Saturday, October 01, 2005

Japan Trip - the fascinating climax!

Long time, i have posted. Hence i am ending the drought with this post which was to have come a long long time back. And it is going to be a long long post. So brace yourselvses.

22nd July '05. It was a friday They had already spent 10 days in the this country. And barely survived. But enjoyed immensely. At 6 in the morning, the bus left them at Tokyo central station (called onomabashi or something). That bus which carried them from Nagoya had just six people in it. These three, the driver and two more passengers. Why did they prefer this night journey in the bus, when lots of bullet trains, JR trains etc were all available? Because, they neednt search for a place to sleep in Nagoya :D. The three indians trudged their way to the subway, trying to find the way using the minimal signs and their recently gained knowledge of how the subways are arranged. Finally go down to the subway. Now, they need to find out which station they need to go to reach their hotel. After they obtain the information and the map which is like indispensible for travel, they set out on yet another subway journey which would most probably not last more than 10 minutes. Yeah, they also buy that 'one day pass' which ensures that they can take any subway till midnight to anywhere without any hassles.

At the destination Karteek and Ravi Sha leave the luggage with Rama and go to the station incharge to find out which exit they need to take to go to their hotel. The subways have lots of exits each one opening out to a different direction. Rama waits there on the platform. A train comes and goes. Another comes and goes. Every minute a train comes and goes. Same thing is repeated over on the opposite platform. Same thing is repeated over every other subway platform in Tokyo and Osaka, Nagoya and other such big cities. Having vouched by the subways for the past 10 days, he was no longer captured by them. And was getting mighty bored. The guards change. The new guard at first ignores him. After like half an hour, he starts eyeing him. Rama feared that he may be approached by the guard and then he will have to explain to him using mostly gestures, what he is doing with all those suitcases. But the guard didnt and finally Kar and Sha did come back. They had apparently made a long search expedition for the hotel which they finally found to be on the 18th floor of the same building under which the subway station is. The part which hindered their progress was to reach that 18th floor as they simply got lost in the myriad pathways that lead out of the subway.

They slogged with the luggage to the hotel which is called, Tokyo Internation Youth Hostel. They imagined that it will be much better than their hotel in Osaka which was mysteriously called Raizon and was very cheap compared to this one. It wasnt 8am yet. The three indians enter the 'hostel'. It looked good. The reception guy as expected tells them that they cant check in until 3pm. Their plan was to put the luggage in hotel and go shopping. So they deposit the luggage in the luggage room, fresh up and go to the 'mess' for breakfast. However, things didnt seem as bright as they ought to be. The two computers at the place were pay and use. They had a computer and free internet in their previous hotel, the Raizon. Yeah, it had to be shared with the rest of the hotel residents which would be like 200, nevertheless, it was free. This one was charging exhorbitant rates. Thankfully, bread was available for breakfast along with other unknown stuff. After replenishing themselves, they set out to explore one of the biggest and most well known cities in the world.

