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.
We were now joined by another Japanese supervisor, Hirooka-san, an extremely good-hearted lady. We exited the terminal and saw a bus waiting for the Saga Group. We loaded our luggage onto it and went inside. The first thing I did on the bus: I took out my camera, borrowed someone else’s batteries and took a photo from inside the bus. It’s the first photo in the slideshow. It’s not a photo at all. But still, it’s the First Photo I Had Taken in Japan (you understand its importance, don’t you?).
The bus started moving and my excitement was pumped up. When the bus came on the highway I was shivering not because of the cold. In wonder. For, I could see my imagination taking shape in front of me. I saw the tall skyscrapers, numerous flyovers, wide roads which I always thought existed only in films and pictures. I don’t think I can feel that thrill ever in my life. It was the first time (in my memory) I was visiting a foreign country. Everything looked so enchanting. I saw buildings of various famous international companies. Narita Airport was far from the main city. I tried to take photos of the landscape but I could no longer borrow any battery. Then I resorted to my last option: using my mobile camera. The photos were very, very unclear. That made me feel quite bad. I couldn’t even open the window as it was extremely cold. After a while, I forgot everything about my camera and actually started enjoying the scenery. What I saw took my breath away. It was wonder beyond description. I was the king of the world (though I didn’t shout it from the roof of the bus). Soon the bus entered the city area and it was dazzling.
I soon came to know that there was a Great Grandmother in our team. The team-mate was two or three years older than me, but she was the Great Grandmother of everybody in our team. She was particularly bossy towards me but quite good at heart. I even started calling her “Great Grandmother” from that day. I haven’t yet attributed names to other girls in the group. I have to choose them very carefully. I talked about the Great Grandmother as this name already existed. The Great Granny had a weird sense of humour (I remember a funny conversation about time zones), but without her helping hand, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to take photos of Beautiful Japan. Great Granny, if you’re reading this, thank you again (I can’t really thank you enough as you had a major contribution in my collection of 1266 photos I took in Japan) but please never delete precious photos from someone else’s (a friend though s/he may be) camera without permission from her/him. I’ll remind you of that again soon.
However, we soon reached the Imperial Palace of Japan. As I got down from the bus, the cold wind struck me again. I was shivering again. I went on, following the pink flag. It was beautiful. I also made friends with a Japanese gentleman (who was not related with JENESYS) who was walking with me and he seemed to know a great deal about India. It was that moment when my idea about the hospitality and warmth of the people of Japan was reaffirmed. I was a nobody who arrived there merely an hour or two ago and I had already made friends. Too bad that I couldn’t exchange contact details with him.
I arrived at the Imperial Palace and it was splendidly beautiful. I cursed myself for the umpteenth time for my camera. But I couldn’t give up the chance to photograph myself at any cost. In desperation, I borrowed batteries from the Silent Guy and took a photo or two and told him to take a photo of mine. My countenance was comical as ever. I roamed around the Imperial Palace for a while and was called for a group photograph (I am not including it here for some reason). The cold was almost unbearable then. Drops of rain were stabbing my skin. I wish I could linger there for more time but we had to go for lunch.
I got on the bus and was a bit comforted to escape the wrath of the weather temporarily. But soon, I was immune to the cold and it was no longer agonising. On the contrary, it was comforting. Meanwhile, I called home and assured everyone that I arrived in Nippon safe and sound, and was in safe hands and they needn’t worry. I was really enjoying myself. I was thirsty for more. I needed to see more of Japan to satiate my optical and cerebral hunger (a ghastly phrase, I know, I know).
The bus sped up. We passed by several Government offices of Japan, Tokyo Tower (photos in the slideshow) and finally, the Atagoyama Tokyu Inn, the place where we were staying in Tokyo. I was feeling quite sleepy as I was sleep-deprived for more than 24 hours. But we didn’t stop near or hotel. We were off to lunch at noon. For lunch we went to Ginza district, without any question the most dazzling part of Tokyo. I heard about it before. But I had to see it to believe it. All my drowsiness evaporated at once and I was drinking in the beauty of the street. I felt that it’d look much more attractive in the evening than in daytime (and the day was cloudy). I had to come here somehow in the evening, I had to. And we were taken there in the evening (more on that later).
