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Category: Japan Days

JaDa – Day 8

Great things come free! So does coffee. Today was about discovering how Shiru Cafe gives college students free coffee in the campus. We have known about it before, but I didn’t put in enough efforts to see how things work. Today, since Divya was keen too, we both went through the process and got our free coffee. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, we decided to go out on this crazy trip Gyomo Super – a store nearby famous for vegetables and Indian-like spices. Hopping into a bus, we did the first step correctly. We got the slip that had the boarding stop number. In both our interest, I’d rather not detail the rest of the eventful journey. But to sum it up, had it happened back in my city in Kerala, I could have updated my vocabulary on the local slang for delaying a bus full of people. But this is Japan. So none of that happened, instead we were offered help to get out of the confusion we created. Navigating with the map, we reached Gyomo and to my happiness, I found more vegetables and vegetarian food items than what I expected. The walk home was refreshing, though we were tired by the time we reached back. We should probably walk more. Or maybe get a bicycle?

Ritsumeikan Campus – BKC

P.S. Last night, the taxi we took was somewhere near Gyomo only. The distance I happily walked today, was impossible for me yesterday!

JaDa – Day 7

The first Sunday – one week of Japan! And it was Vishu too. Nevertheless, I slept through the day and woke up when it was breakfast time in India. My inner clock still ticks by IST, after all! With my cooking experiments, ample sleep, and a lot of time to oneself, today’s what I’d call a perfect Sunday! The day ends as I plan for a fruitful Monday morning at work.

JaDa – Day 6

Day 6 was indeed a day in Japan. We finally set out for a trip, except that it was less planned than what we wanted it to be. With a faint little hope of seeing a glimpse of the cherry blossoms, we started to Hikone. Boarding a bus in Kyoto, getting into the right train, asking for directions, and finally reaching the place only to see there’s no blossoms whatsoever – each of them was an experience in itself! Travelling with not family, not friends that you have known for a long – that was an experience too. You don’t realise what’s the best way to deal most things and it’s always by the time you figure that out. My day out with Saikat and Divya wasn’t bad. But it gave me an insight on how different we all are as individuals, but yet stick together in the common situation. That’s something life teaches you, as it evolves. More often than less, we do not need friends, love or family – we only need people. We need companions who just stay through and make life easier and happy. After a long day at the castle and museum, we walked back to the railway station. On our way back, we picked up some ‘Sakura specials’ – a special edition Coke bottle, a cherry blossom sweet and some sakura! The bottle looks cute, the sweet tasted like a normal Mochi (a traditional Japanese sweet – rice cake with red bean paste filling) in cherry blossom hue, and the petals are precious! Somewhere then, it started drizzling too.

Once we reached Minami Kusatsu, we explored the place and found a KFC! To my relief, a place that serves French fries finally! Adding KFC to our bucket list, we walked into Seiyu Store, ‘only’ to buy some butter, though we ended up buying a lot more than we could carry. Japan has turned us into shopaholics; but all we buy is food, food and more food! To add more flavour to the day, we also planned to drop by Raju – an Indian restaurant. Though a bit on the expensive side, I finally found some vegetarian food that looked familiar and trustworthy. I loved the food, not sure if the other two did though. But that’s okay – they have many options, this is my only! Now that Raju turned to be a Bengali, Saikat had a new found friend too. Things were good so far, until we had to catch a bus back to BKC. It was just 9.40 in the night, and we didn’t quite expect the mishap of not getting a bus. We weren’t sure if walking all the way was a smart choice; we had no choice after all. As we walked in the drizzly shivering cold night, I could see my death somewhere in that dark road. Saikat was cursing, I was praying and Divya was enjoying it both. As it turned out, God heard one of it and send a taxi by our way. With new found energy, we ran to it, hopped in and came back home. Wonder if it were the curses or the prayers that were answered!

JaDa – Day 5

I went to the college without Divya. I knew our schedules won’t match for long, but this was too soon. To make the walk interesting, I timed myself. It takes two minutes from the room to the ‘hundred steps’, another two to climb, and one minute to descend. In five minutes, I was on the other side of the hill and that felt very promising. I can really do it for the next three months! I still reached 5 minutes late than planned, at the lab. A lab mate who promised yesterday to wait for me, was still waiting patiently. Together, we walked to the other end of the huge campus. I still wonder why their buildings are so far away. To the unhealthy kid in me, that was more than acceptable levels of morning walk! Walking in to the seminar hall, I was still skeptical if I were really expected to be present there. Obviously, their presentations were all going to be in Japanese, I would just stare blank. Nevertheless, I sat down for the entire session. The most unexpected thing happened then, in the middle of the presentation, as the professor got up to discuss the concept with the presenter. After the discussion, professor turned to me and began to explain the crux of the presentation in English. In a class of 20+ students, he doing that entirely for my benefit was very moving. After all, I wasn’t part of the class and was just a newbie there. After the presentation, things got a bit awkward when lunch was brought. Students picked up food packets and indulged themselves. Being a vegetarian here is difficult; even more difficult is to make people understand that it’s possible to survive without meat and fish! I somehow conveyed the message and politely declined the food. Sensing my confusion or not, I was told that I may leave as things were done for the day.