The First stop was Akihabara - "electronic district". The place where you will find the maximum number of tourists in Japan. The place where you will find the maximum number of Japanese who can speak English. The place where you have sign boards in English also. The place where you can trade in US Dollars(Its possible in other places also though). The place where you will get duty-free electronic goods. They explored it for many hours. They had to buy possibly two dig cams, an ipod, usb sticks, head phones etc etc. Then they go into an AM-PM shop which is basically a 24 hour super market kind of shop is found in Hyd, and buy some sealed meals. The selection is done solely on basis of how the food looks because they know they can never hope to find out the ingredients. The experience of the past has taught them that liquidish foods i.e foods with gravy or soup should be avoided at any cost. They retrace their path on the subway and reach the 'hostel' by 2:30pm. They are greeted with the board - "Closed for cleaning, Please come at 3". So they wait at the entrance carrying the food which is becoming cold and loosing whatever taste it may have. A pair of western girls also come in with their bags. They too are taken aback as the indians were at the notice board and they too sit and wait. Finally its 3, and the Japs true to their time, open the door. The indians check in, show passports, pay bills and are shown to their room. A single room with four beds. Bunk beds. But an awesome view. View of the Tokyo skyscrapers. They were just settling down, when an old Japanese man enters the room. Apparently he is the one who will occupy the fourth bed. He greets them, learns of their origins and remarks that he hadbeen to India some 20 years back. He knows hyderabad, even knows HCU :D. Rama scrutinises the rules page and many evils of the hostel reveal themselves. All occupants are supposed to get out of the hostel before 10 in the morning and not return before 3. Doors close at 10:30pm and lights out at 11(what that meant, they would soon find out). Many other such rules and restrictions. It was not a nice place to stay. They had only one day reservation and were planningto extend it to the next day also (saturday). The return flight was on sunday morning. But the picture that the rule book presented made the chances of staying another day here quite bleak. After the ablutions they go out to visit the 'Tokyo Tower'. Something that was built on the lines of the Eiffel Tower. (Didnt know this connection between Paris and Tokyo, two of the favourite cities of my childhood). After subwaying and walking for some considerable time, they reached the place. It was nearly empty. A place which was considered a landmark for the city. The trip was deemed disappointing. Returned to the hostel after consuming burgers at Mc Donalds. (Thankyou Mac for helping them survive. The burgers and fries had been the staple diet for the stay till then.)

Back in the hostel room, they were making plans for the next day, where to visit and so on when the lights went out!! Yeah it was 11! All the rooms had their lights switched off by the administration. This was the last straw and they dropped all plans to stay at the place another day. Though they had no idea where they would spend the saturday night. The older Japanese man was already asleep. Sha too retired to bed. Rama and Karteek werent so keen. They went to the mess to drink water. Saw in the lobby that an western girl was working on her laptop. Kar remarked that she was using net as he saw Hotmail or some such website. That would be cool they thought. Wireless lan. And they were in possession of a laptop, the laptop of the Wireless Team of IIIT! So Rama ventured out and asked her whether she could connect to the net. She replied in affirmative. Wireless! Glad and excited, they brought their laptop and tried to connect. In vain. By this time, that girl was asleep on the sofa in the lobby with all her luggage beside her. What was her story? The two were trying pretty hardwith no success. A man? was shouting loudly into his cell phone at the other end of the lobby. After one of his particularly high decibal outburst, the girl woke up and the these two guys asked her how she could connect. She said automatically! She tried with their laptop but it couldnt connect. Hers was apparently Apple-Mac. She too gave up and suggested that they pluck the lan wire from those paid-computers which no one was using currently. Before, they could reply, she plucked in out and put it to their laptop. They were configuring the IP, when suddenly an old Jap man barges in shouting. What he was saying couldnot be deciphered by anyone of the three but it was apparent that he was admonishing them for having taken the lan connection. He did not stop his tirade and was in no mood to listen to anything. She tried to explain something to him, but to no avail. They set the lan wire back, tried to explain something and finally he left still making noises. How did he come to know? There were cameras everywhere but you dont expect him to be watching them all, all the time. Or was that connection to the server? Didnt seem likely. Yet, he was there in an instant. And he was pretty rude and pretty loud. The first rude Japanese to be encountered by the them. Rama and Karteek conversed with the girl and were informed that she is sleeping here in the lobby because she has to catch a flight early morning, she wasnt sure she would wake up, if she slept in her room, hence she packed everything and is ready to leave from the lobby itself. Thenshe started her complaints. The begining was with choicest abuses for the guy who had just come. Then she started castigating the administration for their lack of sensitivity. They refused to let her leave before 6:30 in the morning despite her having a plane to catch. Hence, she was quite unsure if she could make it to the airport on time. She then complained against the loud guy(it was tough to classify him as a guy, anyone could mistake him for a girl, only his voice refuted the assumption) who made it difficult for her to sleep. She advised them to move out of the next day itself as they too had a flight in the morning and these people wouldnt allow them to check early enough. They were innumerable other reasons also though. She was an american who majored in political science, had come to Japan to visit friends and was on her way to South Korea where she got a job as an English teacher. When Rama remarked that they were Indians, she said she kinda figured it out :D. She had never heard of robocup (expectedly) but was impressed by the idea. They left her to her travails and went back to room to sleep and regroup whatever energies were left to spend their last day in Japan.

