Thursday, 14 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: Sunshine

I awoke on this day with renewed enthusiasm. I knew at once that I’d not be feeling drowsy anymore. But when I looked out of the window the sight didn’t match my anticipation at all. I expected a genial, bright, warm day. Much to my disappointment, the sky was still overcast. It seemed the cloak of clouds was not to lift itself anytime soon. On the positive side, it was much less cold than it had been the day before. What I knew for sure was that I was going to enjoy this day better. I woke up very early in the morning and got ready. I felt refreshed; I saw clearly what a good sleep could do to me. Soon, the Wise Brother and the Silent Guy were ready and we were off to breakfast.

Breakfast at the Atagoyama Tokyu Inn was very interesting. I got to taste some delicious Japanese cuisine at breakfast. I always preferred chopsticks to forks and spoons while in Japan. It made me feel more Japanese. After a nice and filling breakfast, we gathered once again. I kept chatting with my friends (also from other groups). I kept saying “Ohay­ō gozaimasu” to everyone I met, Indian and Japanese alike. I had a feeling that I wasn’t in a foreign country at all. It felt like … my own.

I was introduced to another member of JICE, Hiromi-san, a wonderful lady. She and I had quite a lengthy conversation about our culture. (I had a similar exchange with Rie-san the day before.) I’ve just thought about two more names for the girls in our team: one will be called Pinkie Kaka (she too was a football fanatic, but two names like “Football Fanatic Guy” and “Football Fanatic Girl” may be misleading for non-Saga readers; therefore, this name, but I don’t have any particular reason for this, it’s just random) and the other, Ms Juiceless. Now everybody knows who Ms Juiceless is. And no, this isn’t a name I’ve invented. In fact, she was the one to coin the term. I’ll discuss the reason for this christening in a few days.

However, let’s get back to the day. When we went outside it was raining a bit, but it was nothing uncomfortable. In fact, I started enjoying the rain. There was a lecture on Japan at 9 o'clock. We were all going to Toranomon Pastoral (Mint), just five minutes’ walk from our inn. We were to learn a great deal more about the past and present of Japan. We arrived at the conference room in no time. Rie-san introduced us to our lecturer, Mr Takeshi Mura from J. F. Oberlin University. The lecture began at 9:05 a.m. sharp, not a minute before or after the scheduled time. Mr Mura started his lecture and slideshow. He spoke in Japanese and his words were translated by Hirooka-san. The lecture was for one hour and a half. But when the lecture finished, I didn’t realise how long it was. The lecture, as well as the slideshow, was so engaging, so interesting that I sat there captivated; I wish it were longer. The lecture was another eye-opener on Japan for me. I was getting more and more amazed and this lecture changed my perception considerably. We students were guests to Japan for cultural and educational exchange. So naturally, it was expected that we’ll be shown only about the positive side of Japan. We were indeed shown the advancement of Japan over decades and the uncountable technological achievements of Japan. I was stunned when the lecturer also chose to highlight the not-so-good aspects in the history of Japan, the mistakes Japan had committed in the past. I loved this tremendous honesty as very few dare to be self-criticising – a good sign for the progress of any nation. This highlighting of the mistakes didn’t make me any less respectful to the Japanese. On the contrary, my admiration and respect towards them increased even more after this wonderful gesture. Learning from mistakes: that’s what everybody needs to do, most don’t and Japan certainly did.

We had about half an hour to ask him questions. He was completely flooded by enquiries from the students. He answered them impeccably. I had thought of a question. But we ran out of time long before my turn came. But I did manage to take a photograph with him. He was very kind to let me (and others as well) take pictures with him.

After I came out of the hall, I saw the sky was still cloudy. But it had become a sunny day for me. Nothing could hold back my enthusiasm that day, nothing could … and nothing did. I was completely overpowered by endless – what do I call it? – joy, elation, ecstasy and what-not? I lost my self-consciousness and forgot to care about how I appeared. I didn’t notice how ludicrous I’d looked in that black jumper and scarf or how badly I’d worn the scarf until I looked at the pictures after my return home. I looked at my reflection many times that day but nothing seemed to be wrong. That was probably why many of my friends seemed to regard me as some sort of prankster. (The Vampire Addict was among them; oh, christened another girl!) But guess what, I didn’t care about that either (nor does it make me uncomfortable now). I was lost in my thoughts. I never thought about the quality of food I got because it was too insubstantial a subject to me and … I was getting something to eat. It didn’t matter to me what I looked like or what I ate or how I was perceived. All that mattered to me was what I felt. I won’t probably exaggerate when I say I was the most jubilant person there.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: The Land of the Rising Sun