With half a day at hand, I went over to the BKC International Centre inside the campus, with Divya. The place is aimed to help international students to interact with each other and feel comfortable. The hot chocolate felt good there 🙂 To get more comfortable, we headed back to the dormitory. And got really comfortable with a calm settling mood. The evening got more relaxing and rejuvenating as we took a walk to ‘Friend’s Mart’ again. There’s more to that place than the store. Walking by them, it reminded me of the buildings in Fort Kochi – pretty and small.

I miss home, but it feels familiar here too. Its mixed emotions!

JaDa – Day 4

It rained yesterday. And we were warned not to use the ‘commuter route’. I was wondering what would happen if it continued to rain the whole night. It was disturbing. But again, that did not happen. Only that, today I had the added weight of the umbrella in my bag. I am getting better with the stairs now. I used stop and pant after 2 fleets. But today, I went up till three fleets before I paused! We were delayed by a small conversation with the warden – worth every moment! It was a surprise to learn that the old man had served in IT industry for a considerably long time, and owned a home in Pune, India. People are intriguing; more so here than anywhere else!

Divya has become desperate to get me to eat something here. But the more she tries, the more food I see, the more I feel like not eating any of them. Maybe my subconscious is grabbing on the opportunity to lose some weight! Today was pretty drab. More so because there were less people, and more places. We discovered new pathways and buildings in the campus, but why aren’t there enough people here! I wonder, maybe one should reorganise the population in the world, and bring people from the populated parts of the world to the less populated areas! A day without enough people in it is not a day at all.

JaDa – Day 3

The whole deal about jet lag and time zone difference was overrated until this morning. Waking up at 11 in the morning, I panicked that Divya left without me, only to find her sleeping too! We both struggled to match the time zone and our sleeping pattern. Saikat somehow seems unaffected by the whole deal, as usual. After a quick breakfast, we rushed to the university. Going so late into the lab was a bit weird, but thankfully everyone was occupied with some discussion. Wait a minute! Was I also supposed to be a part of that? I hoped not and swiped my card to sneak in. Going about by my plan, I had a private discussion with my guide. New challenge, every day! He suggested I make a presentation, and I was unsure how would the communication barrier be dealt with. But, I had more ‘important things’ to worry about the presentation, so I let it pass. In a while when Divya pinged, it was time for my rescheduled medical checkup. We both went around for a walk before my appointment. That’s when ‘Takoyaki’ happened! To be honest, the first food that was an appetiser to me in Japan is Takoyaki. Deep fried, perfectly crafted, garnished with spring onions and mayo – the mouth watering ball of joy – except the octopus inside! Oh yeah, apparently the lady has been going crazy about it ever since the beginning of the Japan plan. Trust me, I could feel my stomach grumbling for food just by looking at the well-cooked Takoyaki balls. We made a video of she gobbling them, and that felt like the beginning of a great trip ahead!

Medical checkup was a fun episode too. I wouldn’t forget the way the lady who checked my blood pressure told me to ‘relaaaaax’, with her animated expressions! Nor the lady who struggled to decipher my ‘complicated’ medical history. I would never grow tired of saying this – people here are unbelievably well-mannered! You feel guilty of being at the receiving end of their humility. Though I learnt ‘Arigato’ to be the Japanese word for ‘Thank you’, it never comes out of me. Because, when I thank them, I always do it from the deepest of my heart. I don’t even get to think enough to translate it to their language.

The rest of the evening went by as yesterday, as we explored the campus. Out of nowhere, I had this new desire for ice cream. Probably, I was hungry ever since the Takoyaki episode. Photos, more photos and even more photos, and we reached back for a heartwarming dinner. My first proper meal here – Puliyodharai!

 

JaDa – Day 2

The second day, the 10th of April, is when we finally went to the University. And when I say ‘went’, it’s not as simple as it sounds. The BKC i-house and the University campus are on two sides of a hillock. A fleet of 100+ stairs have been built as ‘commuter route’ for students. Yeah, a 100 steps up and a 100 steps down daily! I guess that’s where I am gonna lose my weight and not in the lack of veg food! All that said, I have this distinct feeling that it’s these stairs that I am gonna miss the most when I leave this place. Gasping for breath as I climb, and feeling liberated as I descend, I feel alive every moment here!

I wish I could talk more about the campus and the experiences in the lab, but somehow that seems inappropriate. It involves a lot of people, and a lot more of my perceptions about everything I deal with. But what I cannot miss mentioning is Shoko – our coordinator here. Although we had a lot of mail communications, I never expected to meet her as a sweet woman here. She’s been helpful the entire day, running around with us, taking us to places and showing us around the campus. After a brief time with our professors, we all gathered around her again for the routine medical examination. Owing to ‘logistic issues’, my medical check-up was rescheduled for the next day. Thanks to that, I got more time with Shoko, and she took me to more places in the campus! The day finally came to an end, we bid bye to Shoko and headed back to the i-house. It was a quick short day, but promising and eventful!

