Archive for July, 2010

JAPAN – 日本 LAND OF THE RISING SUNJapan – the Land of the Rising Sun is a unique blend of the western and the oriental. It is a country so rich in culture and traditions and in terms of the development, infrastructure and technology they can put any western nation to shame. Here, I’ve tried to give a gist of how I felt being there – the things that impressed me and the things that didn’t.One of the very first things I noticed as I landed in Japan was the politeness of the people. The service industry in Japan is among the best in the world. You are always greeted with the broadest of smiles. Everyone is eager to help you. As I collected my luggage and walked through the sprawling Narita Airport I felt a sense of nervousness and excitement – I was in Tokyo, a dream destination for so many people around the world. It was April (Spring season in Japan), the best season to be there. The maximum temperature during the day was around 20 Deg C. It was a nice time to leave Chennai where it was slowly climbing up to reach the 40 Deg mark. No one can ever get used to the heat in Chennai during summer.My first week in Japan was something that I could never forget. The Shinagawa station where we get off to go to the office is quite an interesting sight. There are people all around you dressed only in formal clothing. You don’t find people talking to one another. Everyone seems to be focussed on their mission – getting to their office on time. The only colours you see are different shades of black and white and the only sound you can hear is the footsteps.

At the end of the week, as I was about to come to a conclusion that all of Japan was like this, a trip to Shinjiku and Akhibara, (two of the shopping areas in Tokyo) changed my perspective. People love dressing up in Japan. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a Fashion model. They were dressed to impress. I saw guys and girls with all sorts of hair styles and hair colour. There were people whose hair was pink. Girls dressed almost like Barbie-dolls were trying to lure customers into shops they represented. Weekends in these places just buzz with so much activity. The lighting in these places in the evenings with the hoardings and lights is just brilliant.

The first week of May is called “Golden week” in Japan. It is a time when four of their National holidays come on close days. A lot of people take the whole week off and travel to be with their loved ones. Since we had some days off, my friend Karthik and I had purchased the JR (Japan Railways) East Pass. Using this pass one can travel for 4 days (the days don’t have to be consecutive) on any of the JR East Trains.

We were really excited about the travel. We left early in the morning from home. We had heard so much about the Shinkansens (The Bullet Trains) in Japan. The Bullet trains travel at speed of over 250 Km an hour and are almost as comfortable as an aeroplane.

One of the best things about these trains, in fact all trains in Japan is their punctuality. If the train timing says 6 AM, it means that if you’re there at 6:01 you’ve missed the train. We had planned to visit two places – the Mogami River and Yama-Dera which is a mountain temple. We had to go from Tokyo to Sendai, and then from Sendai to Yamagata. From Yamagata we had to take a bus to the Mogami River.

There’s a nice shop at the River bank where you can buy things that are uniquely Japanese like gift articles to take back home. But one of the things about Japan is that things are pretty expensive. And if you’re in your first month in Japan like me and convert Yen to INR in your mind every time you look at the price of something, things look way more expensive than they really are. We bought tickets for the Boat ride and as we got in, the Old man who was in charge of the ride asked us – Nihon go ok? (Can you understand Japanese?) I remember Karthik replying to him saying – “OK OK” though both of us didn’t know much of Japanese. The ride was good. It was a calm river and the view around was scenic. The Old man sang some Traditional Japanese songs and also spoke a lot about the river and its surroundings. Or that’s what I suppose he talked about cause we didn’t understand a word of what he said. There were a few birds flying around. It felt so great to feed them because they would come peck the chips out of our hands with their beaks. As we reached the other end of the river, we said Arigato Gozaimasu (Thank you) to that man. We took another bus to the nearest train station and then were on the Shinkansen to Yama-dera.

On the Train we had Lunch that we had packed and taken along with us. I’m emphasizing this because the thing I missed the most about India when I was in Japan was the food. I don’t know if it was me or the Japanese food, but every time I tried something new it always made me regret it. Indian food is the most amazing thing ever. I don’t know if any Indian can ever get used to the Traditional Japanese food. It’s just so different.

Then we reached Yama-dera. Of all the places I’ve seen in Japan, I like Yama-dera the best. It’s a small mountain on which there are a few temples. The climb up is pretty steep and tiresome. As you reach half way up the hill, there is a gate which is the entrance to the temples. After this there are quite a few temples on the way up. Some of the people stop at temples and do some prayers, but from what I could see, most people don’t. They just admire the architecture and the location of the temples. When we reached the highest point of the mountain, we were quite tired. The view from there was literally breathtaking. Looking at this gives you the feeling that it was well worth the climb. We took a few photos from there. As we slowly climbed down we were still in awe of this place and the beauty of the country side of Japan.

From there we went to the next stop Omoshiro-Yamakogen. One of my friends had said that there was a waterfall there. When we got down from the train at that stop we realised that it wasn’t a big tourist attraction since we were the only ones who got off the train there. It was quite a lonely place. We walked around the place a bit but couldn’t find the waterfall. Then we were back at the station waiting for the next train. As I sat there I got a nostalgic feeling about Kodaikanal, the town I had grown up in and about how much I miss being there, especially during the summer. The quietness of the place, the cool wind blowing on your face, the sound of the birds & the insects, the sound the water makes when it flows along a stream is something that is so in contrast to the ones you hear in the capital city of our state (Chennai) – the sound of the buses, the cars, the autos, the vendors, the polluted and hot air blowing on your face, the crowded streets and the dirty rivers that you get to see.

As we travelled back from there and reached our house in Minami-Gyotoku, we were amazed by the fact that we had travelled more than 500 Kilometres that day and were still back at home by 10. We had dinner at our favourite McDonald’s near the train station.

My Experience in Japan is something I can’t forget. It is a country I highly admire and people I highly respect. It’s a country that was almost reduced to nothing during the Second World War but re-built to become one of the most developed countries in the World. There are many things I’ve learnt being there. Hope I can use them here in India.

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