And so it turned to be the saturday. They woke up and rushed to vacate their rooms. They checked out, but the hostel incharge permitted them to keep the luggage in the store room. The indians had decided to come back in the evening, collect the luggage and go the the airport at night itself. Spend the final night on foriegn land in the airport, hopefully in some room or if fate did not permit, then in some lounge. So they were on the streets by 9. They ended up back at the electronic district. They had bought the dig cams however Karteek had finally decided that he would also buy the ipod. They feasted in Mc Donaldsyet again and spent the whole morning shopping. One salesman in one shop had already started recognising them. They also encountered many indians. Some shopping, some selling. I guess the indians were employed mainly because of their ability to speak English. Soon, it was afternoon and it was time for another tourist trip. They also had to find out how to reach the airport in the night. So they made their way to this particular station from where some trains are supposed to leave for Narita (the airport). After searching and getting lost, they finally found that the station they wanted was not that one. The saving grace was that there was a big tourist spot nearby. It had the science museums, zoos, art museums and many such establishments. The science museum was written about in glowing terms in many tourist guides.

The three of them had a peculiar cloud following them whereever they went in Japan. All the places that they went without obtaining all the information about it were closed. They went to a castle on a tuesday and it was closed. Apparently that particular castle is closed on tuesdays. This phenomenon was repeated in many instances. And the cloud hadnt left them in Tokyo either. After another bout of searching and map reading they ended up at the museum at 4:30pm. You may wonder why they always search and use maps while they can easily ask anyone for information. You are mistaken. They cannot 'easily' ask anyone forinformation. First of all, they would need to find an English speaking Japanese who come in miniscule numbers. Next that person should have the requisite knowledge of both what they are asking and he should also have the capacity to understand their accent and words. Finally he should also have sufficient vocabulary to reply to their queries. Such Japs are really rare. Getting back to the museum trip, it was 4:30. They paced to the entrance and just then the board was placed, right in front of their eyes, "Closed". Obviously the museum closes at 4:30pm. Relieved that their faithful cloud hasnt left their side, they sat in lawn outside the museum. Many people were there, some sleeping, some enjoying a quiet evening with a book, some watching their kids playing, some playing with their kids. The whole area was a big garden sort of thing interspersed with museums and other buildings.

Then the fun began. The three of them were relaxing on a concrete bench, when suddenly the ground began to shake. Is this the famed Japan Earthquake? They also heard the sound of a train from beneath the ground, apparently the subway. Is this shaking being achieved by the train below? If that is the case than this really the worst example of engineering because the ground was shaking vigorously. They looked around at others in alarm. No one else seemed to have noticed anything amiss. The guy who was sleeping was still sleeping. The girl reading the book continued to be immersed in it. The kids playing did not stop playing. Nothing was wrong. So they concluded it must have been some engineering fault and quite normal and definately not an earthquake. But they did feel that earth quaking, so the doubt strongly remained as to what it was. They made their way to the other museums and even the zoo and all had been closed just then. Now, they had another agenda. That of eating Sushi! But where will they find it? Only way of knowing is to ask someone. But who? Most of the people around didnt seem approachable. In other words didnt look as if they knew english. On their way back, they stopped to buy some watches and asked that salesperson for sushi. She directed them some market. They walked over there and asked around but apparently none of the restaurants there served the delicacy. Finally, they returned to the shopping district with a Sushi dinner hovering in their minds. They didnt have much of an idea of what it was. Rama faintly knew that it got something to do with raw fish on rice. Karteek and Sha heard that it was a popular dish but were not aware of its secrets.

