I have a Japanese friend, Eiichi Taira. We studied together in the Netherlands in 1971. Tairasan taught me Origami, the Japanese art of paper-folding. He also introduced me to an SLR camera, film version at that time! He owned a Pentax and like all Japanese people, he saw more through the view finder of his camera than with naked eye! We shared a study room between the two of us; had a great time together. We had no contact though, after we left The Netherlands.
In May 2017, my wife and I decided to visit Japan to spend some time with my son Anish, his wife Priyanka, and specially our grandson Yuvan. I thought of Tairasan. We had no contact for last 45 years. The Alumni database in the university had very sketchy information. LinkedIn did not provide any clues. Facebook threw up about 100 Tairas! After scanning through details of about 50 Tairas, I hit a jackpot. One Eiichi Taira “had moved to Eindhoven”, The Netherlands, for studies, in 1971”. His face looked familiar. I sent a Facebook message and received a reply within three hours. Yes, he was the Taira, I was looking for. He remembered me very well and suggested that I contact him when I arrive in Japan so that we could work out something.
Tairasan lives in Osaka, while I was in the suburbs of Tokyo. We decided to meet somewhere midway. I chose Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan before Tokyo. It is still the cultural capital, full of many “heritage sites”.
I took the “Shinkansen” (Bullet Train) from Tokyo, leaving at 8:40 and arriving at Kyoto at 10:59. That was a “Nozomi”, an Express train. Yes, there are three varieties of Bullet Train.
Nozomi stops at very few stations, Hikari, stops at more stations, and Kodama, stops at all stations.
Here is my train arriving at the platform in Tokyo Station.
I messaged Tairasan about my compartment and seat number. Taira had insisted that he will take me wherever I wanted to go. He was there at the platform, at the right spot. We recognized each other immediately. 45 years of time gap was bridged instantly.
Our first stop was at “Ninjo-Jo Castle”. This was the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto, who had been ruling Japan for over 260 years from 1603 to 1868, with a firm grip on power. The heavy but elaborate gate, massive stone walls, wide moat, are quite impressive. The palace building itself is imposing, rich in decorative detail, containing master pieces of Japanese art. One unique feature is the famous “nightingale floors,” designed to squeak, like birds, when stepped on, and thus alert guards to any intruders. Unfortunately, Photography is not permitted inside. The palace grounds are large and contain several lovely gardens as well as groves of plum and cherry trees.
Here is a small section of the garden with view of the moat. and bird’s eye view of the palace grounds.)
After Ninjo-Jo palace, we had an elaborate Japanese lunch in the Crowne Plaza-ANA hotel at walking distance from the castle and proceeded to see the famous Kinkaku-ji Temple.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. According to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkaku-ji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, with beautiful landscaping.
Next destination was the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Bamboo occupies a very important place in the Japanese culture. A quiet walk in the grove, with the sound of whistling wind, is an experience to be cherished. Takes you to another world.
Tairasan is about 9 years older than me. He had a major medical problem in 2015, however has recovered almost completely. We walked about 18000 steps and climbed 9 flights of stairs in the day. With heavy hearts, Taira and I promising to keep in touch, I traveled back to Tokyo in the evening, by 17:19 Shinkansen. From inside the Shinkansen, one does not feel the speed, unless you look at close objects through the window. Watching the Japanese landscape passing by with the backdrop of beautiful evening sky, was quite an experience