Kanako & Mariko
From Kamakura, we headed back to Tokyo again for our last weekend in Japan. It had been a fantastic journey but it wasn’t over yet. As well as a chance to explore more of the many sights of the city, we had made contact with Kanako, a friend of a friend, who was to show us some of the food, arts and craft shops we wouldn’t otherwise have found. In the evening, she took us with her friend, Mariko, to a wonderful restaurant in the Tokyo suburbs run by a fantastically camp cook who was also a professor in agriculture. He was very attentive to all his customers and great fun even if we didn’t know what he was talking about half of the time.
For our final night in the country, we had been invited to a private Japanese tea ceremony. We were very privileged to be the guests, along with Yugo and Nabuko, of another Japanese neurologist who I had met several times before at MND conferences. Dr Ogino’s family had devoted much time and effort in making a traditional interior in the upper floor of a modern restaurant building - another example of melding the new together with the old. No effort (and no doubt expense) was spared in commissioning traditional craftsmen from Kyoto to recreate the environment in which the Japanese have enacted tea ceremonies for centuries. Dr Ogino’s sister and brother, both dressed in exquisite traditional costume, explained and performed the ceremony which is very structured and full of spiritual significance for both the hosts and guests. The utensils used to make the tea are beautifully crafted. The green tea leaves are ground by hand in a traditional stone grinder. A measured amount is then transferred by carved wooden spatula into an infuser which is heated by an under-floor charcoal fire. The tea is served in a handle-less ceramic cup which is passed around the guests. Having received it, you turn the cup through 45 degrees, then another 45 degrees before imbibing the contents. Whilst all of this might seem a bit excessive to requirements compared with your average brew of PG tips, the historical and cultural significance was fascinating to learn about. One of the underlying principles behind the ceremony is that everyone present, whether a host or guest, is of equal status and this creates a feeling of unity which binds society together, regardless of traditional hierarchies. As before, we were very privileged to experience something so different to our own culture.
They start 'em young over here
Not all Japanese doctors look like this
Even the signs are the epitome of politeness
Since coming back from Japan, we have realised how relatively few people from our part of the world have ever considered travelling there to visit. Other countries in south-east Asia, such as Thailand, Vietnam, etc. seem to be more on peoples’ radar compared to Japan. Maybe old predjuces from the 2nd World War are to blame but modern Japan is completely different from most peoples’ expectations and absolutely fascinating. If you get the chance, go! The sights, culture, politeness and hospitality are never-to-be forgotten. We certainly won’t. We’ll be back there again sometime, I'm sure.