Back at the Akihabara, they completed the remaining shopping, Rama bought headphones for boar from an Indian shop. It was 8pm. They had to return to that hostel quickly, take the luggage and go to airport. But they also had to taste sushi. So they started asking around again. Finally they ended up at an restaurant which specialises Sushi. And the only person who knew English there was the cook :d. He told them that sushi comes in various kinds like fish, prawn and meat. They asked for one plate with a combination of fish and prawn. And so the dish was put in front of them. It was worse than what Rama could imagine. Dumplings of rice on which rested clean fish pieces and cleaned prawn. The prawns werent even deshelled, leave alone cooked. The fish pieces were free from scales thankfully but they seemed as raw as possible. The indians gingerly tasted the most popular Japanese dish. It sucked big time. Karteek remarked thatit seemed too raw. Sha agreed. They had already experienced partially cooked stuff which were passed around as food by the Japs but not something as raw and bland as this. Rama took one bite and it was so revolting that he refused to take another. Karteek unaware that it was actually totally raw, consumed mostof the stuff. He was also the prime proponent of this Sushi eating mission. After the culinary adventure, they returned to hostel through the subway.

While they were collecting their luggage from the hostel, their told their problem to the hostel guy. He then added to their woes by informing them that the airport closes at 12 and they need to reach it before then. Apparently all public transport systems also stop at midnight. The three indians rushed carrying their heavy luggage through the subway lines and finally reached that private train line's station. After searching they went to the platform where the train to the airport is supposed to start. But they were informed that Narita train is in another platform. So they rushed to that one. The only train on that platform was filled to the brim. People were spilling out from it. There was no way that they could enter that train especially with allthe luggage. They asked the nearby railway officials if another train to Narita would come soon. The official gesticulated and explained at length, something in Japanese. Theonly words that could be deciphered were, Narita, No, Earthquake. Another official came to rescue, he had better command over the language. But all that he managed to convey to them was that there is no direct to train to the airport, the train that starts from here ends at a station called 'Auto' from where another train can be taken to Narita. But that other train may also not go to the Airport. They wre flabbergasted. However they boarded the next train and reached Auto. It could easily have been one of their most crowded journeys in life. At Auto, they had no space to stand in the platform. It was bristling with people. The people made queues to enter the train that is yet to come. The train that would take the passengers some more closer to Narita.

The poor iiitians couldnt figure out what was going on. As they stood clueless waiting for a train which would take them to a destination unknown, they were approached by a middle aged lady. She asked them in easy english, where they wanted to go. They informed her of the whole situation. She told them that notrain can reach Narita Airport as all railway lines just before it have been closed for inspection. Inspection to check the tracks after the earthquake in the evening, an magnitude of 6 on the richter scale! Imagine the shock to the poor indians who had concluded that it was not an earthquake since no one seemed alarmed. She also told them that they could at max reach Narita town. And that the train about to come would take them to some station from where they will need to board another one for Narita. She also advised them to get to the front of that queue as quickly as they could. The train came and almost all thepeople on the platform stuffed themselves into it. She too went away with the crowd. These three couldnt follow the same procedure as they also had the luggage to take. So they waited for the next train. The platform which was formerly brimming with people now hardly had any souls. The next train soon came their way and they boarded it with a small glimmer of hope but mostly with a fear of forthcoming tribulations. The train stopped at the next station and presently the lady who had helped them earlier entered the compartment. She apologised to them saying that she had provided incorrect information as to which station they should be changing trains and now supplied them with a new name. She also continued to travel with them. The time was around 10:30. After some time, the train stoppoed at a station for some considerable amount of time. Then there was an announcement and the lady gladly informed these people that the train on the other side of the platform would take them to Narita. They picked up the luggage and made their way to the train which would constitute their final train journey in this Japan trip. A trip which mainly involved travelling around in trains. This train was also quite crowded. The lady also accompanied them. She stated that her destination comes on the way. The journey seemed interminable. Around midnight, the lady bid good bye and left at her station. She had helped them without any asking, left her train and boarded a later train so that she could guide them properly. Before leaving she also wrote two notes in Japanese and gave them asking them to show it to the police or station officials in case they are unable to reach the airport. This was the trailer of the Japanese hospitality that the Indians would experience on that day.

