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Month: May 2018

JaDa – Day 43

As expected, my body is fighting against my travel dreams. Every time I go out, I come home like a sick kid! This is so unfair, considering the fact that I didn’t even go to the top of Inari! I walked more than usual, but still. So not fair! 🙁

JaDa – Day 42

I went to sleep yesterday night with great plans for today. The much awaited trip with the Foreign Students Society was suddenly not that interesting, as Divya called in sick. I was wondering if it’d be better to call it off and stay home. But somehow, it felt a bit too rude, and I went along with Saikat to Minami Kusatsu. The rest of the day was amazing and very happening day!

We met the FSS group at the station and was introduced to the members of the trip. It was nice to travel in a big group of 10-12 people after long. Our first stop was Fushimi Inari shrine. I had too many questions to the Japanese trip members, and it was adorable to see them Google out things they didn’t know, or use translators to provide me with all the answers. The ascent of Mt. Inari was not so much an effort with too many people to talk to and click photos with. I don’t remember the last time I got to talk to so many people at once! The Omokaru stone wouldn’t have been fun had they not explained the belief behind it. Nor would the thousand gates felt so special. As the belief goes, if you are able to assess the weight of the stone correctly before lifting it, it’s considered lucky. If the stone turns out to be lighter than you thought, your wish would come true; if heavier, better luck next time. And the Senbon Torii (thousand shrine gates) are offerings made by worshippers. The weather was pleasant, and the ambience was amazing. But again, it would have been much better if one could make it for the sunrise. The shrine gates and the surrounding forest gives the mountain a divine aura. All that said, I still did not climb the final lap of the mountain. One, I was pretty exhausted. Two, I was kind of trying to keep something unexplored for the second visit with Divya. After spending some time at the view point, we started walking downhill, to our next pitstop for lunch. We took a different route than the one we took uphill. At one point, it seemed we were lost, but that wasn’t really concern to me. I was walking with people who knew Japanese and English! They could talk to me and make the time enjoyable. So could they find the way out of this place for us!

After a really long walk, we reached a nearby station on the Keihan line. We took a brief stop for lunch (read French fries for me) and started on the next train to Uji. The Byodoin temple, the one on the ten yen coin, was a beautiful place. We couldn’t make it to the Phoenix Hall, but again, it was a nice place to be around. It felt like any other shrine in Japan, though each of them has a different story to say. The Phoenix was an eye-catcher on the top of the shrine, so was the Buddha on cloud series in the museum nearby. Uji is famous for its Matcha. But again, I was not tempted enough. Tasting the ice cream Saikat got, I was convinced not to try it again. (Disclaimer: Food preference is very personal! I have heard amazing comments about Matcha – green tea, as a matter of fact.) The Ujigawa – the river Uji – was far more beautiful than the shrine premise. The flowing river and the mountain range was captivating. If you ask me, the bridge and the river are the sights where one must spend more time on.

We were all pretty exhausted by the time we took a train back to Gion in Kyoto. But when we changed lines in between, I had a total lift in my mood as we got into a double decker train! I quite didn’t know there were functional double deckers in India. But again, they wouldn’t be anything like the one I saw here! It was a short journey to Gion, yet amazing. From Gion station, we walked to the famous Yasaka shrine. (more on JaDa – Day 40) After a quick tour around the premise, we walked to the Yasaka tower. Somehow, that was the happiest sight of the day for me. I have been meaning to see the multi-layered shrine building, ever since the idea of the Japan trip began to sink in. And it was indeed a sight to watch. Not to mention the macho with the Jinrikisha. And the Japanese friend I made who told me about the cart pulled by men, to carry around passengers – the Jinrikisha. And all the new friends from the FSS family. As we bid bye for the day, I was left with a handful memories of an eventful trip.

After a routine visit to Jupiter at Kyoto for some ready-to-eat MTR, Saikat and me hopped on the next train headed home.

JaDa – Day 41

And today, while I was looking out of the window, I had this existential dilemma in mind. Though I said it out in the passing, as a joke, to Divya, I have been thinking about it for longer than normal. It’s the same land as back home, but the sky seems different here. I feel different and same at the same time, from perspectives I have never imagined.

That said, it was a quite evening, making a friend’s ‘Statement of Purpose’ and homely gothambu dosa.

JaDa – Day 40

A good Friday evening suddenly turned super awesome when Divya and me made an impromptu Gion plan. We started slightly later than planned and was not quite sure if we would make it on time for the Gion Night walk. But as luck had it, we made exactly on time, as the tour was beginning. We joined a group of around twenty people, all of them tourists, for the walk around the Geisha District of Gion.

