Maihara San and I were standing in front of an ancient palanquin displayed at the Tokugawa museum in Nagoya, Japan. “Those belonging to high society travelled in such palanquins that time, carried on the shoulders of palanquin bearers, while common folks like me”, he pointed to himself, “had to use their legs” said Maihara San, simulating the motion of walking using his fingers. I sympathised with him on the difficulties experienced during those olden days by the common man. Later, after seeing the museum, we came out to the parking lot, climbed aboard his 16 valve, electronic fuel injection, 200 horse power, top of the range Honda limousine and cruised into the stream of traffic.
“Ushh! Let’s have lunch”, said Maihara San as we drove from Nagoya towards Kariya. We stopped in front of a traditional Japanese inn. “Irrasshaimase”, welcomed a loud voice from the counter, as we parted the blue curtains and made our entry into the inn. The master of the inn gave a friendly smile and bowed deeply ushering us to a comfortable seat in a corner. We took our seats, sitting cross legged on tatami mat in front of a low set table. A Japanese lady in traditional Japanese attire soon appeared, made a deep bow and placed a roll of hot wet face towel in front of each of us. Maihara San ordered a raw egg and a bowl of boiled rice, while I opted for delicious soba noodle. Then, I asked Maihara San, the question I had put to almost all the Japanese I had met. “What is the secret behind Japan’s incredible growth and recovery in such short period of time after almost getting razed to ground at the end of world war II”, I asked Maihara San. “Do you know the incredible power of hunger?”, said he after some deep thought. “After the war, conditions had become so bad that people struggled to have even one square meal a day. It was those arduous and desperate conditions which compelled us to work very, very hard to reach today’s standard of living. Wakarimasu?” (Do you understand?) said he with some gleam in his eyes. If what he was saying was really true, I was thinking, with the enormous hunger power available in many poor countries, they could have alleviated poverty as Japan had done. Then what could have gone wrong, I pondered. Also having reached such high standard of living, why Japanese should still be working so hard even now, was something I could not understand. I must have fallen into a reverie, for suddenly Maihara San brought me back to reality, by asking, “What are you thinking Namachi San?”. “Oh”, I said with a sigh, “I was only thinking that with my present hunger power I can do some good justice to the Soba noodles”.
“I had heard that in India, people consume boiled rice by mixing it with yogurt. A very strange way of eating rice, mixing with yogurt,” said Maihara San. His face registered a sense of shock and disbelief. By this time the ordered items got delivered to us. As I poised my chop sticks over the noodles, I watched Maihara San as he took his egg and with a deft tapping on the table, broke the shell and emptied the contents into a ceramic bowl. He then proceeded to squirt a quantity of dark red soy sauce into the bowl. Then with his chop sticks he started mixing the contents with speed and skill, every now and then peering into the concoction. Finally having satisfying himself that the job was done, he poured the contents on top of the boiled rice, mixed the combination with his chopsticks and started eating as a gourmet would. I realised then, that Maihara San had a real point in what he was saying.
I slurped the noodles with gusto, dipping each chop-stick full into soy sauce before putting into my mouth. I had observed earlier that many Japanese had plated their teeth with gold and was under the impression that Maihara San was an exception. It was not to be as I came to know shortly. “The other day I saw a purse lying on the seat of a train compartment, dropped by some passenger, but that had been left untouched by others”, said I with some amazement to Maihara San. “Yes, we Japanese are honest to the core and the purse would be returned to its rightful owner by the railway authorities”, said Maihara San with some immense pride. Not to be outdone, I told Maihara San, that there are countries, where a reward would be given for information on such left behind items. Maihara San’s jaw had dropped open a little. “There is no such appreciation here”, he said sadly, “here such things are taken for granted”. “The only condition”, I continued, “the item under question should prove to be an explosive for the informant to claim the reward”. By this time Maihara San’s jaw had opened wide open and I could see that the cavities of four molars of his lower mandible were filled with gold.