After another half an hour, the train came to its final stop - Narita town. They got down and enquired if there is any transport to the airport. They were informed that this was the last train of the day and the services wouldnt start until morning. Then they showed the slips of paper to the officials. Apparently she had written requesting the officials to find them a place to stay for the night. That guy made some calls and then informed in that same broken english that no place is available. Outside the station, some passengers had made a queue for the taxis. The indians too joined it. While Rama was waiting in the queue, Sha and Karteek went to call the airport to see if they are still open. The final straw on their back fell, when they learnt that not only was the airport closed but even the hotel outside the airport was also completely booked and there is not place to stay anywhere. While Sha and Karteek were listening to this as if it were death sentences, Rama was accosted by another Japanese stranger. He asked in perfect english whether they were having some problem. Rama informed him that they had a flight in the morning and so set out to go to the airport at night, but due to the cancellation of the trains they were stranded. Then the stranger told Rama that he noticed the worry on their faces and hence decided to enquire as he knew how tough it is to manage here without knowing the language. By then, Karteek and Sha had joined them. He continued his story saying that due to the earthquake, it had taken him eight hours to get back to his town (Narita) from the place where he went to visit his dentist. His wife and children had left for their granny's place that day and hence he is alone in his house. He then asked them to spend the night in his home and that he would drop them off at the airport early in the morning. All three of them looked at each others faces. Before they replied, he said it would be no trouble for him at all, and asked them to come to the other side of the station. He took them to the other side of the station where there was light, and an AM-PM shop and asked them to wait there, while he would go home and get his car to pick them up and take them to his home. He enquired whether they were hungry. They had not eaten anything except that sushi, hence they were actually very hungry. But they said no. Yet, lending a deaf ear to the refusals he took Rama to the AM-PM shop and asked him to buy whatever he and his friends would prefer. He bought some foodstuffs for himself. Since Rama did not attempt to select anything, he selected some lemon teas for the three of them. He left them saying that he would be back with his car in less than half an hour to take us. He also promised to check out whether the only indian restaurant in town, "Namaste" owned by his friend Ajay was open.

Then there was the dilemma. Should they actually go with him? All his actions had raised doubts in the three minds as to whether he was genuine or had some evil plan. Why would anyone spend more than a 1000 Yen and buy you teas to drink. Why would anyone offer 3 foreigners a place to stay at 1:30 in the night. Why would anyone offer to walk back to their home which would take around 15 minutes and then bring a car to take you. Either he had to be an exceptionally kind person or a person with nefarious designs. This place where they were currently, had a small park sort of thing with benches and they could easily spend the remaining few hours there until morning. So they debated whether or not they should accept his offer, if and when he comes back with his car. The debate raged between the three as to whether they should accept the offer. Sha the leader ordered the other two to be quite cautious and careful if in case they were to go with the guy. Before the discussion could conclude, the man returned in his car (which exactly fit his description earlier) and ask them to load their luggage. Once again, they tried to convince him that they wouldnt like to trouble him and would spend whatever was left of the night outside. But he would have none of it. He also said that he had seen a harrassed indian couple in the train. They couldnt understand what was going on, they couldnt follow the announcements etc and felt sad that he couldnt help them. So, now he got a chance and he wouldnt lose it. He also apologetically told them that the "Namaste" restaurant was closed. Finally all four of them sat in the car to go to the house of this seemingly good samaritan.

