Tuesday 30 May 2017

Travel diaries : Japan (Part I)

When you sit down to write about everything that you managed to assimilate after spending 11 days in a place, culturally, economically, historically, geographically, and in every way possible, so different from what you've ever seen in your entire lifetime, you have a thousand things to say, yet you are lost for words. It has been 30 days since I came back from Japan, and I haven't reached the second sentence in every attempt that I've made to write about it so far. So let me just try and write it as I would verbally say it to someone.

Alright, so the trip to Japan was planned since January I think. Our boss, who had taken us to Sri Lanka about a year and half ago, wanted us to see Japan too. The first and foremost reason is because modern architecture has flourished in Japan like it has in very few other parts of the world. It is unique and worth experiencing first hand. In addition to that, it is culturally very rich and many of its age-old traditions are still followed. He believes that traveling not only changes our perspective in architecture, but more importantly, in life. I could not have written a post about my trip, and not mentioned how thankful I am to him, because to be honest, Japan was not very high up in my bucket list before this trip was planned.

Anyway, we are still a young firm of 17 employees, and all of us started doing our research about Japan; the places we would go to, the cuisines that we would try, things that we would buy there and so on. It went on for ages (3-4 months actually), till that day finally arrived on the 19th of April, when we boarded our flight from Bangalore to Tokyo, via Kuala Lampur. 
The total journey time including a stopover at Kuala Lampur, was about 18 hours, and we landed in Tokyo at 7:40 AM local time (it is 3 and a half hours ahead of IST) on the 20th of April 2017. 

View from the plane somewhere near Kuala Lampur

As traveling overall is very expensive in Japan, we arranged for subway passes in the airport itself. We also collected Wifi devices which we had ordered before leaving India, as most of the places in Japan do not have Wifi connectivity. I will write a more detailed blog post about how to cut down on expenses in Japan shortly, where I will tell you about all the arrangements you can make before you even step outside the airport.

So we took the Narita sky access to Kuramae station, and then took the subway to Ryogoku, where we were to stay for a duration of 4 days. We had booked a hostel for our stay, as even accommodation in Japan is very expensive. We reached the hostel before noon itself, and our check in was supposed to be at 2 PM. So we kept our luggage there, freshened up (and don't even get me started on the toilets. They are cleaner than my bedroom ever could be, and more high tech than the tv video games of the 90's perhaps), and went out exploring the area on foot. I was sharing my pocket wifi with 4 of my friends, and that is perhaps the last I saw of it during the entire trip, baring a day at most. 

Trying all kinds of food was one of my biggest priorities since the time this trip was initially planned. So I kicked off that aspect by finding the first restaurant I could find, and ordered a squid tempura sopa with some beer. It had a different flavour from the food we are used to eating, but I think I loved it (and everything else I tried during the trip) because of its uniqueness. More about food in subsequent posts!

Squid tempura sopa

We were now already split up in groups of not more than 2 or 3, and we decided to walk some more after the food. Everything about the place, the people seemed so different, and not surprisingly, nice, that we were overwhelmed by something or the other, every 8 minutes or so. 

First of all, the people were just too nice. They were very polite, always eager to help out if we asked them for directions or something. Even if my bag touched someone's fingertip or something, they would be the ones to bow and say sorry, no matter how busy they were. And none of the 'staring at foreigners' crap, as we have seen Indians do so much (not always with malice, but sometimes just unknowingly out of awe). Nobody's gaze would linger for more than like a quarter of a second and people would get back to doing what they were. And o boy, they love their phones! Be it on the subway or on the streets, people do not talk to each other at all. I was at a public square, right next to the street, and I did not want to make a single noise. I was whispering guiltily if I had something really important to say, otherwise I would just shut up. And all the people sitting or standing next to me, as was the case in the subways, were engrossed in their phones all the time.

Secondly, people followed traffic rules! Well, it is an obvious fact for most countries in the world, but as Indians, I've got to admit, it is unusual and highly fascinating to see cars follow signal lights patiently, and stopping for pedestrians to cross the road. I also noticed that a lot of people used bicycles, which were parked in a line on the street right opposite our hostel. It was very evident that most of the people rely on the subway because the roads did not have too many cars, but people were rushing towards the metro station endlessly. I read it somewhere years ago that a developed country is not where everyone has a vehicle of their own, but one in which even the rich use public transport, and I saw what that saying meant right there.

I love the way they park their bicycles; looks neat, organized, is safe and saves space.

I thought I would not talk about it, but man, the toilets were so impressive! The common toilet in the hostel was unbelievably clean, and the white walls and fixtures were some kind of white that I had never ever seen in my life before, and I am not exaggerating one bit here! And the toilet seats are always kept warm... how cool is that? The WC's have a panel attached to it with switches on it. Couldn't figure out what every button's function was at that time (as it was written in Japanese), but at least I found out how to regulate the force, position and temperature of the water jet with that panel. I felt like chilling there for longer than needed but decided against it in the end.

The buildings were well-maintained, all of them; couldn't find any spots or dust or anything of the sort in any of them. Minor things, like the tiles laid out in the public square I mentioned above, were all laid out symmetrically with respect to benches and ashtray pits. Even though half the people I saw were smoking away to glory, the air was fresh and pure. Every one was well dressed and proper. I saw no homeless person there, nor any factor which would help me distinguish the rich from the poor.

In short, nobody talks to each other, almost everyone is on their phones all the time, almost everyone smokes all the time and they are always well-dressed somehow. As you can see, the buildings are spotless and the air very pure. Alright, just imagine the last one will you?

I must have been awed by so many other things, that I can keep going on and on. But let's keep it "short" for now. Soon after, we checked in and headed out for a few more places, which I am going to talk about in my next post. Stay tuned!


Links to the later parts

Travel diaries : Japan (Part II)

Travel diaries : Japan (Part III)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part IV)
Travel diaries : Japan (Part V)


  1. Fantastic writing style. We like the way you are going in details about something is in contrast with India. Of course that's the beauty of Japan having their own thought process behind the design, culture, people. Looking forward to read all the articles in the series. Sayonara!

    1. Arigatou gozaimas (Thank you very much)!
      Yes, there is so much contrast between our culture and theirs, and it reflects in everything you lay your eyes on. I will try and convert all that I have to say in words soon, hopefully. Have a great day!

  2. Wow..felt like taking a walk on the roads of Japan with your narrative. Eagerly looking forward to your next post. Seriously man, it did feel like a virtual tour I'm taking.

    1. Thank you so much and so glad you like it! I will try and post soon.

  3. It was nice reading about what you learnt about Japan on this trip. Looking forward to reading more, Animesh. :)

    1. Thank you so much. Glad you like it. I will post more about my trip very soon.

  4. "a place, culturally, economically, historically, geographically, and in every way possible, so different from what you've ever seen in your entire lifetime" - Well, now at least one person knows how I felt in India :) And what a lovely boss you have, I must say!
    It seems Japan a real discovery for you and while reading your post I couldn't help remembering Bill Murrey's face expression from "Lost in translation" :D
    SO far I've got to know Japan only from random pieces of literature - "Thousand Cranes" by Yasunari Kawabata, Matsuo Bashō's poetry. So I'm waiting impatiently to know more from your posts.

    1. I don't think my visit to a foreign place for 11 days matches up to someone like you, who have had to move to a place permanently, which is foreign in every way possible. Having said that, I think I did manage to get a glimpse of how you must have felt when you first came to India.
      And yes, Japan was fascinating at every turn and my face might have been similar to Bill Murray's I guess. I will post more soon. Have a great day!