I was getting familiar with the roads of Japan then. I was looking at the traffic signals with much concentration. I saw lots of lots of speeding (what a speed it was!) cars and mo’bikes (the bikes made a fascinating sound) on the streets of Tokyo. But there was no traffic jam at all. I saw every citizen following her/his duty and never putting a toe out of line when the signal was red. They would wait for the signal to turn green to cross a lane even if there’s no car or bike around. I saw provisions for the blind to walk on the footpaths and cross the street safely. Almost everyone was dressed in formal suits and probably hurrying to go to the workplace. The picture (though I didn’t shoot it) matched perfectly with the image of a busy foreign street I had in my mind. The dream was materialising in front of me. I noticed what is something unusual in India. A lot of people were riding bicycles to get to office. At first, I was a bit surprised, but later realised that it was a viable and environment-friendly option. I wish the Indians could do the same. The next moment, I imagined my father and mother going to their workplaces on bicycles and laughed out loud at the idea. Everybody in India would laugh if someone dressed in formal suits rode a bicycle to office.
I was feeling uncomfortable due to the lack of something … something very familiar … something that had to be there on a busy street. It had been bothering me from the moment I arrived in Japan but I couldn’t realise what it was till I was in Ginza. But how could it be so? I didn’t hear a single motor-horn in Japan. If you live in India you have heard the ear-penetrating sounds. But it was conspicuous there by its absence. Nor could I see any wisp of smoke cloaking the city sky.
[Update: I forgot to add that there was no policeman (at all) stationed at every crossing, of course, because, there was no need for a policeman. I was getting more and more surprised at what I saw (or more precisely, what I didn’t).]
We were roaming about Ginza in a group. It was still raining. (I had my umbrella but JICE provided me with another brolly.) We went from shops to shops, seeing new things. A group of us did a crazy thing. We took photos in front of a car showroom. I learned that the car was left open at night since no one stole in Japan. After a bit of roaming, we went to an Indian restaurant to have our lunch. Before coming to Japan I feared about the kind of cuisine we might be offered. But JENESYS had taken care of that of that too! Throughout the trip we had meals only in Indian restaurants for our comfort. (I did get the chance to taste Japanese food a number of times. But that’s beside the point here.) I had a great lunch there.
After that, we went roaming in Ginza again. Yamaguchi-san and Hirroka-san were introducing many things to us. After a bit of strolling around, it was time to go back to our hotel. And we were there in no time. We couldn’t go to our rooms just then. There was another programme orientation for an hour starting from 2 p.m. It was interesting. At the end of it, we got t-shirts and kitbags (for keeping the things we’d buy) from them.
Our official check-in time was scheduled at 3:30 p.m. At that point all I wanted to do was to go and have a deep sleep. But I knew that I couldn’t sleep then for we were to go for dinner at 6 o'clock in the evening. (I was very surprised to hear that people had dinner in Japan before 8 p.m. as it was too early for us.) The Wise Brother took care of the keys of our room (number 1026). We collected our baggage (it was found at the lobby) and went straight to the room. Meanwhile, I noticed that the flooring number in Japan was similar to what we used in India. That is, ground floor = first floor.
At the sight of a comfortable bed waiting for me I felt even sleepier. But I didn’t give in … I had to keep myself awake … anyhow! I hadn’t taken a bath since the morning of the 12th in India. The first thing I wanted to do was to take a long, hot shower. I unpacked my bags and went to the bathroom and took a very hot shower. I thought it’d keep drowsiness at bay and offer some relief from the cold. It managed to do the latter but please don’t ask me anything about the former. Suffice it to say, the hot shower made it worse. I felt drowsier. To avoid the attraction of my bed, I went out of the room and went to the lobby of the inn. Dinner was more than an hour away. I found some of my friends (from my group and otherwise) were already in the lobby. I chatted up with some of them. Many, I saw, didn’t rent a phone and were calling home from booths. I felt cheerful a bit. I had a phone!