The excitement had finally started building up and there was no stopping us. Divya and me explored the campus and met people, as Saikat went by his schedule. Clicking photos, posing for it, and laughing over it, somewhere in between, I see a whole new level of bonding building up with this girl. Great times ahead with the duo!

JaDa – Day 1

The flight came to an end, but that was only half the trip! What awaited us was a mad rush to catch two trains and be not too late to get a cab to our destination. The Quarantine, Immigration and Customs clearance were done quicker than what we expected. That gave us ample time to get the next Haruka Express to Kyoto, at around 10.15 pm on the 8th of April. Talking about trains in Japan, it’s a sight worth watching how sleek things are. The seats that rotate to suit the direction of travel, the designated luggage space, the movable rods that stick to the wall – there’s lot about Japan that may be impossible to remember and jot down. After an hour and a little more, we reached Kyoto and rushed to the Biwako line for our next coach to Minami Kusatsu. Before we knew it, in roughly about fifteen-twenty minutes, we were at Kusatsu. We were skeptical of getting a taxi at that hour of the day; it was already past 12.30 am, next day. As luck had it, three taxis came out of nowhere, as if they were waiting for us. The taxi driver – an old man – single handedly stacked up our luggages into the car and opened the door for us! It was dark and silent, but somehow the place was comforting. The nice old man safely got us to the BKC International House, despite our minimal communication. It was nice to receive a ‘taxi bill’!

We were nearing the end of our adventure. Despite our unannounced arrival, the warden-in-charge, a polite middle-aged man, welcomed us to the dormitory. We woke him up in the middle of the night, but not for once did he frown. To know what humility means, one must definitely visit Japan! He took us to our rooms and left us on our own for a peaceful sleep. Next morning was dull and sleepy. We slept most of the day, except for a quick reporting at the reception for some paperwork. After the first meal at Japan, a bowl of maggie, we slid back into sleep.

That’s around when the whole exhaustion and unfamiliarity settled in. To push things forward, Divya and Saikat suggested we go out. Reluctantly, I went along and that isn’t a walk I regret. We walked to a nearby store, the Friends Mart(?). While Divya and Saikat got some ready-to-eat dinner, I got some vegetables and bread. The shop reassured faith of survival for the vegetarian in me! On the way back, we met Chalwe aka Charlie, from Zambia. He took us back to the i-house through a shorter route. Given the chilling winter outside, I am thankful to that! The evening went by, as we settled in for a cosy sleep. The following day was long one. Meeting the professors, planning the research, new atmosphere – anxious day ahead! It’s cold outside, and I am shivering. Japan is good, but wasn’t home more happy?

Japan Days – Day 0!

Ever since the whole Japan thing has come around, I had planned on beginning with this travel blog where I would jot down the minuscule details of my trip, as a memoir! But as life has it, things don’t always pan out as we plan. I was stuck without Internet, was exhausted and drained, and even felt too depressed to do anything in the past 2 days. So my amazing plan went down the drain! But here I am, trying to compensate for my loss and resurrect my travelogue! My day 0 went something like this!

Starting off early in the morning from home, I had a flight to catch to Mumbai. It was difficult saying the goodbyes to family, but let’s not get into that. On boarding the flight, I was looking forward for a quick nap until I met this lady next seat. Some people are just so, who come in with swish and make you feel good. A quick conversation with her made me feel excited about the trip. Mumbai was an icing on top! Having heard much about the Mumbai local trains, it was always on my bucket list. The pace of the city never stops to amaze me, nor does train journeys. After a quick meal, I headed back to the airport with suitcases full of excitement! Divya was already waiting there, and Saikat joined us soon. Along with the three other students from the University, the six of us headed towards immigration. My first international trip was just a couple of hours away! The 7th of April was almost ending. I wouldn’t have quite realised it had the gentleman at the counter not wished me, “Happy birthday, five minutes in advance!”. Small things make huge impacts.

My Day 0 doesn’t end there. It extends to the 8th of April, for that’s when the journey really began! Getting into the flight, I drifted into a settling sleep. I was woken up multiple times, but only to be greeted with a glass of juice or a meal. My last Indian meal for the next 3 months had Upma and Sambhar Vada; can’t complain! Alighting at Beijing for a lay-over was very exciting. It’s two countries in a go! But then, having no WhatsApp, no Google, no Facebook and no mode of communication to the rest of the world (obviously, since we didn’t care enough to get an international SIM) was frustrating! It was a moment of realisation that survival is near impossible, off-the-grid! It was more of the anguish of being unable to contact family, than anything else. Time ticked away, and the next flight took off. More meals to come, but this time to my dismay, things got stranger! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to even touch my food. Perils of a vegetarian! But again, it was my day; how could things go bad! Air China came in with a sweet surprise and made my day, all over again!

Japan, here we come! (Rest of the trip, on the next blog. Keep reading!)

P.S. A trip to Mumbai cannot be a part of another. The ordeal of getting my luggage from the railway station calls for a blog in itself. Durai and his timely help and a lot more; some other time, some other day!