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.
However, after the lecture, we went out again. There was a new bus waiting for us (we had a new bus everyday). Hiromi-san, as well as Yamaguchi-san, was accompanying us to lunch. I hardly switched my camera off this day. I took photos of anything and everything. Careful not to waste power, I even turned off the LCD screen and used the viewfinder instead. That indeed helped me take as much photos as I wanted. All I remember about our lunch is that I had a conversation with Yamaguchi-san, Hiromi-san and Mamta Ma’am about cinema of Japan and India. We talked mainly about cinema of Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa and the admiration both filmmakers had for each other’s work. It was a very interesting discussion. We couldn’t continue it for long as we had to go.

After lunch, we were going to Shinagawa Waste Incineration Plant. You’ll probably refuse to believe me, but it’s true that it was exactly the kind of place I wanted to go to (funny how I didn’t even express my wish to our group supervisors and was taken there). Let’s make it simple. I’m related to environmental activities in my country. So it’s only too natural for me to find out more about waste management and pollution control in the country where the Kyoto Protocol, one of the best initiatives taken to save our environment, was signed.

We were welcomed warmly at the plant. At first, we were taken to a room (it looked something like a classroom) where we were given an introduction to the plant and the works it did. After the distribution of a document explaining the methods of the plant, we were taken around the plant. We were split into three groups. We were shown how the waste was collected and recycled. It was my thing. The process was energy-efficient and emitted no GHG. There were many other informative things.

The skyline of Tokyo looked magnificent from inside the plant and my camera was clicking again. A number of us did something unimaginable there. We saw a bullet train and lost all our sense to get a photo of it. To me, bullet train always signified Japan and so not having taken a picture of a bullet train meant no picture of Japan at all. We ran along the corridors of the plant, trying desperately to take at least one picture. And we were successful. I got to take a couple of pictures of my fantasy train. It was regrettable that none of us in the Saga Group got a chance to ride in the train.

After the quite enjoyable (at least for me) tour at Shinagawa Waste Incineration Plant, we were going to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Miraikan. During the half-hour-long bus journey, I managed to take more photos. I still remember trying to take as many photos of an underwater tunnel as I could. We arrived at Miraikan in a little while.

We were given passes to enter any section we wanted. But we had to come back within two hours so. I went on my own after collecting my pass. When I entered the main section of Miraikan, it seemed as though my head had spun around. There were so many things to look at! But the time to explore the museum was so little that I thought I’d not be able to see everything in the museum. I went from one section to another, trying to have a look at everything. I can’t describe and list out the thing I saw there since it’ll be an exercise in futility. Suffice it to say, it’s the perfect science and technology museum. Scientific facts and cutting-edge technological achievements are presented in a very enjoyable and entertaining way. I must thank my friends who gladly took my photos on request. I was behaving like a crazy photographer there. It was a thoroughly amusing experience for everyone. I returned to the reporting place just in time. We had a brilliant photo session outside Miraikan. Just like the other programmes I had attended, it attracted me so much that I didn’t really want to leave Miraikan.

It was about time to have dinner. After coming out of Miraikan, we were off to Ginza. (I remember taking photos of Rainbow Bridge frantically.) When we arrived in Ginza it was about 6’O clock. All of us decided to walk and explore Ginza again. Now that I wasn’t drowsy as I had been the previous day, it was a much more pleasurable exploration there. I appreciated how it looked in the evening once again. I had a good dinner. After dinner, we were roaming about again. I walked with Rajendra Sir. We had conversation about mathematics, his subject. We also shared our thoughts on our experience. I was slowly realising that I was lucky (although I don’t like the word “luck” at all) to have Mamta Ma’am and Rajendra Sir as our supervisors. They were very nice and affectionate to me.

I remember a funny incident at Ginza. Rajendra Sir, the Football Fanatic Guy, a couple of others and I were roaming about when we spotted a phone shop. We could not hold ourselves and went inside to have a look at latest models of mobile phones. When we asked the lady in the shop if we could buy a particular mobile (the price wasn’t ridiculous), she told us that we had to reside in Japan for at least so-and-so years and needed to provide so-and-so documents. It may read like a perfectly normal situation. But we came out of the shop laughing loudly enough to make some of the passers-by look at us.

We came back to our inn. But unlike the previous evening, we had work to do that evening. We’d be flying to Saga the next day. So there was an official meeting of the group supervisors and the students. We’d be having our first cultural performance in Saga. We had to decide what we’d be doing. We decided the duration of our programme and how we’d stand together. We discussed stuff like that.

There was a difficult task for me. I had to pack my bags once again. Actually, we were instructed to leave our check-in luggage in Tokyo before going to Saga. We’d only be carrying our carry-on bags. So I had to pack my bags freshly. I decided what I should take to Saga and what I shouldn’t. I transferred all my necessary stuff to my red bag and the black one provided by JICE. Some of my friends went out in the streets of Tokyo again. But I had to pack my bags first. The packing didn’t take long and was actually easier than it seemed to be.

Now that I had everything ready and nothing to worry about, I was relieved and free to go outside the inn. I was out again on my own, roaming in Tokyo. I could feel the new kind of freedom (I discussed it in the last post) even more prominently (without the sleepiness that had almost managed to kill me the day before). I wandered aimlessly. I went strolling in the streets nearby. Again, it was wonderful being alone (not that I don’t enjoy a good company). I returned to the inn in time.

I suddenly had an idea. I did write a number of speeches before coming to Japan. But what if I penned another speech after I’d seen Japan? It was an exciting thought. I went to my room and started thinking. I listed out all the points I had in my mind and started giving shape to what I had to say. I also phoned home and noted down another couple of points. It was shaping up well.

Meanwhile, what I heard from my friends who went to have a walk made me proud of my decision not to go too far from my hotel. They went … well … a bit too far. They were actually lost. They were not accompanied by any supervisor and couldn’t find the way back to the inn. They were, however, very lucky (I can't believe I used the L-word two times in the same post) to have found a helpful Japanese person who understood they were lost and guided them safely back to the hotel when they mentioned its name.

After a bit of chitchat with friends, I was ready to write my speech. I wished goodnight to all. My roomies went to bed. We turned off all the lights. I had only a dim bedside lamp to help me. It was 11:30. I started writing. Much like this piece, the writing was a satisfying experience. Little did I know that I wouldn’t read the speech in Japan. But I don’t regret that much. Maybe I’ll post the speech on this blog sometime.

So far, the Japan I had seen in Tokyo mostly exceeded my expectations. But were tall skyscrapers, smooth roads, speeding vehicles, innumerable flyovers and cutting-edge technology the only aspects of Japan? Many people I’ve talked to have such (wrongly) stereotypical views of Japan. I could sense a different side of Japan. I waited with bated breath to go to Saga to see the other side of Japan.

I turned the light off.

1 comment:

Linda said...

All I can say is that you are a very colorful writer. I enjoyed reading this very much. I know exactly what you mean about having something be so exciting that it colors your whole day. Like you could skip around on air. I also enjoyed your observations on Japan as I am not much of a traveler. Thank you for sharing this.