The other day on a visit to the hospital where one of my relatives was undergoing some minor treatment, I met a couple who had just returned to India a few days earlier after visiting their daughter who lived and worked in Japan. As they related with wonder, tales of the technological marvels that are a part of Japan's everyday life, they had just started talking about the Bullet Train when I rudely interrupted their talk with an abrupt "Shinkansen". Needless to say they were polite enough to be appreciative about my knowledge of Japan, rather than be a little dissed at this unwarranted display of my limited Japanese vocabulary.
Shinkansen is the Japanese name for the superfast and legendary Bullet train that was for a short while in the past the fastest train in the world and still represents in many aspects the high water mark as far as land based public transportation is concerned. I was surprised and mystified myself as to where my knowledge of the word might have come from. We had learnt Japanese for a couple of months during my training at my current employer's but that was more on the "Hello, how do you do" kind of lines. Yet the way I blurted out the word almost unconsciously indicated that this machine and its habitat dominated the landscape of my travel obsessed engineering geek imagination much more strongly than I had realized.
Japan has always seemed such a mixed bag of cultures - of mist covered mountains and of Tokyo's glitzy billboards; of secretive, meditative ninjas and of flying humanoid robots; of hidden away ancient monasteries and of endless steely cityscapes; of gritty, weighty sumo wrestling and of cutesy, funny video games. How can the same country manage to be all of this and more? The only satisfying answer will be found in getting there and walking its streets or past its bubbling jungle streams. Until fate or life offers me such an opportunity, I must wring my hands and wait!