Geisha is a part of the culture and tradition at Japan. And Kyoto is the epicentre. As history has it, Geisha culture originated at Kyoto. The tourists who visited the Yasaka shrine were treated with tea, and over the years, with traditional music and dance as well. The origin of ochaya, the tea house, and that of Geisha are attributed to this popular belief. Eventually, Geisha grew to be a trained form of art and culture, which required special centres of training – the okiya. An aspiring girl can sign up to be a Meiko at the age of fifteen. Meiko is a Geisha under training. The young girl, after five years of learning and practice, grows up to be a Geisha. The okiya mother – the trainer – guides the girl through her apprenticeship.

The life of a Geisha is challenging. The attention and adoration they get are the perks of a very demanding life. The training period puts the body to a lot of pressure – the make up, the dressing and so on. And beyond the training, the profession in itself is a tough balance between career and marriage. A Geisha can continue her career only till marriage. But despite all the troubles and challenges, they seem to enjoy their way of life, and embrace it dearly. The aura around the Geisha way of life is one of unattainable beauty and perfection. The charm and grace of a Geisha takes your breath away. The flawless beauty and the elegant demeanour grab one’s attention. They earn respect and admiration.

Walking around the streets of Gion, listening to the narration of our guide, the desire to meet a Geisha strengthened. Though we weren’t lucky enough to see a Geisha, we caught a glimpse of a Meiko, as the tour ended near a concert hall. Rushing past us, radiance emanated from her. Lingering around the streets for a while more, we set out on our way back to hostel.

I was caught off guard at a convenience store when Sangeetha asked me if I were an Indian. She absolutely didn’t look Indian to me though. Next thing we know, she was walking with us to Nishiki. Sangeetha, our new found acquaintance for the evening, was on a business trip and was looking for some English speaking company. The rest of the night, however, she was mostly speaking in Hindi. Meanwhile, Divya was throwing a tantrum for the salmon and the caramel ice cream from Nishiki, despite it being way past the closing hours! We walked around Nishiki, in pursuit of other food options. 😀

We walked into the Wendy’s at Teramachi as our last resort for dinner. While Divya got a burger and we got some French fries, we all tried out all the dips they had, and stuck around beyond their closing hours, till they politely kicked us out. The conversations with Sangeetha started with what we saw in Gion, and went beyond our perceptions on the cultural differences between India and Japan. The evening suddenly got a lot more vocal, and engaging. Walking back in the rain to the bus stop, we bid bye to Sangeetha and promised to keep in touch. I am not sure if we would. I don’t think I even want to write more about her. Some people make an appearance in our lives, for no real reason. But they leave behind a memory to cherish. She has left one such with me. A very memorable evening, that’d always be cherished. Getting into the last bus, we reached hostel in no time. It was still raining. Like a day that sheds tears, as it meets its end.

JaDa – Day 39

I am pretty much an attention-to-detail freak when it comes to presentations and documentation. I have spent the longest time ever on a presentation due tomorrow. Almost the whole day was dedicated to it with minimal distractions. But at the end of the day, I am quite impressed with myself. And when you get exhausted sitting on a chair for so long, a break is necessary. Even better, if you can top that with a conversation over hot gulab jamuns and vanilla ice cream. And if unavoidable, Divya as well!

JaDa – Day 38

I have never done a Google search on palak paneer, but today I did. My lab mates finally mustered the will to come talk to me, and palak paneer  was their choice of topic. After a fifteen minute long discussion on Indian food and spices, and some insights on vegetarianism, I had two friends with strange sounding but sweet names! Small talk and casual conversations tend to stay longer in my memory here. Perhaps, I am yearning for more people who understand the language I speak!

JaDa – Day 37

We packed lunch to lab today. Divya did yesterday as well. It felt like school once again. Carrying lunch to school, waiting for the break, and opening the lunch box for the surprise meal mom packed; except, there was no surprise. I knew the contents of the boring lunch that I packed for myself. Perils of growing up, I guess. For a change, I was at Divya’s lab today. And Tadamori, her lab mate was around. He kept talking in his cute broken English, and we sat listening. After a long conversation, I was given a list of vegan food options I could try in Japan – nuts, tofu and chocolate! And to top the list, he suggested we try ‘shabu shabu’ – a Japanese hotpot dish with sliced meat and vegetables. The idea was pretty neat; Divya would get the meat and I can have the vegetables – a whole new level of vegan delicacy!

