.
Nearby is Sakurajima Island. It houses a volcano which has spoken everyday for the last 58 years. It belches ash, lava and smoke like a dragon and is extremely impressive. We got lucky here. Just at the time that we were watching from the coast road, it suddenly emitted an ash explosion. My first live volcanic eruption. Not many in the world can claim that. There are also substantial number of hot springs all over, where people can take baths. You find one even at the airport, with people dipping their feet in it.
It is fascinating to see their work regime. One sees many people, case in hand, coming out of office buildings at 11 pm homeward bound. Coupled with discipline and respect, this is a formidable combination and they progress well, despite all the so called economic doldrums in the last two decades. They celebrate very well also. It is quite a surprise to see them after work, as they shed the work facade and turn boisterous in evening get togethers. I had some great laughs during meals, as they are very capable of cracking jokes and laughing uproariously at them.
Through the years of dealing with Japanese people and witnessing other Pakistanis doing so, one learning is that we get along very well with them. Why is this so? We are emotional and indisciplined, while they are disciplined and control emotions well generally. But oddly, Pakistanis find them easy to get along with and for my part I have learned to trust my Japanese friends, admire their dedication and enjoy the laughs which seem to emanate from a similar sense of humour.
One odd dinner I must mention here. We had opted for fish meals on account of halal strictures. On the last night we ended up at a Korean restaurant, which served halal food (certification and all). All food served and bar-b-qued on the table in front of you. But wait for the surprise, the chef was a Sri Lankan and that too a Catholic. Cannot remember a more diverse meal in my life. In Japan, with Pakistanis, Korean menu, chef a Sri Lankan who is a Catholic. Oh yes, and the tilawat from the prayers in Mecca, was being played in the background. Needless to say the food was very good.
So to the last mornings trip to the fish auction. Tourists are not allowed there; we had to obtain special passes, which came only through the significant influence of our hosts and sponsors. We were lucky and privileged. The place was fascinating, with many auctions of tuna taking place. Each auctioneer had his own style and some were very dramatic, others clownish and some business like. Through all this a lot of business was transacted. Pride of place was a tuna of 174 kg which sold for $18000. Top that! In between all the tuna, watch out for these special carts which dart around at formidable speeds. Its a difficult job avoiding these missiles and keeping safe. In all my 40 years of travel, I have come across few more fascinating human contact places than the Tsukiji fish auction. It was real, showed a culture and was warm at the same time. This alone, made the trip absolutely worthwhile.