Travelling to new places boosts enormous amount of positive energy and gives new perceptions to life in many dimensions ! Recently, I spent two weeks in the beautiful city of Tokyo for work ! I always enjoy business travels as my focus is not on sightseeing but get lot of opportunities to experience everyday life in a different place living like a local !
I landed in Narita Airport, after a 14 long hours of flight from Bangalore with a layover at KL. I was totally worn out and desperately wanted to reach the hotel to stretch, And also was starving with no Veggie food in the flight ! And with very limited English access , I didn’t have the patience to explore the trains to navigate the city and reach my destination. So, I just hopped on to a beautiful black cab, the driver was very pleasing and explained me a few places with his basic English !. Its quite a long drive and my first impression about the city, it looks a lot like Hongkong but just with no skyscrapers- Seaport on one side with connecting bridges , broad roads , but no big buildings ! Boom, when I reached the hotel , the cab bill showed 30,000 Yen , almost 300 dollars !!! I knew Tokyo is an expensive city but for 300 dollars,I would have spent 2 nights in a decent hotel ! I learnt my first lesson, cabs are for super rich – stay away !
Next thing which caught my eyes – people, people everywhere , when crossing roads, in the train station, inside the train, in the elevator or escalator, ubiquitous- you will never feel lonely in this town on road at any time of the day ! But you will hardly get a smile from them or even an eye contact ! People queue up everywhere and they move without any hustle bustle ! Thats truly amazing – its like ants marching in a row carrying food and not dashing with any other ants even in cross s roads! When people ask me why Indians dont have patience on road or when they have to get into a bus or train, my standard answer was about population explosion. We always had to fight to win. Experiencing Tokyo, I realized this as a wrong notion. This city is even more crowded than Bangalore, but they have decorum. Now time for me to swallow my pride of being Indian and agree its our mentality thats driving us to push, rush and try to get everything for me and my family first!
I have heard stories of Japanese orderliness and their attention to minute details ! But in such a densely populated city, maintaining insane order is no joke. On a Friday morning peak hour I happened to wait for my coworker near an elevator. In that 15 minutes I watched few thousands of people entering that building but completely queued up to enter the elevator to go to their respective floors !! And all that sound that I could hear is only foot steps, morning greetings of the security guard, and beep sound when they swiped the access card ! No boisterous laughter, none shouting on their phone, absolutely nothing – totally disciplined ! I dont know if its good or bad, though being quiet and following the rules is good as we do not bother other people, but sometimes it makes me feel everyone acts like machines than humans ! It is quiet a strong comment , I agree !
I get the same feeling while driving in US, i always ask my bro this question – Arent you guys bored driving like this everyday ? There are no unruly drivers , no honking, no overtaking, no cow or dog crossing (I am leaving out driving in NYC). Back home when I drive, all my senses are super active and I have to swear at few people on road before I reach my office ! That makes my ride more lively – its a stressful drive for many , but I have no complaints! I am totally tuned to live only in Bangalore while I crib everyday about traffic and bumpy roads and detours, but still I get bored driving in same lane for long time in same speed ! Another realisation after two weeks of insane orderliness! (Well I am an Indian, no wonder!!)
Probably the only thing that was unpredictable and disorderly in Tokyo was the weather. When I thought it is going to be Sunny and warm and religiously took my sunglasses, it was cloudy with mild showers. When I carried my Umbrella and wore my blazers , it was freaking hot and humid ! Just for such a weather, when you really prefer to roam around in your linen shorts, and expect locals to be in skimpy clothes, you actually can count the number of women or men in shorts even in such a crowded city. Women choose to wear beautiful skirts and men unbelievably in black and white formals. Another quite unusual accessory most men carry is a handbag/ Tote bag – Everytime I come across one , it remainded me of Joey from Friends sitcoms , carrying a man’s purse. Japanese men seems to totally enjoy the comfort of so many pouches in it ! Well everyone may have to carry an Umbrella all the time and the Japanese coins. 1 yen coin is the lowest denominations and when you have 10, 50, 100, 500 ! I am sure you need a handbag 🙂 no matter what gender you belong to.
Japanese are extremely workaholic and work place is always quiet and people mind their own business, without any distractions! One of my non Japanese co worker had an interesting story to share. He had to leave his laptop at work for many technical updates, so he couldn’t swipe out of office on a Friday evening and he returned to work on Monday ! The register had proof that this person was in the working campus for the weekend. And so Monday morning he was escorted by a team of health care professionals, had to undergo few tests and mandatory two day break from work ! I was really shocked to hear that story and if only such an event can happen in India. Huh too much to ask or dream 🙂 !
Japan is a place which has ingrained traditions. First time travellers would be amazed to know many traditions including the authentic food, the history of Sumo stables and how wrestlers dedicate their life for this sport though they get only peanuts compare to other global sports celebrities. Japanese passion for Rugby, Geisha culture, stories about why women this generation doesn’t want to get married, how men get paid for dating a women , their passion for animations and robotics etc are some very interesting and unique things to talk about! So this small piece of far east island has so many hidden treasures to explore and learn!
Well, with very few options for vegetarians during weekdays , My cravings were at its peak and I decided to explore a Japanese vegetarian authentic restaurant !! It is an unbelievably traditional place and series of dishes thoughtfully presented and served one after the other by ladies in Kimonos. It was an incredible dinner in a beautiful private set up! The best evening in my entire Japan soujorn and I totally relished every bit of the meal with sake on the side !
As we started talking about the culture and tradition during dinner , someone brought up the topic about the novel “ Memoirs of Geisha” by Arthur Golden! It caught my attention, and I went on it in full swing ! It is written in first person as a narration by a Geisha and her everyday life protrayed during the great depression and world war II!! This periodic fiction novel, is melancholic and makes readers pity the life of women of those days. Well they were treated nothing but just an entertainer for rich and wealthy men! They were showered with expensive gifts from aristocrats and bureaucrats just to entertain them everyday in tea houses! Such a pity !
Anyways , what I still cant come to terms is men who partied everyday in tea houses even during the great depression time, have undergone a massive change and now walk on streets in queues. They don’t even carry a social smile ! War seems to have changed many things in Japan drastically!
Well, I spent the rest of the weekend walking around beautiful parks in early morning with mild showers and busy downtown in the evening hopping between different streets in Roppongi ! I hardly visited any tourist place as all my other trips. For now that two weeks in Tokyo was one of my best business trips even though I could not satiate my palate everyday with vegetarian delicacies ! With my work , I might have to take few more trips to Tokyo and I am sure I will explore more. But nothing can replace the first experience and I totally fell in love with Tokyo !