The passenger doors of the cabs swing open automatically as they slow down to pick you up. And then close at a touch of a button soon as you get in. Drivers all wear thin white gloves the kind English butlers do. That there is no such thing as an exact address in Japan. The first time I had gotten into a cab with Keiko, it took her almost a minute to communicate the directions to the driver indicating the exact location by listing the landmarks such as crossroads, the most prominent building around there, the neighborhood, just like we do in Bombay. Just like Bombay, Tokyo was never planned to be an easy city, hence the house numbers and streets have almost no or a very little meaning to them. And they drive on the left side of the streets. Something so obvious in Britain and its past colonies such as Australia and India. But Japan?

Also the thing you can’t ignore is the fact that many of the people walk the streets with their mouths and noses covered in white masks. Something Jains in India do in order not to inadvertently inhale the living insects. I am not sure whether the Japanese wear them because of the pollution of Tokyo or it could have something to do with the Buddhism. Majority of Japanese all dress in conservative western clothes. Unlike India and other traditional countries where you could see both, it would be a rare sight in Japan to see the men dressed in anything other than the western suits and casual shirt and pants and women mostly in two piece suites or the skirts and a blouses.

Outwardly they’re totally westernized and yet, not withstanding some of the obvious social etiquette and the public behavior, you can’t help but wonder whether behind the  appearances, they have somehow managed to mask their real identity, leaving us guessing what their internal world really is like.

© Haresh Shah 2014

Illustration: Celia Rose Marks

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