He took them to his house. On the way, he described his two young children and told some anecdotes about his Indian friend Ajay, the one who set up the 'Namaste' restaurant. His house was on the ground floor of an apartment. They were still skeptical of the person. But as they entered the house, all their doubts were laid to rest as the house looked exactly as the home of a family with two young children should look. They noticed the kid's cycle, the crayon paintings hanging on the walls etc. He apologised for the untidiness of his house. All these actions were making them more uncomfortable. They should be thanking him profusely for helping them in such a dire situation, but he is thanking them for having agreed to come to his house. He offered them some fruits and buns. He also showed them a computer which they could use if they wanted. All three of them took turns to check mail and send mails to their family and friends that soon they would be in their midst. Meanwhile, the good stranger learnt of the purpose of the indians visit to Japan. He then told that he had a real estate business. Rama asked him how come he spoke such good english to which he replied that he had stayed in Guam (US territory in the pacific) for 10 years. He also told them of his plans to shift to California since his business was not doing well. Finally around 3, they decide to sleep. He shows them the 'tatami' room to rest and retires to his bed. At 6 in the morning, all are awake. The three indians because they need to get ready to go to the airport. The Japanese guy because he has to drop them there. They thank the Japanese guy and as a token of gratitude present him with a poster that they had collected. It has a goddess picture and celebration of india written in it in Japanese. He drops them at the famed Narita Airport at 7 in the morning. They were well in time for 10 o clock flight.


Whew! Finally its over. This post would hold the record of being my longest post for quite some time. It has 4969 words. Thats as good as a short story. But then, isnt it?

ps - I dont have the patience or energy to proof read this thing. Any errors if pointed out will be dealt with. Until then, bear with the language. :P

12 comments:

shashank said...

let me take the credit for the first comment on your longest post(and not blog !!!!)....

it was awesome..... truly great ...


any way i too can go to japan ?????

suggest one please !!!!

mythalez said...

Do MS in Tokyo University :D. It is considered to be very good Computer Science ...

Ravi said...

I accuse you of cheating. Never has such a looooooooong climax been a source of joy :) Except maybe the movie Lagaan. I see that many junior students are interested to go to Japan. Why dont you take a crash course ?

Y@$h said...

I don't have time to read such a long post, but do inform me when u blog a summary of the same.(Guess you are Prof. Prolix II)

Sagar Rastogi said...

a very interesting read. Captivating from start to finish. Keep up the good work.

Arvind Krishna said...

rama.. awesome ra. =D> Good way to waste time during midsems.. :P

Iam writing the telugu translation of this one. I'll post it in my blog :D.

coolcat said...

wow :) great post! That explains the guy who was in the photos with you people haan? You havent mentioned his name anywhere, did you forget it? :P Great to see such hospitality, i wonder if people in india wouldnt have robbed such people of their money!

mythalez said...

@ravi, well well ... I jus got an idea .. why not organise this thing into chapters ?? :D. Crash course on wat may i ask?

@yash, sorry dude, i dont hav the patience to read the whole thing and summarise ... why dont u try :P

@rastogi, thanku thanku ^:)^

mythalez said...

@arvind, thanku ra ^:)^ .. telugu translation !! Wow... am honoured :P

@coolcat, thanku thanku.. The guys name is Yosho. After we came back, we sent him a mail with those photos :). As i said, the japanese are most helpful .. jus that its tough to communicate.

Pranav said...

Okay.

4969 words hmm... And I must say from experience that whenever you go on describing something, it definitely gets easy to do it as the way it first comes to your mind.

As for being a short story, I think it requires some padding. The plot is created. So, I guess with some more effort you can knit a nice story. Requires some effort, but try it when you are bored.

Am happy on one count. I find my friend Rama back in IIIT, hale and healthy, in all flesh, without any physical damage. Thank Shichi Fukujin, especially Benten and Fukorokuju, for ensuring that he came back in the way Telugus describe it in kshemamgaa velli laabham gaa raavadam - Translates to Go in all Safety and Comfort and Come back with loads of nice experiences.

Taro Akasaka said...

Good to hear you enjoyed your time in Tokyo.

mythalez said...

@pranav, no intention of converting this into a 'proper' short story.

@akasaka, Yeah it was fun :D