Japan: Limitless Emojination

The morning prayer ceremonies at the shukubo in Koyasan are a sombre affair, the rhythmic chanting by the monks setting the tone for the proceedings
Photographer: HASHIM BADANI

There’s a saying in Japan: “Me no naka ni iretemo itaku nai”. It means “it won’t hurt to put him in my eye.” People say it when a kid is so kawai (cute) that it wouldn’t hurt to even put him in their eye. I guess that goes for all of Japan. There’s something so cute and cuddly about the country, (in an extremely bizarre way), you wouldn’t mind putting it in your eye

Photographs: HASHIM BADANI

Indulge me a little.

I think I might have just made the biggest discovery of my otherwise not-so-path-breaking life. It all dawned on me yesterday, as I sat reading messages on my phone and chomping away on my chocolate- coated Pocky Sticks (a delicious Japanese snack item).

Here goes: have you ever taken a really close look at those emoji on WhatsApp? And I don’t mean the regular grinning smiley faces or the tongue stick-outy ones. I mean the really obscure ones that no one actually uses. Where did they come from and what do they mean? I have the answer. They’re Japanese! And some of them are so deliciously weird, you’ll wonder why a whole pictogram was dedicated to them. Now, you might not think this is a huge discovery, but, for someone who has just returned from the strange country that is Japan, it’s a revelation. Take this one for example: It’s nigiri. And I ate some that looked exactly like that. And then this: These are Japanese dolls of the Emperor and Empress that are put out during Hinamatsuri, a festival that’s celebrated in honour of little girls. It’s also called Girl’s Day or Doll’s Day. This one is the symbol for onsen (hot spring) or public baths that require you to be nudie. Then, there’s my favourite one: That’s a Narutomaki, a snack made from processed fish, usually served with steaming ramen (noodles). The pink spiral in the centre resembles the whirlpools that form in the Naruto Strait between Awaji Island and Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands. That’s how the snack got its name. Pretty darned fantastic, huh?

Now, if you’ve seen the whirlpools in person, seeing one on a fish snack, which has consequently been made into a tiny picture that sits quietly in my phone every day, is a big achievement. It’s like seeing, in person, the same lighthouse and trees in the Andamans that appear on the Rs 20 note.

I’ll stop with the emojis now. As long as you’ve got the point. The point being that I am a great discoverer, and that Japan is a wonderful country with proverbial surprises in every sticky rice ball.

While we’re on the topic, let me tell you a little more about the Naruto Whirlpools, Naruto no Uzu, or the Vortex, as some like to call them. The opposing tides of the Seto Inland Sea and the Kii Channel, between Naruto in the Tokushima Prefecture and Awaji Isalnd in the Hyogo Prefecture, form swirling vortices, some as wide as 20 metres in diameter. It looks a bit like someone’s pulled the plug out of a great big bathtub, and, gliding by in our boat, I fly into a bit of a panic because I’m convinced we’re going to be sucked in.

If you think you might harbour such fears as well, you can look safely down upon the action through the glass floors at Uzu-no-Michi (Whirlpool Road), the promenade under Ohnaruto Bridge…

To find out more about Sharmeen’s trip across Awa, the Wakayama Prefecture, the Osaka Prefecture and the Hyogo Prefecture and to see ALL the emojis in the story, get yourself LPMI’s October 2015 issue. Pick up a copy from your newsstand or click to subscribe via Zinio or Magzter.