JaDa – Day 36

Happy happy day again! The crest, I guess. Talked to the professor about the research. And the joy is real when someone appreciates you! He said the progress is great, and I haven’t felt better about the research! So, we called it a day, sooner than usual and went ahead to Friend Mart, for the weekly shopping. There was hardly any food left. Other than the food, there was nothing peculiar about the walk. Except the evenings in Japan that grow beautiful by the day, and the charismatic sky. And the countless varieties of dogs that come for the evening walk with their masters. I wish the kids here get more attention and care than the dogs! 😛

JaDa – Day 35

It’s a continuous crest and trough game here. Yesterday was eventful, so it’s more like a mandate that today becomes boring. Slept into the day like most previous weekends, and woke up to a cloudy gloomy day. So gloomy that not even the food was interesting!

JaDa – Day 34

Of all the Japan days so far, today’s the most exciting! Me and Divya went for a fun trip with no plans or itinerary. We had a couple of places in mind, but were pretty sure that’s not what we’d do anyway. We began with Kyoto station. Every time we have been here, it’s always a rush to get out or hop onto another train. For a change, we thought of exploring the station first. Not a bad decision at all, as it turned out! Walking to a tourist information centre, we saw an array of brochures with all the cool things to do in Kyoto. Places we hadn’t planned for, things we totally missed out on – the list was huge! Of the lot, the things that caught our attention was the cycle rentals and the bus pass. We got a bus pass worth 600 yen, that would take you around within the fixed-price area of the city, for any number of rides. We were pretty sure of making the best use of it! The plan to rent a cycle and go around the city was conveniently put on hold.

We hopped into a bus towards Kinkakuji. But we now have a bus pass, and can make any number of stops. So when the bus announced Nijo-jo Castle, we got down there. And that’s the story of how we went to Nijo! It was meant to be a quick visit, since we wanted to do the most of the day. But again, it was a very huge, but beautiful place to walk around and see. The castle was pretty much similar to the traditional interiors that we saw at Hikone. The garden and the open space around it were charmingly pleasant. Despite rushing, we took slightly more than an hour at Nijo.

Soon after, we got into a bus to Kinkakuji. Two stops or so before Kinkakuji, I saw the most satisfying sight of the day. Ganesha, the Indian Restaurant! If only if the buses were more like back home, I would have howled and begged and gotten down right there. Then again, this is a different country. So I chose to embrace my yearning in silence.

We got down for Kinkakuji, right in front of a curio store. Curious us got in to explore the shop. And to my surprise, a lot of things in my shopping list was available right there! After an elaborate shopping, hunger kicked in before we could think of Kinkakuji. For a brief time, we considered going to Ganesha for a lavish lunch. ‘we’ is wrong, ‘considered’ is even more wrong. Divya didn’t consider, and I was not just ‘considering’. I almost dragged Divya to the bus stop, jumping up and down for food. The excitement died a slow death when Divya pointed out that they serve lunch only till 3 pm and it was already 2.54 pm! We got into a nearby cafe to find something to eat. It’s there that I realised Divya is a kind person indeed. She chose to order pasta without meat! And I expressed my gratitude with a ginger ale. 😛

With satisfaction, we started to Kinkakuji finally. I had no expectations, but the place was mesmerising. Photos of the place weren’t edited perhaps! It really looked as beautiful as a painting; perfect blend of a lot of hues! The walk around the place wasn’t that interesting though. But there’s no way to exit other than walking through it. We walked around, and exited the place a while after 5. The Japanese thing about lucks and charms are intriguing. The number of charms they have, and the beliefs they hold on to, are huge. On our way out, we saw a lot of places with a small deity in stone, covered with coins. As the belief goes, offering the coins to those deities heralds luck.

Next stop at Shijo Kawaramachi was a long ride away. The exhaustion of the day was settling in, but we had a lot more to do. After a lot of ‘shop-hopping, we called it a day. And once again, Divya made me realise she’s a very kind person. She ordered plain margherita pizza! How kind is she! And I said thanks with potato wedges! After a barely filling dinner, we got into a really crowded bus, back to Kyoto station. In better words, I got in hoping Divya also did, and she got in hoping I too did. The bus was insanely crowded! Somehow making it to the station, we got to the train, and thereafter to i-house in the last bus! The last bus feeling was so exciting and made the day feel more complete than ever!