My mom traveled to Japan with my maternal grandmother and stayed there with
my maternal grandfather for three months in the summer of 1970. My maternal
grandmother was a high-school mathematics teacher at the time, my mom had just
completed class 10, and my grandfather was working with the Trade Fair Authority
of India. It was this role that had him involved in organizing the India Pavilion at
Expo’70 in Japan.
Soon after her Class 10 exams, my mom set off for Osaka, flying via Calcutta (now
Kolkata) and Tokyo. Her dad was ready to welcome them in Osaka into the
house where he stayed. My mom spent the first two days exploring the
surroundings. She noted two big departmental stores, Hankyu and Daimaru, in the
My mom and grandma at Expo ’70 in Japan
My mom and her parents used the subway to get to the Expo grounds. Every day,
they went there and explored the different pavilions set up by different countries.
Each country would have a delegation of their performers in their national costume
and they would exhibit souvenirs depicting their culture and tradition.
There was a festival plaza or huge open-air theatre where dragon dances were
performed to an enthralled audience. The Scottish pavilion featured little boys and
girls in kilts playing bagpipes. The Canadian pavilion featured Canadian Mounted
Police on horseback. From India, Bharatanatyam performances were shown
featuring Sonal Mansingh and others. The Japanese pavilion featured famous
business houses. In the evenings, there would be pop concerts by various artists
and dragon dances by the Japanese.
My mom calls it a once-in-a-lifetime experience where she learned a lot about
different countries by reading the brochures offered at the pavilion and also
enjoying their performances. She would love to experience something like that
From Osaka, they visited Nara and saw the Japanese gardens there. They also went
to Kobe to shop and visited the Buddhist temples in Kamakura. My mom observed
that the places in Japan were spic and span and well maintained. She says that one
could use any public toilet confidently. While she did see women wearing kimonos,
most of the Japanese ladies wore Western outfits like skirts and pants with coats.
They seemed to be heavily influenced by American culture and many of them listened to Western music.
When she entered a store, only one or two people there could speak in English.
My mom also traveled on the famous bullet train. One day, my mom and her
parents set off for Pearl Island on a ship. She says the exhibits detailed the
formation of a cultured pearl. They went to see Kabuki dances and Takarazuka
Wikipedia informs me, “The Takarazuka Revue is a Japanese all-female musical
theater troupe based in Takarazuka, Hy?go Prefecture, Japan. Women play all roles
in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals, and sometimes
stories adapted from sh?jo manga and Japanese folktales. The costumes, set
designs, and lighting are lavish, and the performances are melodramatic. Lead performers
portraying both male and female roles appear in the finale wearing huge circular
feathered back-pieces reminiscent of Las Vegas or Paris costuming.”
Wikipedia also defines Kabuki as “a classical Japanese dance-drama. Kabuki theatre
is known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by
some of its performers.”
My mom had a penfriend, Toshi Chan, who was almost her age. Her dad had given
her the address of the penfriend before the trip so that they could stay in touch
through letters. His letters to her included Japanese folk tales, his study habits (he
stayed awake at midnight to study), and his preoccupation with Western music
bands. His hobbies included making toys. He visited my mom and her parents
during their visit to Japan. He sang a Japanese song and tasted Indian food, courtesy
of my grandparents. He also sang ‘Sound of Silence’ by Simon and Garfunkel.
Eventually, he migrated to the United States and joined the army there.
My mom and her parents attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and tried
on Japanese kimonos for a photo shoot. They stayed in a nice hotel in Tokyo for
a few days. She recalls the amazing omelets even after 53 years. In Tokyo, they
visited the Tokyo Tower and climbed it up on a hazy, foggy day. They visited a wax
museum and dined at a restaurant at night where masked performers sprang out
from seemingly nowhere holding daggers, leading to screams from the audience.
The décor in the restaurant was also of skulls and crossbones.
Back in Osaka, evenings were spent at the expo, chatting with the hostesses and
attending their parties. They visited a few of her father’s friends and got to observe
their way of life. My mom had picked up a few Japanese words and phrases from guidebooks. It was summertime and my mom carried a small folding umbrella because they experienced sudden showers. Japanese summers are rather cool, she adds. My mom recalls these months fondly – the time she spent with her parents exploring new cultures and cuisines. Of course, there was shopping, too. They
bought close to forty Japanese georgette and crepe de chine sarees. My mom also
picked up coats, skirts, and sweaters for the Delhi winters back in India. After
returning to India, my mom read a few novels featuring love stories between
Japanese princes and princesses.
My mom noted that the Japanese students had a lot of hobbies, were well behaved
and the children rarely cried. She observed that even then in 1970, there were
women entrepreneurs, like the lady who ran her own photo studio. The trip to
Japan instilled in my mom a love for travel and in later years, she enjoyed traveling
to many other parts of the world.