Tourism Malaysia

Japan in My Backyard

There is a third reason why I am not booking the next flight to Japan. Why bother splurging a huge chunk of my moolah on travelling costs and enroll myself in a Japanese language course when Japan is right at my backdoor? Okay, I may have exaggerated just a tad here. The Japan I’m referring to is the Japanese Garden at Bukit Tinggi, Pahang. So, it’s not exactly at my backdoor but it’s just under an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur. Compared to the real Japan, it’s practically only a hop and a skip away from my abode.

It’s one of the main pulling factors for my rather regular visits to Bukit Tinggi. As for authenticity, it’s the first of its kind outside Japan. This is as close as you can get to the country itself, short of going directly there. Situated 3,500 feet above sea level, the air is refreshingly cool and crisp. Everywhere you look, there are trees and plants all around. It’s such a surreal experience walking on the nicely pebbled paths amidst all that greenery. Now Japanese folks are huge fans of water and celebrate many water festivals in their homeland. At the Japanese Garden, the love for water is represented by the man-made waterfall, a koi pond and the gentle stream – all which made picturesque backdrops for photo taking. Plenty of folks visit the garden armed with at least a point and shoot camera while a growing number lug their dSLRs and tripods along.

Not to be outdone, I would bring my camera along for every trip there. No matter how many times I’ve been to the Japanese gardens, there’s always something new to capture. There’s the beguiling botanical garden with breathtakingly exquisite flowers and plants not commonly seen in warmer terrains. A quaint little Japanese hut is also there for people to creep into and pose for pictures. You can even rent a Kimono on a half-hourly basis and pose all you want around the garden. How’s that for a dose of Japanese culture?

And speaking of culture, you should not miss the very strange unique Japanese tea ceremony at the Japanese Tea House, for a fee, of course. According to reliable sources, folks from Japan actually came over to verify the authenticity of this tea ceremony and they affirmed that it was performed correctly to the core. Believe you me, there are a LOT of rules to follow in a Japanese tea ceremony. Heck, they even have 6-month courses for such a thing! It seems that one needs to be certified before being deemed fit to be invited for such a tea ceremony that are held during birthdays and other special occasions.

First, you need to wash your hands at the door step. Upon entering the house of the host, you have to stop to admire the scrolls hung on the wall, the kettle and hearth before taking your place on the tatami mat. You cannot sit anywhere you like for the host will give you the evil eye and put you in your place faster than you can say, “Ichiban!”. Next, the lady of the house will go through the laborious rituals of making tea with traditional tools. Once the tea is served, you can’t gulp it down immediately. You need to rotate and admire the tea bowl before shifting it to your neighbour and ask for permission to drink it.

The tea is both strong and frothy and must be finished in three sips. If it meets your approval, you must make a loud slurpy noise at the end of your third sip. After finishing the tea, you need to admire the tea bowl again. All this admiring business really takes the cake of the strangest customs of the world. There is a good reason to pause and ponder at the beauty of tea bowl’s design – it’s a sign of respect to the host.

Japanese tea ceremonies are very serious occasions. One must be silent most of the time and a typical tea ceremony can last up to 4 hours. My express session with my media friends only took about 20 minutes but even being silent for that long in a ‘tea party’ was rather unbearable. I couldn’t imagine doing something that serious for my birthday. But still, it was a good experience and should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

To unwind with one of the best Shiatsu massages in town, head over to Tatami Spa. The prices are gobsmackingly expensive but it’s worth every sen. The rooms are carpeted with the signature tatami mat with some of them overlooking a lovely private garden. Only the soothing sounds of flowing water is there to tantalise your ears as you drift off to bliss while being kneaded by the expert hands of the lovely masseurs.

And should hunger pangs strike you after all that walking, tea drinking and massage, there’s no better place to relax and refuel than the Ryo Zan Tei Japanese Restaurant. It’s purported to be the only Japanese restaurant in Malaysia to be shrouded in a tropical rainforest. I love the amazing view the restaurant offered as I chewed on my delicious bento set and sip on the sake. A feast for both the eyes and the stomach, I’d say.

Maybe someday, when I have more spare cash than I know what to do with, I’d go to Japan for real. Until then, Bukit Tinggi’s Japanese Garden suits me just fine.

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