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Contrasting worlds

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Awe-inspiringThe Buddha of Kamakura radiates serenity
Awe-inspiringThe Buddha of Kamakura radiates serenity

Frenetic pace and blissful tranquillity co-exist in Tokyo

It is night when I get into Tokyo from the airport. I reel at the sight of giant-sized billboards and bright neon lights that greet me when I step out of the Shinjuku subway station. “When in Tokyo, take time to stand on the street and absorb the sights and sounds around you,” is my husband’s attempt at being helpful when he sees my baffled expression.

A wave of black-suited men crosses the street, most murmuring on their cell phones. When motorbikes come to a grinding halt in front of us at pedestrian crossing, my daughters gape at the riders — teenagers with coloured punk hairstyles, wearing torn leather jackets and dangling earrings and hard rock music blaring from their earpieces.

I almost stumble when a kimono-clad woman brushes past me, her wooden clogs clacking on the pavement. I hadn’t yet been an hour in the city. We then make our way to the famous Ginza shopping district. The ever-present neon signs seem to throb with the pulse of the crowds that throng the thoroughfares and side streets. Young people and those working jostle one another as they catch an evening meal or drink sake and sing karaoke.

Garishly-lit Pachinko parlours and the sound of the pachinko machines add to the cacophony. Everywhere around the Ginza station, the sounds, sights and smells of a giant party permeate and stay with me all the way to my hotel.

The next morning, we head out to catch Tokyo by the day. As we walk through the Shinagawa district, I marvel at neatly laid out gardens between giant skyscrapers — an unexpected oasis in the midst of a mostly concrete landscape.

Walkways connect the buildings several stories above ground level and I find myself enjoying the window-shopping offered by stores at either end of the walkways.

It is with some reluctance that I allow myself to be torn from the shops of Tokyo to head out for a short trip to the countryside. The sun is slowly headed towards the Western horizon as our train pulls into Kamakura, an old town barely an hour from Tokyo.

We hail a taxi for the short ride to Kamakura’s most famous landmark. Large hands folded in a meditative pose are the first thing that I see. I have to lean way back to look up to the serene face of the giant bronze Buddha of Kamakura, the Daibutsu. I stand transfixed — everything seems to fade into the background.

Set against the backdrop of the wooded hills in Kamakura, the Daibutsu with its tranquil expression and mammoth size is the most popular tourist sight in Japan. At a height of nearly 12 metres, it is the second largest Buddha in Japan.

Originally housed in a temple, the Daibutsu remained untouched, though the temple was destroyed in a tsunami in the late 15th Century. The cherry blossom trees at dusk, the devotion of the monks and slight twitter of birds transport me into a meditative state.

The statue radiates a serenity that envelopes all. My daughters’ tugging at my arm brings me back to reality. I realise that we are the only visitors remaining. I reluctantly trail behind the family to our bus.

Back on the train to Tokyo, the frenetic pace of the previous two days in the city seems but a distant dream.

Two worlds, so close and yet such contrast, I think. Yet, somehow the bustle of Tokyo seems a perfect foil to the serenity of the Daibutsu.

CHITRA SRIKRISHNA

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