Finally I was in the Land of the Rising Sun shortly after sunrise. As the plane came to a halt, everyone stood up. I took out my bag and followed the crowd to the gate. All members of the Saga Group stayed together. We could see Yamaguchi-san and other Japanese supervisors waiting for us. The pink flag of the Saga Group was in the hand of Yamaguchi-san. We followed her outside. Just as I exited the plane I got a big shock. I could see the rain from inside the plane but never did I realise that it’d be skin-piercingly, mind-numbingly cold. I was shivering. (I later knew that it was a typhoon which caused such cold on a summer day.) I was caught unawares by the extreme cold. My teeth were clattering. Thankfully, I had two sweaters in my hand-baggage. I put them on immediately. I had a scarf. I put that on as well. (You have to see it to believe how hilarious I was looking.) However, I followed the pink flag and went ahead. Here, I must note that Japanese supervisors of other groups were very helpful. My bag was heavy. I carried it on and arrived at the immigration counter. It was a smooth process. I arrived near the baggage belt before most of my friends did. I saw a Japanese gentleman coming towards me, smiling. He was, expectedly, from JICE. He helped me retrieve my luggage. I kept saying “Ohay­ō gozaimasu” to everyone. Maybe because I was coming to Japan as part of JENESYS, there was no hassle with the customs at all. Soon all Saga Group members formed a queue and followed the pink flag.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: On Board

I entered the aircraft. In a few minutes’ time, I was going to fly to the Land of the Rising Sun by Japan Airlines flight number JL472 (I also saw JO472 on my baggage). I’ve already said that I didn’t have any feeling (any feeling at all) when I was entering the plane. My mind was completely blank, overpowered by an unknown something. But thankfully I didn’t lose my sense. I was able enough to walk and talk and laugh and of course find my seats. I found it. I took out my passport and locked it safely inside my carry-on bag. After everything was over, I sat down. I was one sit away from the window. I’d have preferred sitting beside the window. But I didn’t care to choose a seat for myself. (I was misinformed by a probably misinformed friend.) To my relief, however, my roommate, the Wise Brother, was there. At least, I could chat up with someone during this 8½ -hour-long journey.

Leaves from My Japan Diary: In India 2

I awoke on the 12th at exactly 4:30 in the morning. As soon as the wake-up call was heard, I sat upright. The dread of the past two days kept coming back to me. I said earlier that I discovered myself during this trip. On the very first day of the journey I noticed something interesting about me. While I was home, sleeping in my comfortable bed, even the sound of a canon couldn’t wake me up. It took a great of effort on everyone’s part to wake me up. But as soon as I was away from the homely comfort I was conscious and careful. It happened automatically. In the following days, every wake-up call or alarm I set awoke me without failure. (There was only one event when I woke up late, but that was during the homestay. Will discuss it later.) I also got two calls from Mother and Sister early in the morning.

I took a comforting bath and got ready in my school uniform as I was told. We had to check out from the hotel within 6:30-7:00 a.m. I attached the name tags (once again, pink and the tags were given by Yamaguchi-san the day before) to all my bags. I arrived at the hotel lounge of ABC hotel at 6:20, ten minutes before the reporting time. Presently everyone else started coming to the lounge, dressed in their school uniforms. My mother arrived there shortly and she gave me some important things. She told me that my mobile was still uncertain but hope was not lost. Rohit Uncle was going to try his best. I had no hopes then. I had a photo-session with my supervisors and team-mates. When I look at the photos now, I feel ashamed as I looked so nervous, so idiotic then. I was so nervous about everything then that I didn’t even realise that I was nervous. As instructed, we kept the hand-carry luggage with ourselves and brought the check-in luggage separately to the bus.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: In India 1

The sound of heavy raindrops hitting the window-panes awoke me on the 11th. For a fleeting moment, I came close to feeling cheerful. But as soon as the memory of the previous day started flooding my mind, the happy feeling was driven off. It was Sunday. No mobile shops were open nearby. I had to report to a hotel (let’s call it ABC Hotel, it’s a very, very famous one) at 2 p.m. So Mother and I decided against searching for mobile shops in the morning. Mother said she’d search for international connections in the evening after my reporting.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: The Beginning

As I have said earlier, I didn’t know how the 10th of May arrived. It caught me unawares. Only on the sunny morning of the 10th did I realise that the day had finally come when I’d be leaving my home to visit a country – all alone. But the realisation had vanished at once. For there were more things to pack and the mobile connection was far, far away. Everyone was trying his/her best to get me a mobile. The final packing was done in the morning. Sister created several lists for me to find my things in the baggage. My parents helped with the packing.