I finally started using my rechargeable batteries to take photos. I went outside, took some photos and chatted again. At present, I don’t remember what I really did from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mayn’t have done anything special at all. The time came when we were called to get on the bus. We were now joined by another Japanese supervisor (she was with another group), Rie-san, a wonderful lady. I wished just a couple of hours ago to see Ginza in all its splendour and there I was again.
When I got down from the bus sleepiness struck me with a greater blow. I couldn’t realise if I was awake or not. The world started whirling around me. I could see everything … I could hear everything … I could sense everything … I could understand everything that was happening around me. I was in a very real dream or was I? I didn’t speak a single word I didn’t need to. I talked sense. But something was wrong. Was that what happen to people who were deprived of sleep for about two days? (Let me tell you here that I’m not a sleepaholic anyway. I don’t sleep more than 6 hours a day.) It felt as though I were trippy. At that point, I couldn’t enjoy anything properly … well, almost.
However, the restaurant we went to have dinner was not the one where we had our lunch. It was of course an Indian one. We were served a great amount of great food there. I talked with Rie-san a lot. She told me that she had gone to India before. She wanted to know a great deal about my city and the culture and heritage of my city. I told her all I could. She listened to me with much interest.
After interacting with so many Japanese (especially the JICE members), I was aware of another great quality of Japanese. They preserve their culture well but they are equally welcoming to people who had different cultural values. You don’t see that very often. Our languages were different. But there was no difficulty at all in communicating our ideas.
After dinner we walked briefly on the footpaths of Ginza. I took a couple of photos. We were back to the hotel again. Now I was free to sleep. I went to my room to do so. But I was informed that some of my friends were going to roam in the streets of Tokyo. I tried to do away with my sleepiness at once. I couldn’t remain indoors sleeping while I was in Japan. After all, I went there to see it! Almost everybody went out before I did and I didn’t know where the group went. So I didn’t try and join them. They, I believed, were going far from the hotel. I had decided what I’d do. I was a complete stranger in Tokyo and it was my first day there. I couldn’t afford to get lost in the labyrinthine roads of Tokyo on my arrival. We were told to take beds before a certain time and I had to obey that. I decided what I’d do. I’d just wander around aimlessly. And who’s there to say that wandering doesn’t give pleasure. I noted the exact position of the inn and I was out on the streets of Tokyo without knowing where to go. I met my roommate, the Silent Guy on the footpath. We decided to walk together. We walked along the footpath, took a turn and saw Tokyo Tower (in reality, it’s a television tower) not very far away. We photographed ourselves against the tower. After a while, he went on his own and I was on my own again.
It was probably good that I didn’t go with the group. Being alone in the streets of the largest city of the world was a different, very personal experience. The taste of a different kind of freedom in a faraway country was entirely unique for me and could possibly be enjoyed only if there was nobody to accompany. I went to almost every street nearby, conscious not to lose the way to our inn. I enjoyed myself beyond imagination. I couldn’t dream of doing that in India. I returned to get a view of Tokyo Tower at frequent intervals. At times, I wished to get near it to get a better view, but finally told myself that I might get lost if I became more adventurous than I already was. But it felt very comfortable and safe to wander in Tokyo.
And that really paid off. Some of the students were really lost the following day (more about it in the following post). While roaming aimlessly, I suddenly saw a group of people crossing the street when the signal was red. They were in fits of giggle. My impression about the law-abidingness of the people of Japan was about to shatter away when I found that they weren’t Japanese, but some fellow Indian students (not from my group). I smiled sadly.
On my way, I met Mamta Ma’am, our Indian supervisor. She was also taking a stroll and I accompanied her for a while. I looked at my watch and realised that it was about time to return to hotel.
I went to my room which was empty then. I shouldn’t really say it but I had observed one more thing about the bathrooms in Japan. Every toilet tool was manufactured by a company called Toto. The Football Fanatic Guy went on to make a great joke about it.
I scribbled down my first thoughts about Japan and its people. I see that I’d noted their punctuality, honesty and sensitivity. I wanted to see more of the country. I finally went to sleep (you must know the depth of the sleep), anticipating a bright and sunny day.