Olympic Toilets: Japan sets Gold Standard, China a distant Number 2?

The Japanese toilet is a thing of wonder. An array of buttons along the side of a typical commode allows you to spray and dry your rear, or front. Others activate oscillation or pulsation, and raise or lower the intensity of the gush. Some models feature a little deodorising puff of air freshener. The function that automatically puts the lids or seat covers down is referred to as the ‘marriage saver’. And then there is the heated toilet seat, which rivals Kyoto in full cherry blossom bloom as a highlight of a trip to Japan.
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A song for the sakura

Kyoto in full sakura-bloom is a sight to make the most confirmed teetotaller drunk, and I’m partial to a cup of sake at the best of times. There, under the cover of the floral parasol of a cherry blossom, rested a heron, its grey-and-white silhouette easily mistaken for an ink wash painting.
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Racism and the reality in Japan

In central Tokyo’s bustling neighbourhoods, it’s common to find signs outside establishments, from barber shops to taverns, stating: “Foreigners Welcome”. That these are necessary only highlights how there are places in Japan — guest houses, massage parlours, restaurants — where foreigners are unwelcome.
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The importance of being kirei

It would serve India well to look to Japan for more than bullet trains and nuclear technology. For a truly SwachhBharat there is no better role model.
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Despite government, public complacency, appalling pollution leading to “airwakening”

Globally, China and air pollution remain synonymous. I lived in Beijing between 2002 and 2009, when visits to India invariably included conversations with aunties delightedly commiserating about China's toxic air. "Oh ho! Such terrible pollution. Tch! Tch!" This tone of schadenfreude stemmed from the fact that after years of marveling at China's economic ascent, Indians…
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Notes from Tokyo

There are four different Japanese onomatopoeia to describe rainfall. When the rain falls ‘shito shito’ it is constant and enveloping. When it rains ‘zaa zaa’ it’s a sudden downpour, typhoon-strong. At the very outset of a shower, it rains ‘potsu-potsu’ which describes a few early drops and a darkening sky. At this stage it can also be ‘para para’, a bit random as though someone were spraying occasional moisture on plants out of a watering can.
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You Have and Equal Relationship. Then You Have a Baby

I had the perfect post-feminist life. My husband and I did not “do” gender in our equal relationship. He cooked. I washed up. We worked. He appreciated my mind — an exciting thing. And he was not intimidated by my, ahem, forceful personality. I was aware of the proto-hoary cliché: that the best career move…
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The Fortune Teller: Weighing machines and chance encounters

Nostalgia transforms ordinary objects into talismans. The constituents of the material life of one’s childhood can, just by the feel of their names rolling in the mouth, evoke pathos: a longing for the past, its innocent excitements and vast promise. I grew up in the pre-liberalisation Delhi of the 1980s. Childhood in those days meant…
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Delhi, where even China’s pollution fades into insignificance.

Having grown up in perennially polluted New Delhi, smoggy skies were so unremarkable to me that I didn’t even notice anything was awry in Beijing for years after moving there. Till a spring morning in 2006. It was an ordinary start to the day in most respects. I ate a quick breakfast of jian bing,…
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Moving between Beijing and Brussels, “Choked” draws parallels for Delhi

A month after the Olympic Games, our baby boy was born in a Beijing hospital. First-time parenthood engendered a siege mentality in us. We moved out of the charming but less-than-hygienic hutong neighbourhoods we had lived in for six years, and bunkered down in the double-glazed safety of the Diplomatic Compound. We began to navigate…
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