I was going to Delhi with Mother as Father had some important business to attend to. In the afternoon we were off to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport to board a flight to New Delhi. I was still unsure of the weight of my baggage. Till then, there was no chance to talk to my family from Japan. I was in an absolute confused state. I almost wished that I were not going. The check-in counter confirmed my assumption that my check-in baggage was underweight but there was another problem: the rucksack I took was suddenly torn at the airport. You can guess my feelings then, can’t you?

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: Prologue

Before I begin my description of the tour, I must write the quite long story behind my journey. Believe me, it was full of what we may call suspense and drama.

I still remember the rainy September day (22nd September, Saturday) in 2007 when I was called to the office of our Vice-Principal. I was in IX then. Some other students were also there. Our Vice-Principal told us to sit down and began talking. He said that as a part of an international exchange programme between India and Japan, students from Japan were coming to India and vice-versa. Then he told us that if we wanted to be a part of this programme we should submit our names to him within two or three days. He said that we must treat the foreign students well and give them a taste of our Indian culture.

But there was one thing he almost didn’t tell us before we left the office. I thought we were supposed to welcome our foreign guests as I had been a part of many such exchange programmes. Naturally, I thought our part was to play the host. Suddenly he said, ‘Do you have a passport?’

Friday, 8 May 2009

Leaves from My Japan Diary: An Introduction

If you’ve looked at my earlier posts, you’ll know how much I like to relive my memories – little memories which have become an inseparable part of me. I really wish I could live my thoughts in the Pensieve (like many characters do in the You-Know-What series). I don’t have access to such an object, but there’s way I can plunge into the sea of my memories and make myself happy – writing.

I’ve already said that, pleasant or unpleasant, little memories are very precious to me. But there are some memories which, in no way, are little. Try as I might – but I’ll never dream of trying such a dreadful thing – I can never erase those memories. There were some experiences which are etched on my mind for ever. Such a beautiful experience was the trip to Japan last year, as a part of a cultural-educational exchange programme. I am not exaggerating even a bit when I say that I spent some of the finest moments of my life in Japan. The experience in Japan was full of some little moments I loved. But the experience was far greater than the sum of such individual moments.

What I got and felt in Japan is nearly beyond words. And indeed there were moments which I can’t describe. I made new friends during this trip: Japanese friends, American friends, Indian friends, young friends, friends of same age, some friends who are older than me and some who are much older than me. Never did I imagine that my experience would be so overwhelming. I saw a country. I saw a new culture. I saw nature. I saw people. I saw … well, too many things. And quite unexpectedly, I saw myself.

For the next thirteen days or so, I will write my travelogue (it will be a part of the On This Day series), but it may not feel like a travelogue at all. It will be leaves from my diary at best. I warned you in my very first post that there would be occasions when I would be speaking to myself. I assure you that this series will be exactly that. It will be a totally personal journey down memory lane. I think that some of the opinions expressed in this series will be highly subjective. (I think all my writings are subjective.)

But if you want to be part of this journey … well, what on earth are you waiting for? Come and join!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Happy May Day

"Happy" to you, of course. This May Day wasn't exactly a heyday for me. Suffice it to say, I've been suffering from a badly-performed Conjuntivitus curse, which is likely to be performed by someone like Stan Shunpike. That actually means (well, you of course know what it means if you know the difference between a Cleanswep Seven and a Comet Two-Sixty) that it's not conjunctivitis I'm suffering from. But it's definitely an eye (the left one, to be precise) that's paining me. Which explains why I'm not blogging too often (I'm still not finished with the RTR campaign) or the absence of my Tweets.

I planned to write a lot starting from today, but I can't. Sigh. When I will come back I don't know. If everything had gone right, I'd be writing my first review now. But no such luck ("luck" is a word I despise, though).